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The latest news and blog posts from the National Upholstery Association.  All members can read and comment on blog posts.

Industry Partners and Educator members are invited to guest blog for the NUA twice a year. Contact us if you're interested. 

  • July 29, 2020 5:53 AM | Michelle Minner

    Written By Audrey Lonsway, VP NUA


    Have you had a chance to attend one of the NUA’s Community Meetings? They’re a great chance to talk to other upholstery shop owners around the country - face to face! - via Zoom. NUA members and non-members are welcome to participate. Each month there is a topic that helps center the conversation, but it’s cool how participants use it as a great jumping off point to ask questions and share their ideas.

    This month’s topic was “Community Support”. Everyone shared ways that their business supports their community. From discounts for special groups, such as students and churches, to donations of fabric tubes and foam for schools and businesses that use them in some non-traditional ways. Someone even saves their foam for a local artist to use for shipping their pieces! How cool is that?! Auction pieces and gift cards were also a topic of conversation.

    The discussion turned to how upholstery shops receive support from their communities. Sure, the natural thought is how clients support us with that little thing called money, but there was a great brainstorming session on what support is out there for small businesses. Small Business Administrations, Chambers of Commerce, SCORE mentors, networking opportunities for women-owned and veteran-owned businesses - so many ways to get support! Let’s not forget the NUA :-) The NUA offers webinars, discounts, and new ways to advocate for upholstery professionals to other industries.

    Next month, the August NUA Community Meeting’s theme is “Moving In or Out” with discussion about having a store front vs. in-home business. Pros/cons? Also, I’m personally excited about September’s theme of “Shop Set Up”. Everyone will get a chance to show off their work space! What’s something that really works for you? I hope you’ll join us for these upcoming Community Meetings - See you Soon!

  • July 10, 2020 9:15 AM | Michelle Minner

    Want to make sure your business is legally taken care of? Not sure where to begin? Well you are in luck July's Webinar is titled, Top 10 Things You Need to Know to Run Your Business

    This webinar will begin to detail and highlight the questions you need to answer for your business to ensure that your business is taking care of being legally protected. Participants will learn how to choose an attorney, key factors in incorporating, contracts pertaining to a variety of business relationships, intellectual property--why it is SO important, how to protect their web presence, and best practices for social media.

    To register for the webinar, members check your email dated 6/30/20 for the link.

    The Webinar is presented by Angie Avard Turner, owner of Gracious Counsel. She describes herself as an “Attorney for Creative Entrepreneurs”. On her website you’ll find a whole suite of contract templates for your Upholstery Business.

    The templates range from estimates, privacy policies to confidentiality agreements with employees and all things in between.

    We are excited to announce a New Perk for NUA members! 

    National Upholstery Association members now receive 15% off your purchase of Gracious Counsel templates! Check the Member Resources page for the discount code.

    Here is a little bit more about Angie and her business.

    Angie Avard Turner is a creative entrepreneur with over 20 years of creative experience.  She is also an attorney who represents creatives of all kinds, and she has been licensed to practice law since 2001.  Angie is a business consultant, an author, a featured writer, a designer, a public speaker, a problem solver, an out-of-the-box thinker, an unconventionalist, a wife, a mom, a daughter, a sister, and a friend. She is just a regular ole gal who has been around the creative block a few times.  She wants to help you round that block with each new success!

    Head on over to Gracious Counsel and see what she has to offer.


  • July 10, 2020 9:01 AM | Michelle Minner

    Message from the President of the NUA

    As a woman of color I have been particularly affected by the events in the recent weeks, months, years...and decades of the killings and outright murders of Black, Brown and Indigenous women, men and the LGBTQ+ community and I feel compelled to say something on behalf of the National Upholstery Association. This was after some great thought and urging from the board and I want to thank them for not only having my back, but the back of Black and Brown communities as a whole.

    The Black Lives Matter movement is a human rights issue and as the National Upholstery Association we wish to stand on the right side of history and that means standing with those we love, those we do not know and those we wish to know better.

    There are too many names to list. There are too many bodies battered and broken. There are too many lives destroyed. There are too many people who have allowed this injustice to stand and the NUA is calling upon our members, and everyone everywhere to take a stand for racial justice; the human rights that belong to all of us.

