Upholstery and covers are used on furniture designed for sitting or lying on. From the East, Europeans learned the use of wickerwork, which provided a ventilated and resilient background for loose cushions. The upholstered chair is a genuinely European phenomenon that achieved its most distinguished and logical form in England during the 18th century. Poor heating systems in houses, general prosperity, and a desire for comfort were the conditions that gave rise to a number of imaginatively varied types of upholstered armchairs in which the only wood visible is in the legs, with the back closing right up against the sitter and side wings affording protection from inevitable drafts.
The upholstered chair created a new effect that depended almost entirely upon the craftsmanship of the upholsterer. The upholstered chair or sofa has remained a specialty of the Anglo-Saxon world; club life in particular contributed to its popularity and resulted in heavily stuffed forms including that of the so-called chesterfield.
By mid-20th century, new materials such as foam rubber and various types of plastic composition had inspired independent methods that dispensed entirely with traditional upholstery techniques. Upholstery was succeeded by moulded plastic forms and by sacks filled with plastic balls that are able to conform to the changing positions of the body.
Upholstery, materials used in the craft of covering, padding, and stuffing seating and bedding. The earliest upholsterers, from early Egyptian times to the beginning of the Renaissance, nailed animal skins or dressed leather across a rigid framework. They slowly developed the craft to include cushions, padding, and pillows—stuffed with such materials as goose down and horsehair.
The medieval upholsterer, who was primarily concerned with fabrics, made mattresses and hangings. In the 17th century beds were draped with sumptuous fabrics and ornate trimmings; as these beddings became less fashionable, chairs and sofas were in turn elaborately upholstered with velvet, silks, and needlework.
Springs, which permitted soft, bulky shapes, were first used by upholsterers in the 18th century; helical by the mid-19th century, they were later flattened for maximum resiliency. Upholstery techniques were revolutionized in the 20th century with the introduction of moulded sponge rubber, dirt and liquid retardants, plywood, Naugahyde, and synthetic fibres, which created new springing, cushioning, and covering materials.