What is a hotel to do when it invests time, effort and money into designing a unique piece of seating for its public areas or the guestroom, and then is forced to replace it just a few years later? Hotel furniture is expected to last anywhere between five and seven years, but the interactions between guests and furniture can wear down furniture over time, which can break both hearts and the bank if the piece is unique or an antique.
Mark Goetz, founder of TZ Design, a New York-based furniture design firm, said it is important for designers to select furniture for hotels that can be upholstered in the first place, and to seek out designers and pieces that are purpose-built to be reinforced. “The key is in the details,” Goetz said. “Look into the welting, the way the fabric or leather is stapled on to find if a piece can have its upholstery replaced at all.”
Pieces that cannot easily be reupholstered, according to Goetz, sometimes are not worth the cost and should be replaced. One of the biggest barriers to upholstery maintenance in antique furniture is when a manufacturer glues the fabric directly to the underlying foam, which is not only very difficult to separate without damaging the piece, but also raises environmental concerns regarding the glue’s disposal.
MaryEllen Walsh, VP of furniture product development for Kravet, said that maintaining unique furniture begins with its frame. For the best results during reinforcements, Walsh said to make sure all hardwood frames are corner block screwed and braced in all corners, and suggested an eight-way hand tie on the bottom. Walsh also recommended the use of mohair fabric in antique seating for its long-lasting resilience, but conceded that many hotels would resist the idea due to the cost of the fabric.
➔ “Look into the welting, the way the fabric or leather is stapled on to find if a piece can have its upholstery replaced at all.”
Mark Goetz, founder, TZ Design
“In an antique restoration, I would use leather or mohair,” Walsh said. “The key is to spend the money on a good solid frame, because if a piece of furniture is going to be around for a while in a hotel, it is going to get beaten to death.”
The keys to spotting quality construction
Determining the length of time a piece of furniture will last is not an exact science, but designers have a few tips for discerning quality production.
Jonathan Terrell, owner of South Carolina-based Quality Upholstery, stressed the importance of a fabric’s rub count to know whether or not the fabric is in for the long haul. Commercial-grade fabrics with high rub counts are good choices for hotels, and Terrell also recommended learning the fire specifications of your chosen fabric as that may factor into its durability as well.
According to MaryEllen Walsh, VP of furniture product development for Kravet, a hotel’s desire to save money can often end up costing when sub-standard products begin to wear down.
“If a hotel is looking at a fully upholstered bucket chair that is costly but high-quality, and then they try to have the same design done for a quarter of the price, the product will not come out the same,” Walsh said. To Walsh, it is preferable to work within your limits than to copy a high-design piece with low-quality materials. “At a midscale hotel like a Marriott, you can find simple vinyls used in colorful, smart ways, and that is an admirable way to use your budget without skimping,” she said.
Scott Gibson, global GM for coated fabrics business at chemical and polymer producer Omnova Solutions, said that hotels want a high-end look, but they want to be able to clean a piece as well. “To get the most out of a design visually and then keep it looking good requires input from the hotel, designers and manufacturers,” Gibson said. “If your design process begins and ends with aesthetics, it could lead you in the wrong direction.”
The current state, trends of upholstery design
Not every hotel has the cash for the highest-quality furniture materials, but this doesn’t mean a hotel can afford to skimp.
According to Scott Gibson, global GM for coated fabrics business for Omnova Solutions, hotels are emulating the look of expensive fabrics using designs and embosses to achieve a custom look without sky-high costs. According to Gibson, it’s all about finding a piece’s niche functionality and capitalizing on it.
“Everyone is trying to build a bridge between high design and the need to improve the ROI on furniture,” Gibson said. “Guests bang things with luggage and knock them around, and those things are expensive to replace. But you can’t leave a hole in a chair.”
Big hotels are moving toward eclectic, residential looks, according to MaryEllen Walsh, VP of furniture product development for Kravet. That means less tight-backed chairs and more wood, but lower-end hotels can do well with tight-backed seating because they require less maintenance.
“The 1950s modern look is very in, with exposed wood frames that are complimented by velvet or leather, which require very little maintenance,” Walsh said. Steel frames can also be used for even more durability.
Mark Goetz, founder of TZ Design, said designers can use color and bold lines in furniture design to influence the feeling of a space without investing in architectural changes. “Where a room has been left simple and plain, and interesting furniture is made the center stage, it leaves guests with the impression that the property has a sense of style,” Goetz said. “It’s also an efficient use of upholstery and is a smaller investment than making physical changes to a property.”
Goetz also warns designers and hotels about the need to avoid the draw of design trendiness that lives only in the current moment. “A piece with great durability is a big deal, but it can’t go out of style before its durability gives out,” Goetz said. “If it’s strong but no longer looks appropriate, it still has to go. When looking into designs, have a knowledge of the past and look to the future.”
Five tips for upholstery maintenance
1 Be careful when choosing cleaners to use on fabrics. Harsh disinfectants can wear down a product faster, and this is all dependent on the type of coating and cleaners used. This information is available on all cleaning products.
2 Loose cushions need to be rotated once per day depending on traffic. Tightly designed seats can last longer, but loose cushions wear down after being sat in the same place over and over. If flipped, these cushions will wear more evenly.
3 If possible, use wood in furniture that is placed in high-traffic areas. Wooden arms on lounge chairs last longer than those covered in fabric, as the exposed arms are worn down not just by guests who sit down but also by guests brushing past them, or bumping into them.
4 Chairs in public areas with backs that lean at an angle should have a back leg that angles back even farther. This protects the back of the chair from walls while being moved.
5 Watch the amount of foam used in supportive upholstery. If too much foam is used in an upholstered piece it will become uncomfortable as it breaks down. Fluffy pieces will not last long in a hotel lobby, but higher-level upholstery designs will use springs or dense, high-quality foam rather than large amounts of it.