    We wish for love that is not blinded by feel good tropes.

    We wish for the safety of our members. 

    We wish for equality for our members.

    We wish for justice for our members.

    We wish for solidarity, support, compassion and love between our members and for all.

    The guiding principles at the NUA are Knowledge & Learning, Diversity, Accessibility & Openness, Community, Outreach & Partnership, Creativity & Innovation. Therefore, racial justice and equality - for all - is the very thread of the National Upholstery Association. It is the very thread and foundation of the upholstery trade.

    As Upholsterers, we are creative outside-the-box problem solvers. We actively seek out knowledge. We are here to eagerly learn from our peers, and to educate ourselves. We are here to listen and we are here to learn from people with differing experiences. Without an open mind, and diversity, the upholstery trade cannot flourish. We need community and racial justice for our trade to thrive.  Will our world thrive.

    The National Upholstery Association will continue to forge a path that is inclusive of everyone. We will continue to reach out into circles that are yet our own. We will continue to make ourselves uncomfortable in the pursuit of learning and equality. We will continue to move with love.

    We stand on the right side of history. We hope you will stand with us.

    Rachel Fletcher
    National Upholstery Association


    Watch YouTube video

  • July 10, 2020 8:42 AM | Michelle Minner

    Written by Carla Pyle, NUA volunteer coordinator & nominating committee member

    Upholsterers possess a unique strength of character that comes from self-reliance, resilience, and determination. Yet even those of us who are accustomed to working solo have discovered unparalleled challenges in the first half of 2020.

    During those weeks, I have witnessed group zoom meetings turn into brainstorming sessions for how to survive, and yes - thrive, in the face of adversity. I've seen mentors reaching out to offer helpful advice to newbies and peers alike. Over the past year, I've seen ideas transformed into reality as I've worked alongside an amazing group of volunteers that have grown the National Upholstery Association into a thriving community. Together we have demonstrated that the common thread that ties us together also makes us stronger individually, as we pull each other up. Workrooms, classrooms, and industry partners are finding a common platform on which to strengthen business practices, build new educational programs, and create support networks that help us grow stronger together.

    The NUA has several short- and long-term opportunities for those of you who are eager to help shape the future of upholstery. 

    For those seeking a longer-term commitment, nominations are now open for Board of Directors positions (2 years). As a member of the current board, I can tell you it's an exciting, enlightening, and infinitely rewarding experience. 

    For those looking for a shorter commitment (tuned in with your schedule), please refer to our volunteer job descriptions on this page, which is updated regularly.

    If you have ideas about the direction this professional organization should go, now's your chance to make a difference!

    Submit your name or nominations for the Board of Directors today to: or submit your nomination via our volunteer page.

     Note: our normal election schedule has been delayed due to COVID-19. The election date will be announced in the October, 2020 NUA Newsletter and on the NUA's social media channels.

    Questions? Send them to

  • June 29, 2020 6:10 AM | Michelle Minner

    Written by Monica Rhodes, NUA Volunteer and owner of Monday Wash Furniture.



    I like stories. Let me tell you a good one.

    A while back, around Christmas time, a gifted upholsterer was working in her shop when a man came in from the cold. A couple of decades previous, this upholsterer had begun her training with a master named AL Goss. She had been a star student, a natural who learned quickly and improvised well on her own. Prior to that, since childhood in fact, she’d been an avid DIYer soaking up sewing, embroidery and crocheting skills from the three generations of women in her family who had come before her. Her all-time favorite gift came from her grandmother when she was just eight years old - her grandmother’s own beautiful blue sewing machine, which immediately took the place of honor in her cozy purple bedroom. As a young mother, raising four children and running her own pre-school, this upholsterer-to-be continued to spend what spare time she had creating beautiful window treatments, quilts, and eventually even cushion covers for her sofa hand-in-hand with her mother. That last project was the one that launched her decision to study upholstery. So, you see, this upholsterer, in her shop on that cold winter’s day in Massachusetts, was a person who held three things particularly dear: family, love of learning, and the creation of beautiful and useful things.


