A Soft Eco-Landing – Healthy, Environmentally Friendly Upholstery

At the end of the day, we all long to hang-out in our favorite chair, sofa or modular relaxing with a good book or movie.  Usually that much loved piece of furniture is a piece of upholstered seating which is filled with all kinds of ‘stuff’ – like padding, springs, wood, webbing all of which is then covered with fabric or leather.   A quality piece of upholstery breaks down into four stages of construction; frames, springs, cushions and pads; and lastly all of these first three components are wrapped in fabric or leather. 

Here’s a sustainable approach on what to look and ask for within the components: 

Frames – for a long life, any structure (whether a home or a piece of furniture) needs the framing to be rock-solid.  Look for formaldehyde free, third-party certified hardwood frames.  The hardwood provides tight graining for screws, tacks and pegs to be firmly anchored.  Preferably the frame is made from FSC-certified wood which is harvested in a sustainable fashion from well-managed forests that responsibly protect endangered species and old growth trees.  A sturdy, rigid frame with proper blocking or dowelled joints will lend a long life to your sofa providing you with lasting integrity for generations. 

Adhesives – a sub-component of the frames, ensure that the adhesives being used in the construction process are 100% solvent-free, water-based glues emitting no VOCs (volatile organic compounds) which improve the indoor air quality for all – the upholsterer and the owner.

Spring Systems – here’s where the comfort piece starts to develop creating the support for the seating area of the piece.  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.  They offer a wide range of movement (side-to-side, up & down) for a customized fit providing the highest level of comfort, quality, durability and adding to the life of the frame plus the steel coils are available with a high recycled content and tied with jute cord.  With this higher quality process, the cost is a bit more because of the ‘hand tied’ process – 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). 

Cushion and Pads –the next to last step in achieving a high level of comfort is the cushioning.  The seat cushions sit on top of the seat deck which is held up by the spring system and 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 the rubber tree sap which is then manufactured into natural foam cushions), 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 – natural, plant / fiber based products that are allergen free.  

Fabrics and Leathers – refer to an earlier post on natural fibers.   

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – The Vast Frontier

Another great direction is to work with your existing pieces or consider going vintage.  Either approach doesn’t require all new materials or resources – using the motto of reduce, reuse and recycle.  Be sure to use safe and non-toxic cleaners when picking up a second generation treasure.  More than likely these pieces won’t have the ‘cool’ eco-friendly materials but they have off-gassed.  With environmentally friendly cleaning methods and/or reupholstering with natural fiber fabrics, you are as good as new.  

Care for Long Life – a 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 non-toxic cleaners.  It’s a good idea to flip and rotate all of the loose cushions for even wear and tear plus you’ll never know what riches you find under those cushions unless you look.

Nettie’s Favs – here are a few of my favorite sources for healthy, earth friendly upholstery.  Take a peak and let me know if I missed any of yours!   

Cisco Brothers (www.ciscobrothers.com

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, non-toxic materials; and complete, sustainable, socially-responsible production from “seed to shelf.”

el:Environmental Language (www.el-furniture.com

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 (www.furnature.com

Furnature makes furniture that is safe for your home without chemicals, dyes, polymers, or toxins specifically designed for individuals with multiple chemical sensitivities, and for those people who have chosen to create an environmentally friendly home.

Greener Lifestyles (www.greenerlifestyles.com

Greener Lifestyles designs and manufactures upholstered furniture using eco-friendly and sustainable materials that don’t harm the earth by using natural materials such as FSC-Certified Wood, natural latex foam, organic hemp, cotton and wool. 

Natural Lee (www.naturallee.com

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 (www.purebyamimckay.com

Pure’s principles: sustainability, health & awareness.  The materials we use in our furniture impact our ecosystem and the ecosystems where our materials are produced. We use only the finest and purest sustainable materials in our furniture. We care deeply about the environment and how our furniture affects all who come into contact with it. We care about the health of the people who make the furniture, sell the furniture and especially of those who live on our furniture. These factors are ever present with each decision we make. We honestly believe that each time we make a “smart” choice we are helping to create a better future for our planet, our health, and our children.

Q Collection (www.qcollection.com

Q Collection creates furnishings that are better for you, your home and our planet.  They strive to be at the forefront of sustainable design.  Their primary goal is to eliminate toxic chemical, 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 towards the collection of LEED points with materials that are biodegradable, sustainable, non-emitting finishes and internal materials, and certified wood and fabrics.