What’s best? Traditional or Modern?

When I was studying upholstery, there was a certain snobbery surrounding the use of traditional techniques in upholstery. In my class, anyway, it was considered the superior method for putting together furniture.

These days, with a few years under my belt, I mostly tackle chairs using modern upholstery techniques and my trusty pneumatic stapler, but it got me thinking – What do other professional upholsterers’ feel about using traditional and modern upholstery techniques? I’ve asked some of the best:

MICK SHERIDAN Guerilla Upholsterer, Second generation Upholsterer

” I’ve had two teachers who would pretty much kill you for using the F word (foam)”

Mick _sheridan_upholstery_parker_knoll

Many people consider using rubberised hair as traditional, particularly new furniture manufacturers, but I don’t. For me traditional upholstery is fully hand stitched. In truth I think rubberised hair probably lasts longer than horse hair even – I recently found rubberised hair in a British sofa from about 1940 and was able to re-use it because it was in such good condition – people can argue about it all day long but I’ve never seen a traditionally made sofa that’s had so much use in such firm condition.

I’d say traditional is best for longevity but foam gives a better finish. If you’re using plain felt and wool as I mainly do, foam gives a crisper, manufactured look. And if, like me, you want your finished article to look contemporary, even if it’s a 1960’s Parker Knoll chair, then foam gives that look best.

I’m not at all precious about traditional upholstery though – I love it but unlike some people I wouldn’t go to my death over it; as I always say ‘look, it’s a chair, not a matter of life or death’.

whats the difference

HANNAH STANTON, Author, Curator, Upholsterer

 ” When it comes to traditional upholstery, I am not a Purist “


I work predominantly using traditional upholstery techniques but this is more to do with the style and age of the furniture I tend to work on. I don’t think there is a better technique – generally I feel the methods used should be relevant to the period of furniture. If I find unsuitable materials in an old or particularly special piece it’s quite likely I’ll reinstate what I feel best suits the chair. Having said that I am not a purist – for instance I sometimes use rubberised hair in older pieces.

JESS PAYNE Upholsterer and textile designer at Jess and Jules

“ With the ‘Deconstructed upholstery’ trend reproduction chairs are being made to look old, showing off ‘traditional’ upholstery”  



Old and new are starting to come together with the current trend of upholstering traditionally onto reproduction frames, however, in practice, despite giving the option to clients, they’ll normally choose modern fillings (unless it’s an heirloom).

Traditional pieces stand the test of time and you get a real sense of history when you’re working on a piece but I think modern techniques allow you to experiment more with the shape, design and structure of furniture. I think clients choose modern because fillings and labour are cheaper and they like to frequently update their furniture with their decor – a piece may get transformed more regularly than previously, and it’s easier to turn it around with modern techniques.

ARMAND VERDIER, Traditional Upholsterer

“When you make the choice to take on traditional upholstery, in a way you also become the representative of that craft”


I would say that 95% of my work is fully traditional. By traditional I mean organic materials and traditional techniques. I also tend to favour the use of tacks over staples when the piece of furniture I am working on allows me to.

During my five years training in France, I was taught both traditional and modern upholstery. However, the call of culture, history and tradition was stronger than that of modernity. When you make the choice to take on traditional upholstery, in a way you also become the representative of that craft, a craft that has been surviving and flourishing for centuries. It is then your duty to promote and keep that art alive.
We all have different views on whether modern upholstery is better or worse than traditional upholstery. Some people will see the economical benefit of using foam while some will see the longevity benefit of using horsehair. It is all about perspective. But don’t get me wrong, modern upholstery also requires skills and knowledge, just different ones.

RACHAEL SOUTH, Upholsterer, Caner and Teacher

“Something like the Djinn Furniture would never work with traditional upholstery”


I have a pretty equal amount of traditional and modern work. I don’t really think one is better than the other but would really think of what is appropriate for the furniture.

I really like the “craft” aspect of stuffing and stitching, lashing springs etc. Also the longevity of this type of work is appealing. But, I’m also impressed by the use of foams and modern materials on some of the Danish and mid century pieces I work on and love the streamlined contemporary look which can only be really achieved with foams.


About Vicky Grubb

Once a kitchen table Upholsterer, now a fully fledged tutor, author and hoarder of vintage fabrics. My Upholstery studio is based in Bournemouth, Dorset, where I live with my husband and two tinkers.

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