    Brushing the snow from his shoulders, the young man approached the upholsterer, who was now a teacher of upholstery herself. He wanted to take a hands-on class. He wanted her to be the one to teach him. The man’s grandfather had been a master upholsterer, but he had passed away before the man had had the chance to learn from him. The man’s grandfather was Al Goss. And so, it came full circle. The man would have the chance to learn from his grandfather… through Kim Chagnon.

    This is a really good story. It is the story of promise for our trade.

     When I video chatted with Kim Chagnon of Kim’s Upholstery a couple of weeks ago, she told me a few other stories, as well: a sweet story of a woman, about to have her first baby, who cried when Kim made ready again the rocker in which the woman’s grandmother had nursed her first child; an inspiring story of a woman and her two daughters who implored Kim, for almost a year, to make them her first hands-on students, leading to significant growth in one daughter’s business refurbishing MCM furniture.

    It was nice to share a laugh with Kim. She has a bright smile and a warm demeanor. I know a good many of you are familiar with her face from the numerous expert tutorials she and her husband Bill have posted on YouTube. I was eager to learn about the remarkable evolution of her business. Beyond the YouTube videos, there is so much more.

    I learned that Kim was still running the pre-school when she signed up to study with Al Goss. She was on a waitlist for his beginning upholstery class for almost a year and, once enrolled, drove 20 miles one evening per week to get there. She pushed to take on challenging projects beyond the scope of an average beginners’ class. Mr. Goss, noting her strong sewing and artistic eye, encouraged this. She would prove to be one of the best students of his career.

    Kim went on to upholster projects for friends and family, which soon led to doing upholstery work for clients with Bill by her side. The volume of work increased rapidly to the point that, one day in 1998, Kim and Bill realized that “something had to give”. They both gave up their day jobs and committed to upholstery full time.

     Around 2010, Kim and Bill were invited to do small project tutorials for the Window Coverings Association of America (WCAA). It was immediately clear that viewers wanted to dive deeper. In response, Kim and Bill launched a series of YouTube videos to give DIYers and beginning upholsterers a more in depth understanding of what is involved in the completion of a quality upholstery project. The response was overwhelming. The couple found themselves riding a tidal wave of emails from people seeking advice and guidance. They met the demand by creating several more You Tube Videos (today there are over 300) and also began, in 2012, producing and mailing out instructional DVDs.


    It was not long after that Kim agreed to venture into hands-on teaching with the mother and daughter trio mentioned earlier. Kim admitted that she was nervous at the time but, “It went very well,” she said. Recalling the way that the daughter’s business took off afterward, Kim smiled broadly, “I just love to see students excel and propel forward.”

    In response to ever-increasing demand from DIYers and budding upholsterers, Kim and Bill have transitioned to teaching full time. In 2015, they launched the Kim’s Upholstery Online Classes website with just 12 videos. Today there are close to 100. In addition, the website supports a community forum, and weekly live chats during which Kim and Bill answer members’ questions directly. They also host periodic live sessions for a private Facebook group. Members know they can feel confident asking any question at all. “There is no such thing as a bad question,” said Kim. “We all learn from each other.”

    And that’s the way it should be. The vitality of our trade depends on the sharing of knowledge and experience on all levels and from all angles. I am pleased to have the opportunity to write these educator spotlight articles (yes, there will be more to come) because our future lies in the recognition that we never stop learning and that continuing education is crucial.

    Toward that end, Kim, in addition to everything else, hosts annual meet-ups for upholstery enthusiasts and professionals to “allow people of all levels to get together to talk about issues like pricing and how to handle client situations” among other things. Of course, there’s an educational component, too. There have been two meet-ups so far. A third, scheduled for September 17th and 18th in Virginia, is tentatively on hold due to Covid-19.

    I asked Kim if she and Bill have had to make other adjustments due to the pandemic. Kim explained that hands-on workshops originally scheduled for the summer have been postponed until 2021; those scheduled for October and November may still be a possibility. But Kim’s Upholstery remains ready and able to conduct the majority of its business as usual. There’s so much available in the form of on-line video content, and the forums and weekly video chat sessions provide not only upholstery advice and guidance, but also support and personal connection as members cope with conditions during this stressful and unprecedented time.

