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Perfected Craft: High-end Upholstery

What is it about brand philosophy, material selection and meticulous attention to detail that sets these players apart?

By Gianna Annunzio
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Jasmine sofa
M's Jasmine sofa.

In the world of high-end furniture design, various industry names stand as beacons of handcrafted luxury. Through meticulous planning and material selection, these groups are able to set themselves apart from big box retailers and promotional furniture companies of the world.

But what is it about brand philosophy, material selection and meticulous attention to detail that sets these players apart?


The Craftsmanship Difference

With over a century of legacy behind it, companies such as Fairfield Chair have garnered a reputation for quality. Dixon Mitchell, CEO of Fairfield, says the hallmark of the company’s high-end upholstery is expert craftsmanship. Each piece undergoes meticulous creation by skilled artisans, who take pride in every detail. 

“Many of our associates come from multi-generational families that have been with Fairfield for over half a century,” he says. “These seasoned craftsmen take great pride in mentoring and passing down their skills to newer associates, ensuring the art of upholstery manufacturing is preserved and celebrated.”

Fairfield also approaches product design with a blend of artisan hand craftsmanship and state-of-the-art technology. All upholstery designs are modeled in 3D, for example, allowing for a review of scale, seating geometry and proportionate dimensions.

Similarly M, a modern lifestyle Hooker Furnishings brand, utilizes three different domestic upholstery vendors. One is focused exclusively on leather. Another specializes in classic, modern, tight upholstering. The third focuses on casual-modern design. Between the three factories, the level of expertise is significant.

“They’re not doing everything for everybody,” says Becky Weber, Senior VP, Merchandising for M. “Each artisan is doing what they’re accustomed to doing, and their standards are very high — and very much in line with what we’re trying to achieve.”

M’s full aniline-dyed leather assortment, for example, primarily comes from one vendor. The leathers feature a hand-oiled finish.

“Your body oils will soak into these leathers, and they age like your favorite bomber jacket or a beautiful pair of shoes,” she says. “We’ve also introduced some nubuck and suede leathers.”

Manufacturing meetings often consist of nearly 20 individuals across each factory.

“We’re really looking at how these pieces are being manufactured, and we’re all learning from each other too,” she says. “That’s the beauty of domestic upholstery.”

Durability also sets high-end upholstery apart from mass-produced alternatives. Fairfield, for example, sells into various distribution channels, including the Contract Furniture market, where durability is paramount.

“To be successful in the contract space, upholstered furniture must be constructed with structural integrity to withstand the wear-and-tear of commercial and high-traffic environments,” Mitchell says. “All of Fairfield’s materials maintain a contract-grade construction.”

Robust materials such as American hardwoods, engineered laminated wood, steel seating systems and premium cushioning are also used in Fairfield’s upholstery.

“Frame construction includes reinforced joint connections to ensure longevity,” he says. “Our finish system, called FairShield+, also offers enhanced chemical, moisture, mar and scratch resistance — both for high-use products or everyday wear and tear.”

Though high-end upholstery isn’t just about appearances; it’s also about ensuring functionality. Fairfield’s designs are deeply influenced by the personal tastes and preferences of discerning consumers, ensuring visual appeal. However, equal emphasis is placed on comfort.

“Understanding the intended use of a design is pivotal,” Mitchell says. “This ensures that each piece isn’t just beautiful, but also functionally tailored to serve its purpose seamlessly.”

M similarly focuses on the finer details, and the art of proportion in their upholstery.

“It’s all about tailoring,” says Weber. “Our frames are pretty simple. We don’t have tufting and nailhead and all these other things. So when you’re doing track arms with micro welds or topstitching, the tailoring has to be impeccable because there’s nowhere to hide on a modern frame. If that seam is ever so slightly off, you’ll see it in seconds.”

In addition, each piece of furniture at M is carefully designed with the comfort of the customer in mind. This means there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

“Each frame is paired with a specific cushion, manufactured to ensure maximum comfort,” Weber says. “Then there are tweaks that have to be made. Sometimes the cushions have an inner core cushion with inner springs on it. Sometimes it’s a denser foam. Sometimes it has a thicker down wrap, like on our bench cushions. Those details are what we

sweat over to ensure the end product is dialed into an aesthetic for the modern customer.”


Materials and Fabrics

Choosing quality wood, cushioning, threads, steel springs and finishing materials guarantee the longevity and durability of high-end upholstery. Mitchell emphasizes that while affordable options may offer cost savings, they often compromise on material quality.

“The selection of premium materials is an intricate process that
prioritizes longevity, comfort and aesthetic appeal,” he says. “We
collaborate with manufacturers who are not only known for their quality, but their service.”

M’s Weber agrees.

“In a well-made piece of upholstery — in the hardwood and springs that are used, and the way they’re laid up and joined within a frame — very rarely will a frame break on you,” she says.

The choice of fabrics and materials is also central to the comfort and overall experience of high-end furniture. Fairfield offers a diverse selection, from luxurious natural materials like cotton, linen and wool to durable synthetic blends.

“These materials are breathable and comfortable, but may require more maintenance,” Mitchell says. “Synthetic fabrics or synthetic and natural blends are known for durability, stain resistance and easy maintenance. Many mimic the look and feel of natural fabrics. We also offer stain resistant finishes or inherent stain resistant properties to ensure longevity and ease of cleaning.”

Fairfield’s premium fabrics also have a soft, plush or textured surface that adds to overall comfort and appearance.

“We offer an array of cushion options, ranging from down-alternative high-density foam seating to blend down and spring down seating options,” he says.

With its focus on a modern-yet-chic aesthetic, M also incorporates a unique warmth into its upholstery through various fabric choices.

“As far as textiles are concerned, we have 100 percent cotton velvets, 100 percent wool mohair and of course performance fabric,” says Weber. “We gravitate toward more natural performance as opposed to textiles with a spray finish on top of it. We don’t offer a lot of patterns, but instead lean into texture. It’s a very tactile experience with a great durability story.”

“We prioritize using only the finest materials available,” Mitchell says. “Our collection boasts fabrics and leathers sourced from the industry’s leading mills, ensuring that our customers receive nothing but the best.”

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