Goods & Services Provided by the Upholsterer

This illustration shows the dressing room and bedroom of an imaginary, grand house in 1700. These two rooms were the most richly furnished in a state apartment that usually consisted of five rooms, including a dining room, a withdrawing room and a closet. Upholsterers could be involved in almost all aspects of the design of such interiors. In addition to the upholstered seating and curtains we associate with them today, they offered a vast range of goods for sale or hire.

Dressing room and bedroom of an imaginary grand house in 1700.
  1. Wall Hangings
    The upholsterer could supply a variety of wallhangings, and install them, either nailing them over
    a canvas lining, or using made-up wooden frames. Edgings, braid, even cords for hanging silver light
    sconces complemented the textiles. As fashions changed upholsterers did good business in secondhand fabrics.
  2. Window Curtains
    Pull-up, or festoon curtains, were a new idea introduced from France. Paler fabrics like translucent
    white silk or painted chintz imported from India were fashionable, but curtains might also match the
    darker fabric of the walls. Upholsterers saw to the whole business of making and hanging curtains.
  3. Tea Table
    Exotic, lacquered furniture such as this table, or large folding screens were considered particularly
    appropriate for dressing rooms or closets. Upholsterers were well placed not only to advise clients on new fashions but also to supply them with imported products as diverse as cottons or porcelain.
  4. Easy Chair
    After about 1700 the easy chair became increasingly popular. It was upholstered to match the other
    furniture, but the outside back was often covered in a cheaper fabric. Easy chairs used many of the recently developed techniques of upholstery but their greatest comfort came from a deep cushion filled with down.
  5. Door Curtains
    Door curtains or portières were usually made with the wall-hangings, contributing to the unified appearance of a room. They also served to exclude draughts. Since they had to be handled by those passing through, they sometimes had their own protective curtains.
  6. Carpet
    Upholsterers could supply a variety of floor carpets and decorative woven mats. Carpets could be woven or embroidered, and came from sources in Britain and overseas. The best woven, knotted pile carpets came from Persia (Iran) and Anatolia (Turkey).
  7. Floor
    The influence and responsibilities of upholsterers might also lead them to supervise trades as diverse
    as the specialist laying of floors in wooden parquetry, the fitting of panelling, the plastering of walls and
    ceilings or the provision of locks or mirror glass.
  8. Furniture
    Most grand rooms were furnished with at least one set of matching table, mirror and stands supplied by the upholsterer. The links between upholsterers and cabinet-makers became so strong that by 1730 many upholsterers were practising both trades.
  9. Tapestry
    For grand bedrooms tapestry remained fashionable well into the 18th century. Sets of tapestries were
    woven to order in specialist workshops and wealthy clients could choose to personalise the borders.
    Upholsterers offered tapestry of different qualities and were able to adapt second-hand tapestries to fit
    specific rooms.
  10. Bed
    State beds were the most expensive item supplied by the upholsterer. They demanded luxurious fabrics (bought by length) and complex trimmings (bought by weight). To make a bed the upholsterer had to coordinate the work of many trades. Once in place, most beds were fitted with woollen outer curtains to protect them from light and dust.
  11. Chairs and stools
    Bedroom chairs and stools matched the bed, with opulent, handmade trimmings. Like the bed they were supplied with protective woollen covers. Upholsterers were also called in to alter or re-cover furniture with more fashionable fabrics, or to carry out cleaning or repairs beyond the skill of the household.

The Wolsey Angels Appeal

We urgently need your help to raise the £5,000,000 it will cost for the V&A to acquire four Renaissance angels cast for the tomb of Cardinal Wolsey and later in the possession of Henry VIII.

Help us buy The Wolsey Angels

Shop online

Luxury Goods from India: The Art of the Indian Cabinet-Maker

Luxury Goods from India: The Art of the Indian Cabinet-Maker

Luxury Goods from India highlights key objects from the V&A's unrivalled collection of furniture and objets d'art from India and Sri Lanka. Many o…

Buy now

Event - High Renaissance to Baroque: 1500-1750. 14/15

Wed 24 September 2014–Wed 08 July 2015

YEAR COURSE: Explore the art, architecture and decorative arts of Europe from the High Renaissance to Baroque, focussing on Italy, France, Germany, the Netherlands
and England.

Book online