    If you would like to join me within the Kim’s Upholstery community to share knowledge and strengthen your skills with Kim and Bill, please follow this link to begin your membership. Both monthly and annual membership options are available.

    You can find Kim in the following places.  

    Online classes



     The National Upholstery Association is proud to present various viewpoints of our members and partners within the upholstery community. Perspectives (or opinions) will vary. This Blog is made available for general information; not to provide specific business, financial, or legal advice.

  • June 18, 2020 11:32 AM | Michelle Minner

    Written by Carla Pyle, NUA Board Member and  Natural Upholstery educator & consultant

    “Now more than ever, we realize that human health and well-being is precious. The air we breathe, the water we drink, and the products and technologies we interact with every day can have tremendous impact on our health and safety. Chemical Insights, an Institute of Underwriters Laboratories, combines the best minds, rigorous scientific research and a commitment for thorough and accurate results, to find answers to questions that support safe, healthy working, learning and living environments.”

    - Chemical Insights Mission Statement

    When was the last time a customer engaged you in a lively conversation about the potential health effects of the upholstery materials you use in your work? This is a subject that’s getting more attention, both in upholstery workrooms and in the wider industry.

    The Taskforce

    Wouldn’t it be nice to have some science-backed facts about safe & healthy furniture, all laid out for you to learn and share with your clients? That is one of the goals of the Furniture Flammability and Human Health Taskforce, recently initiated by Chemical Insights


    The Taskforce is part of step five in a five-step process that Chemical Insights (CI) employs for each of its research initiatives:

    1. Involve a wide range of stakeholders in their initiatives, convening all parties with a connection to the topic (summit). Based on the outcome of these discussions, CI sets a research agenda, designs a methodology, selects research partners and establishes an action plan. (eg. manufacturers, users, health care professionals, policymakers). When setting a research agenda, CI considers these factors: Emerging issues in the marketplace, New technologies and unintended risks, Health risks posed, and Lack of regulation or guidance (eg. indoor air quality is not regulated)

    2. CI then conducts the independent research for the selected initiative -all research is objective, independent, transparent and self-funded. Research often spans multiple years and involves partnerships with academic research institutions.

    3. Once the research has been conducted, scientists from CI & partners analyze the data to confirm key findings, evaluate end-user health impact and develop action steps.

    4. CI shares findings with key stakeholders to discuss, and at times debate, the results and impacts of their research. They also publish scientific papers and deliver presentations for the scientific community; develop targeted education, such as webinars, for relevant industry professionals; and share general information with the public, through articles, social media and web-based tools.

    5. Once CI shares their research findings, they work to support the safe commercialization of evolving technologies through the development of best practices, standards, guidelines, health criteria and assessment tools.


    The Taskforce’s three key GOALS are to:

    1) Provide a forum for knowledge and suggested actions related to harmonizing efforts on Furniture Flammability and Human Health.

    2) Develop guidance documents on achieving fire-safe/chemical-safefurniture.

    3) Develop “safe choice” educational materials for consumers.

    If I were to distill this down in to a single sentence targeted to upholsterers, it might look something like this:

    The Furniture Flammability and Human Health Taskforce is a collaborative effort that brings industry professionals and stakeholders together to utilize scientific documentation on furniture flammability and human health in order to create consumer-targeted educational resources that upholstery professionals can share with their clients.

    Timeline and Participants

    Taskforce members will participate in a series of online workshops, ending in the development of the guidance and educational materials defined, with an objective of finalizing the materials by the end of 2020.

    The National Upholstery Association (NUA) is represented on the Taskforce by board members Jamie Facciola and Carla Pyle. We are joined on the Taskforce by professionals from a wide ranging group of industries, including furniture manufacturers, designers, architects, furniture retailers, firefighter safety research organizations, academic researchers, chemical industry representatives, and lobbyists.

    The nitty-gritty

    A barrier fabric for upholstery wins the battle of the Burning Chairs! Watch this amazing short video showing one of the flammability tests conducted as part of the data-gathering phase of this project.

