Tight-Seat or Loose-Cushion?

upholstery advise from Emily Nomer of Manzanares Furniture

Photo courtesy Jim Fairfax of Fairfax Studio


I was with several members of my ‘design posse‘ recently.   We got into a discussion about the merits of tight-seat and loose-cushion upholstery.  Seeing as I’ve owned an upholstery workroom, I have some definitive ideas on the subject, but I decided to get the opinion of some experts with more experience to see if I might learn something new.


Emily Nomer and Jorge Manzanares of Manzanares Furniture have impressive upholstery resumes. They met in the 80’s building furniture for Donghia, in the hay-day of John Hutton‘s work for the firm.   They struck out on their own in 1996, and have been busy ever since.  I learned about them through Jim Fairfax, a designer with an equally impressive resume, so I paid them a visit at their Long Island City factory.

While Jorge wielded a scissor through a bolt of mohair, I asked Emily to tell me a bit about their company.  “We have a ‘line’ of sorts on the website – some conversation starters – but we’re really about custom pieces.  Our designers favor everything from traditional to modern.  They’ve kept us busy year after year, which we like to think is because we work carefully on every piece.  We make it a rule to never overextend ourselves.  It can be difficult balancing lead times, but I can honestly say that in 16 years we haven’t missed a deadline.”

On to the subject of seat styles.  Why a tight seat over a loose cushion? and vice versa?  “There are no hard and fast rules with upholstery… it’s really a delicate balance between a designers vision and the clients sense of comfort.   With tight-seat upholstery, it’s almost always a high density polyurethane foam over springs.  There are less variables, and it’s a cleaner look.”  I shared that it’s been my experience that architects more often than designers prefer tight-seat construction.  “True, architects typically favor streamlined silhouettes – but tight-seats are great for kitchen banquette, family rooms, media rooms – and most importantly hospitality settings.”  “Loose cushions are far more difficult to get exactly right.  There are cushions with spring cores, which are bundled and tied, then wrapped with cotton and dacron.  We can make cushions from polyurethane foam, in several different firmness’, wrapped in cotton, dacron, or down.  There’s also latex foam rubber, which is most often used in mid-century upholstery because it holds it shape perfectly.  Lastly, there are cushions made with down and feathers – perhaps the trickiest of all.  A higher percentage of feathers will require less fluffing, but will break down and become flat in time, while a higher percentage of down last longer, but requires daily maintenance.”

I asked for some parting advise.  “We’ve had incredible success by encouraging designers to bring their client to the factory, to spend time investigating the options.  Lots of ideas have changed in the age of the internet – but comfort is what its always been, completely subjective.”



Manzanares Furniture    25-11 Hunter’s Point Avenue  Long Island City  11101    718-729-0321


8 thoughts on “Tight-Seat or Loose-Cushion?”

  1. I love a mixture in almost every interior, as seen in Jim Fairfax’s photograph. It certainly takes a skilled upholsterer to do both. I find that more contemporary clients love the totally clean lines of tight seats, but I still encourage that at least one piece have loose cushions… just more inviting. Most traditional clients seem to appreciate a variety of seat types. In over 25 years of doing interiors, I have always encouraged all my clients with kids and pets to try out a variety of loose-cushion seating fillers;can’t beat the ability to reverse and rotate!

    1. Carol,

      You’re quite right! I’ve always loved the mix. And to your point – there’s nothing like being able to flip the cushions.

  2. @ Carl – you hit it on the head indeed! For me custom upholstery is like sculpture. It really does matter – pinch a bit here – add a bit there – it’s poetry. Emily & Jorge have taught me everything I know about fine upholstery and I adore them for this kindness. This IS what Luxury is all about…..

  3. This is a favorite topic of mine. When I shifted my career from the Fashion industry to the Interior Design industry I was working in a showroom that specialized in custom upholstery. I learned how to watch people sit and determine what their needs really were. There is a sensation of comfort that people experience when they first sit down which may not reflect how they sit over a longer period of time. I am a tight seat person myself.

  4. I appreciate that fact that you feature local workrooms and custom made products…..this is where the industry needs to redirect itself towards and not the one step(barely) above Bloomingdale’s furniture dept. ( now I am not knocking Bloomingdale’s furniture dept…it’s just that in the higher end of the market, shouldn’t the client expect better quality and customized products?)

  5. Manzanares is indeed the best of the best when it comes to custom upholstery, restoring a great old piece and Emily and Jorge are beyond charming. I give them my double gold star recommendation. All your Luxury Problems are solved at Manzanares!

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