One of the earliest records of upholstery in the UK is in the existence of the trade guild of the Worshipful Company of Upholders before 1460, granted its Royal Charter in 1626. The term ‘upholder’ was the archaic form of ‘upholsterer’ and at the time referred more generally to the use of textiles and fabrics as interior furnishings. It therefore included bedding, curtains and floorcoverings, as well as upholstered furniture.
The experimentation with upholstery techniques during the 16th and 17th centuries and the development of these techniques - along with the invention of the coil spring - in the 18th and 19th centuries, took upholstery from loose stuffing fixed in place with nailed fabrics to the more comfortable and complex furniture we would recognise today. In particular, the upholsterers of the 18th and 19th centuries were the interior designers of their day, responsible for all interior furnishings and employing others to achieve this.
The 20th century has brought fast-paced development of new materials and innovation to upholstered furniture, in particular: latex foam; synthetic fibres; the wide application of plastics; and the dramatically altered methods of production. These new materials and furniture manufacturing have meant that traditional upholstery skills are now mainly used in the restoration of historical furniture or very high quality new furniture. Modern upholstery techniques and materials are predominantly used in the production of new upholstered furniture today.
The 21st century’s response to the mass production, consumerism and waste of the 20th century is, however, increasing the appeal of the individuality, longevity and environmental benefits of reupholstered furniture.