    If you have time, check out the webinar v=9zXJUQGs3LQ&t=8s presented by the Sustainable Furnishings Council in March of this year, explaining the entire research and testing process in greater detail.

    Once the Taskforce’s work is complete, I look forward to giving you an update & sharing useful educational resources you can take to your shops to help you engage intelligently on the subject of furniture flammability & health.

    See the June 2021 follow-up post, which includes a Toolkit for specifying upholstered furniture for your clients, taking into account both fire safety and human health.


    The National Upholstery Association is proud to present various viewpoints of our members and partners within the upholstery community. Perspectives (or opinions) will vary. This Blog is made available for general information; not to provide specific business, financial, or legal advice.

  • June 06, 2020 8:17 AM | Michelle Minner

    Have you ever wondered what it would be like to write a book? How does the process work? How do you get published? Maybe you just want to get to know one of your favorite upholstery or soft furnishings authors? Join us June 9th for a webinar that’s a little different than our usual format. This time we invited four published professionals to join us and share some insight on the process of getting published. Their book topics range from furniture & automotive upholstery to window coverings. It will be an interview style event with time for questions at the end.

     Here's a little bit about our panelists:

    Amanda Brown

    In 2007, Amanda Brown left her day job and started Spruce, a furniture redesign studio in Austin, Texas. Her fresh aesthetic for interiors has garnered acclaim from publications including the New York Times, Metropolitan Home, and Southern Living. She produced her first instructional DVD, Spruce at Home, in 2011, and authored the “Upholstery Basics” column for Design*Sponge, as well as regular articles for and

    Amanda's book, Spruce: A Step-by-Step Guide to Upholstery and Design (Storey Publishing), was released in October 2013, a labor of love and comprehensive guide for all things upholstery.

    Shelly Miller Leer

    Shelly Miller Leer has been taking apart furniture and rebuilding it for over 20 years. Her familiar voice and easy-to-follow projects have worked their way through the hands of creators from novice to professional. HomeRoom is the studio home to her courses, workshops, and provides an event space for unique hands-on corporate and private events.

    Shelly’s writing and projects have been featured in ,,, The Huffington Post, The Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis Monthly Magazine,, Country Living Magazine, and others. In the late 1990's, Shelly designed and created a line of children's furniture and accessories for one of the first online children's furniture websites, She co-authored three books for; Make It: Mid Century Modern, Make It: Secondhand Chic and Make It: Hardware Store Chic.

     Additional publications :Digital Apprentice: Intro to Sewing & Upholstery & The Little Upholstery Book: A Beginners Guide to Artisan Upholstery

    Fred Mattson

    Fred Mattson began working on car interiors as a teenager in the 1970s by hand-stitching inserts into his own 1969 Oldsmobile and working on the cars of several friends in his neighborhood. Soon after opening a full-time upholstery business in 1980, Fred's auto trimming career expanded to sewing car interiors for many prestigious upholstery shops and restoration specialists in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, metropolitan area. Having earned the nickname Fearless, Fred works his magic on hopeless projects, restoring them to factory condition by fabricating missing parts and reconditioning the potentially hopeless.

    Fred now restores vintage American cars. His clients have won numerous awards and trophies and credit their wins to the high quality and correctness of detail of their interiors and convertible tops. Fred's other titles with CarTech Books include Automotive Upholstery & Interior Restoration and Convertible Top Restoration and Installation.

    Susan Woodcock

    Susan Woodcock owns Home Dec Gal, a home decor sewing resource and workroom. In 2017, Susan and her husband Rodger Walker founded Workroom Tech, a trade school for professional workrooms near their home in Tryon, North Carolina and they produce Custom Workroom Conference, an annual trade show and educational event for workroom professionals.

    Susan is an international speaker and instructor for Bluprint, and The Workroom Channel. Her publishing credits include Singer(R) Sewing Custom Curtains, Shades and Top Treatments, and First Time Window Treatments: An Absolute Beginners Guide. She is a member of the Window Coverings Association of America and the National Upholstery Association.

    To register for the webinar check your email from the National Upholstery Association email dated May 29th for the link.

