At the end of the day, we long to hang out in our favorite chair or sofa relaxing with a good book or movie. Usually that much-loved furniture is a piece of upholstered seating filled with all kinds of “stuff”—padding, springs, wood, webbing—covered with textile.
A quality piece of upholstery breaks down into four construction components; frames, springs, cushions, and pads. The first three components are wrapped in fabric or leather.
Here are sustainable alternatives to these components.
Frames. For a long life, any structure (be it a home or a piece of furniture) needs the framing to be rock-solid. Look for formaldehyde-free, third-party—certified hardwood frames, preferably FSC-certified wood harvested sustainably from well-managed forests that responsibly protect endangered species and old-growth trees. The hardwood provides tight graining that reinforces firm anchoring of screws, tacks, and pegs. A sturdy, rigid frame with proper blocking or dowelled joints will give your sofa a long life to your sofa.
Adhesives. Consider this a subcomponent of the frames. Ensure that adhesives are 100% solvent-free, water-based glues emitting no volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which will have a much smaller affect on indoor air quality for all–the upholsterer and the owner.
Springs. Here’s where the comfort piece starts to develop; creating the support for seating. Typically there are two types of spring support systems; eight-way, hand-tied springs or standard sinuous or drop-in springs. The most eco-friendly route is the traditional eight-way hand-tied springs, which allow a wide range of movement (side to side, up and down) and a customized fit that provides the most comfort, quality and durability. Plus, steel coils made of high recycled content and tied with jute cord is now available.
This higher-quality process boosts the cost a bit more because of the hand-tied process, but it’s worth it in the long run for both durability and environmental stewardship! For a lower-priced alternative consider the standard methods – both are fitted and secured to the frame which creates a firm seat (called a seat deck).
Cushions and pads. The next-to-last step in achieving acomfort is the cushioning. The seat cushions sit on top of the seat deck, which is held up by the spring system; the back cushions rest within the back and arms of the piece and on top of the seat.
Environmentally friendly cushions are made from natural latex foam (sustainably harvested from rubber tree sap, which is then manufactured into natural foam cushions), and organic cotton and wool batting wrapped in a natural wool barrier cloth, which is inherently flame resistant. Down and feathers are available from organic farms that are sustainably managed. Ensure that the washing process is also chemical free. Natural foam cushions resist dust mites, mold, mildew, and bacteria and are durable, biodegradable, and renewable.
Some adventurous manufacturers are using eco alternatives such as soy-based foams, kapok, natural buckwheat hulls, and milkweed–plant/fiber based products that are allergen free.
Fabrics and leathers. Refer to an earlier post on natural fibers.
Reduce, reuse,recycle: a vast frontier. Another direction is working with your existing pieces or going vintage. Neither approach requires all new materials or resources – using the principles of reduce, reuse, and recycle. Be sure to use safe and nontoxic cleaners when picking up a second-hand treasure. More than likely, these pieces won’t have the “cool,” eco-friendly materials, but they will have off-gassed. With environmentally friendly cleaning methods and/or reupholstering with natural fiber fabrics, they’ll be as good as new.
Long life care. One final note: Take good care of your upholstered seating by vacuuming weekly to keep the dust and allergens at bay. Launder and/or spot clean with nontoxic cleaners. It’s a good idea to flip and rotate the loose cushions for even wear and tear, plus you’ll never know what riches you find under those cushions.
Here are a few of my favorite healthy, earth0friendly upholstery resources. Take a peek and let me know if I missed any of yours!
Cisco Brothers crafts furniture to be 100% FSC Pure by using sustainable or reclaimed woods that preserve the Earth’s forests; natural upholstery options, such as flax, hemp, jute, or yak blend; construction with biodegradable, nontoxic materials; and complete, sustainable, socially responsible production “from seed to shelf.”
el:Environmental Language. Jill Salisbury, founder and chief designer, constantly applies nature’s wisdom o the design of her furniture. Her innovative approach balances high style with eco-friendly solutions that meet with the most stringent environmental and performance standards available. The integrity of el is assured through its promise of heirloom quality craftsmanship. The result is an eco-chic interpretation that celebrates the materials as well as the design.The essence of el is commitment to constantly improving upon its sustainable solution in furniture design and to seek out the most eco-friendly materials and finishes available.
Furnature pieces are safe for your home without chemicals, dyes, polymers, or toxins/ They are designed specifically for people who have multiple chemical sensitivities, a bonus for people who have chosen to create an environmentally friendly home.
Greener Lifestyles designs and manufactures upholstered furniture using eco-friendly and sustainable materials, such as FSC-certified wood, natural latex foam, amd organic hemp, cotton, and wool.
Natural Lee is constructed with third-party certified wood panels, 80% recycled-content metal springs, soy-based foam core cushions wrapped in corn-based Ingeo fiber blended with down and feather, and recycled fibers for back cushions.
Pure by Ami McKay follows the principles of sustainability, health, and awareness. The materials used in the furniture affect our ecosystem and the ecosystems where the materials are produced, so the company usses only the finest and purest sustainable materials
Q Collection strives to be at the forefront of sustainable design. The primary goal is to eliminate toxic chemicals, carcinogens and the leading components of poor indoor air quality.
P.S. Another great eco-plus for designers, architects, and homeowners looking to create healthier, sustainable spaces: Many of these eco furniture manufacturers craft pieces that count toward the collection of LEED points, with finishes, fabrics, and materials that are biodegradable, sustainable, and non-emitting.