Centuries ago, the manufacture of French furniture was a complex procedure involving numerous people from various guilds. A single piece of furniture could be created by many hands, due to the strict regulations governing the guilds.
The first step would be to have a designer or draftsman create a drawing of the piece. Then a small model would be made using wood or wax, and shown to the person commissioning the piece.
Once it was approved, the menuisier would use beech or walnut to cut the basic form of the chair. Any ornamentation would be the responsibility of a sculptor, and if the piece was to be finished other than with simple varnish or wax, the services of a painter-gilder would be required. The last step would be to have a tapissier-garnisseur do the upholstery.
Materials and Upholstery
Frequently, furniture would be ordered as part of a suite, all requiring matching upholstery. It was not uncommon for an upholster to handle chairs, stools, settees, folding screens, fire screens and a day bed all for the same room, all in the same upholstery. Materials used might be silk, velvet, or leather, with brass nails used to anchor the fabric.
Brocade was (and still is) a popular choice for fine French furniture upholstery. The name “brocade” comes from the Italian word “broccato,” which means literally “embossed cloth.” This highly decorative fabric is shuttle-woven, frequently from coloured silk, and may contain threads of silver and/or gold.
The technique used to weave brocade is called supplementary weft, which means that the brocading is produced by adding a non-structural, supplementary weft to the standard weft that binds the warp threads. This serves the purpose of creating the appearance that the fabric is embroidered.
Velvet has stood the test of time as a fabric of choice for elegant French furniture. Leather has also been used throughout the ages, both tanned naturally and richly dyed. The type of upholstery used has typically been chosen to complement the purpose of the furniture. A chair in a lady’s drawing room, for instance, might warrant the use of velvet, while a settee in the foyer of a dining hall would require a more durable fabric or possibly leather.
The use of top quality materials and upholstery has resulted in a good deal of French furniture being passed from generation to generation. Modern manufacturers of quality French furniture wisely do not deviate overly much from the traditional methods.
Contact Asset Furniture today if you would like more information on the materials and upholstery used for luxurious French furniture.