     Webinars are for NUA members only, not a member join today!

  • May 28, 2020 12:22 PM | Michelle Minner

    Last week, our very own Jamie Facciola, Secretary of the Board, presented, “Circularity in Furnishings” to the Sustainable Furnishings Council as part of their Sustainability Essentials webinar series. It's a riveting presentation that is bound to make you rethink the furniture cycle and your part in it.

    The event promotion reads, "What we throw away is now the world's most abundant natural resource. Why aren't we using more of it as a production feed stock? Furniture is a durable good - intended to last a long time. Why, then, do we throw so much of it away. Join us for a discussion with Jamie Facciola, an award-winning social entrepreneur whose work on developing local solutions to circular economy challenges has been covered in BBC News, Fast Company and Greenbiz. She will share her most recent project, a photo mini-blog about furniture waste, and inspire us with a discussion. There is much potential in the opportunity to use what we already have, especially as we rebuild our economy in recovery from the COVID-19 crisis."
    Watch the recorded presentation.
    Learn more about the Sustainable Furnishings Council.

    Subscribe to Furniturecycle.

  • May 20, 2020 9:14 AM | Michelle Minner
       Written by Diane Montgomery


    Pattern matching is a love hate relationship for me.  I love the final results but it definitely takes more planning and time to correctly place and keep the continuation of a pattern going.  I feel that it is a disservice to both the client and the artist of the pattern to not give it the utmost attention.  If a client has chosen a patterned fabric I imagine it is because they were attracted to the pattern as a whole.  Wouldn’t it be a shame if it was chopped up?!

    When beginning a project that has pattern matching involved, I focus on what should be centered on the seat cushion (this is for most patterns) or what should be centered along the border/boxing of the seat cushion (this is for geometric, plaid, or checked patterns).  If your existing cushion fits well you can go ahead and cut out your cushion face.  If it doesn’t or if you are altering the padding of the arms and/or inside back, you can cut a large square with the front line of the cushion falling where you will want the final front line to be.  Place your cut cushion face lining up the pattern on the next pattern repeat.  You will then measure 1’’ up from your cut cushion edge.  This will take into account the seam allowance for both your face and border.  Then place the cut border lining up the pattern on the next pattern repeat.  In my example diagram, my nosing is 4’’ deep from the edge of the seat to the sewn seam of the decking.  I measure 4 ½’’ up from the bottom edge of the border to get the top line of my nosing (4’’ depth plus ½’’ border seam allowance).  The cushion and nosing are what everything else will go off of to keep the pattern continuous.

    The two biggest things to pay attention to, are including your seam allowances when measuring and always mark your centers.  I also love making the seat and back cushion continue the pattern.  To do this, I measure the depth of my back cushion (let’s say it is 3’’ deep) and work forward/down from the back of the cut seat cushion.  Place your seat cushion face lining up the pattern on the next pattern repeat.  Measure down 3’’ from the back of the seat cushion.  This will be the bottom line of the back cushion.  Once both cushions are sewn, stuffed, and in place, everything will line up beautifully!!


    Pattern matching is definitely a learning process and I am still learning.  I don’t get it perfect every time, but I do feel like it is my duty to try my absolute hardest to keep the continuation of the pattern going throughout the entire piece.  Yes it takes time, yes it takes extra yardage, but I promise it is so worth it and your client will be so pleased with your attention to detail.



    Diane Montgomery is the owner and upholsterer of Coventry Lane Upholstery.  She began upholstering at home in 2011, found an apprenticeship opportunity in Columbia, SC in 2012 where she worked until 2015.  At this time she moved outside of Nashville, TN where she opened and operates her shop out of her house.  Her projects include mainly residential furniture for both regular clients and Nashville designers.  Her work can be found on Instagram @coventrylaneupholstery 

     The National Upholstery Association is proud to present various viewpoints of our members and partners within the upholstery community. Perspectives (or opinions) will vary. This Blog is made available for general information; not to provide specific business, financial, or legal advice.

  • April 22, 2020 3:59 AM | Michelle Minner

    Written by Carla Pyle,NUA Board Member and Natural Upholstery educator & consultant


    I want to share a vision for Upholstery’s future, but first I want to acknowledge that things are far from normal right now.

    As I write this, we're under a ‘shelter in place’ directive – staying home due to the Corona virus pandemic. I’ve been so inspired by the support & generosity within the upholstery community - online meetups, conversations on social media, and just people reaching have out have helped many of us through these days of isolation.

    I have noticed, when I step away from the surreal buzz of the news & internet, that the world has slowed down.

    For now.

    People seem to be living more in the moment, and this gives me hope. When I look to my local community, I see neighbors uniting to help each other find on-the-ground solutions to our most pressing challenges, and I’m optimistic that we will recover and emerge stronger if we work on solutions TOGETHER.


    Beyond the immediate day-to-day challenges, my thoughts go to the BIGGER PICTURE.

    What changes are in store for the upholstery community and what adjustments will we have to make going forward? Of course none of us has the answer to that, but I'd like to offer some hope and an invitation.


    April 22, 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. This is a milestone certainly worth celebrating, though the sentiment may feel restrained given the current state of affairs. Looking back, we can acknowledge there have been great advances since 1970 (and more than a few contractions).

    When we consider the broader challenges facing the world – in health, economics and climate change – it’s easy to see that A LOT has to change, and quickly.

    I am heartened to see evidence that this question of transformation is sparking an explosion of innovative thinking in many markets on a global scale. At the same time, I’m perplexed by the scarcity of attention given to the changes needed in the upholstered furniture industry.

    How will the craft of UPHOLSTERY adapt to the unknowns as we emerge from this pandemic?

       How will we eliminate chemicals in our furniture that are compromising the health of so many people in their own homes and work places?

       How can we change economic incentives to benefit the people on the ground doing the work instead of rewarding top-down corporate lobbying interests?

       How do we intelligently handle the waste of resources that is rampant in the current ‘fast furniture’ economy?

    It turns out NATURE offers some answers that address these questions on a deeper level in the context of our current economic system. To illustrate, we need to take a simplistic approach.

    The LINEAR ECONOMY (what we have now)

    Our current economic system is LINEAR, meaning most goods fall into the ‘Take-Make-Dispose’ model. The bulk of cheap upholstered furniture provides a perfect example – a $250 sofa gets dumped outside college housing at the end of a school year. We all know that it’s just NOT SUSTAINABLE to throw millions of tons of furniture in landfills every year, essentially treating the environment as a waste reservoir.


    So how can we change this to a more sustainable system?

    Linear systems are a product of the industrial age, an age of growth and discovery that began in the 18th century, riding upon a misguided belief that human civilization must somehow conquer nature. Now, as we enter the second decade of the 21st century, it is obvious that human systems are well-advised to take a cue from nature and to see ourselves as INTEGRAL to the (circular) cycles of nature and the planet.

    As sustainability author Daniel Christian Wahl points out:

    “We are not supposedly ‘objective’ observers outside these systems, trying to manipulate them more effectively; we are always participants (who must) shift our attitude and goal to our appropriate participation in these systems, as subjective, co-creative agents.”


    The CIRCULAR ECONOMY (what is it?)

    The circular economy is not a new concept, its roots dating back circa the first Earth Day in 1970. What I like best about the circular economy model is that it seeks to build prosperity long-term. Here’s the best quickie (3 minute) video illustration I’ve found (from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation).

     ( video)

    The model encourages RE-thinking the current LINEAR (Take-Make-Dispose) economic system – moving away from depleting finite resources & producing toxic waste, and moving toward a CIRCULAR (Repair-Reuse-Renew) economy. It requires separating the biological ‘nutrients’ (derived of living systems) from the technical ‘nutrients’ (from non-living systems).

    This may not represent a quick fix for the challenges we face in the near future (I’d love to hear if there’s one out there). But it’s an excellent starting point.

    I love the INSPIRATION that shines through in this model, the way it frames the future in a POSITIVE way. It includes the tools we need to begin to move toward rethinking the operating system itself, and I believe the best solutions always grow from inspired thinking. The hard part is figuring out WHERE TO BEGIN on this unproven path, and accepting that we have to be in it for the LONG game.


    Considering the Circular Economy in the Context of Upholstered Furniture Waste

    The Two Nutrient Cycles:


    Circular Economy-nutrient cycles by MBDC


    1. Biological nutrients

    (universal example) Food waste is biodegradable. My backyard compost-to-garden system is a great example of this, cycling waste from kitchen > compost > garden > kitchen in a continuous circle. Nothing is wasted.

    (upholstery example) Certified organic cotton batting or jute webbing for upholstery would be considered a biological/agricultural nutrient. I have used both materials as mulch in my garden. I don’t use non-organic cotton materials due to pesticide + other chemical residuals present in the final product.

    2. Technical nutrients

    (universal example) Aluminum is infinitely recyclable and highly durable. Recycling aluminum requires only 5% of the energy used to make new aluminum from the raw ore.

    (upholstery example) Steel springs for upholstery is a perfect example of a technical nutrient. Steel is cheaper to recycle than to make new, and it doesn’t lose any of its inherent physical properties during the recycling process.

    3. What if it’s neither?

    The biggest challenge in effectively addressing upholstery waste seems to be the fact that you just can’t put it into simple black & white terms. What if a material is not biodegradable, nor does it fit the technical cycle requirements (like polyester batting or urethane foam laced with flame retardants)? Herein lies the complication. Bedding waste presents similar challenges. Both industries incorporate many layers of different materials into a single product, some of which do not fit neatly into either category.



    Breaking it down to the upholstery layers

    In the upholstery trade, reuse of high quality framing & soft layers is a the preferred option. Reuse delays the need to assign those materials to either a biological or a technical cycle for years or decades. The challenge lies in considering the point at which those materials reach the end of their useful life, and how they do or do not fit into the circular model:

    1.    A well-built furniture frame is the foundation that makes reupholstery possible. Wood is part of the biological cycle, and most metals can reintegrated as products in the technical cycle.

    2.    Traditional upholstery uses animal products (wool, horse hair) and plant products (coir fiber, cotton, sphagnum moss). In a circular model, these materials are considered biological nutrients at the end of their useful life, but until channels for effectively composting them are defined within a real-world system, upholsterers have no other choice but to toss them in the trash.

    3.    Modern upholstery most often uses synthetics (polyester, urethane foam, chemical additives) which currently have no value as technical nutrients. They are not biodegradable and certain chemicals like flame retardants, present a danger to health and natural biological systems, so it’s into the trash bin for those materials as well, once they can no longer be re-used.

    4.    Some modern upholstery uses natural fibers that are free of harmful chemicals (natural latex, wool & organic cotton) and ARE biodegradable. But again, the channels must be in place within a working system for the bulk of these materials to effectively return to the earth as biological nutrients at the end of their useful life.

    In Summary

    This radically SIMPLIFIED overview reveals some basic elements which must change if the upholstery industry is to lead the shift to a regenerative furniture economy:

    1.    Composting channels must be established to handle biodegradable materials

    2.    Toxins must be removed from the biological inputs at the manufacturing level

    3.    Synthetics must find channels through which to flow back into the system (or be replaced by biological materials)

    4.    There must be economic incentives that reward the professionals and those they seek to help (customers) on the ground, allowing for prosperity at the community level.


    Upholstery is a skilled trade that has defined eras in human history, inspired creativity, and preserved tradition through the ages. It has been answering the need to recycle, reuse and repair our furniture for generations, and will remain as a valuable player in defining the future of furniture in a circular economy.



    All of this plays into the National Upholstery Association's 2020-2023 Strategic Plan - specifically Goal #7, with objectives to:

        Advocate for legislative policy designating reupholstery as 'green jobs’.

       Promote inclusion of reupholstery within tax incentive programs.

       Support or lead education initiatives for reupholstery as a tool for elimination of waste within the furniture industry.

       Promote reupholstery as an intrinsic component of the circular economy.


    As an industry organization, NUA has great potential to make actual changes that will benefit its members and many more. Your voice and your unique perspective are important to the success of this collaborative effort. If you’re inspired to make a difference, please join us, and include ‘Sustainability Initiatives’ in your comments on the application. Thank you!

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