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Hickory Chair Factory Tour: Day 2

by habituallychic

06 . 05 . 09

We visited the Hickory Chair upholstery factory on the second day of our tour. Before we could see them actually upholstering the furniture, we were able to see how they cut the wood frames and turn the legs on which the upholstery will later be applied. The frames at Hickory Chair are made of only kiln dried hardwood frames that prevent warping. “Cherry and maple woods are used in the stress areas of the upholstered frames and exposed mahogany is finger-jointed to the hardwood frame for extra strength.” The frames are so well made that the furniture can be reupholstered time and again and will last for a very long time. Jay Reardon told us a story about an upholsterer who came up to him and told him that he has recovered many Hickory Chair pieces over the years and the quality is unmatched. He also asked Jay to thank his employees for not cutting corners!

Here you can see how the legs are turned and cut with intricate patterns. One of the employees told us that it used to take him hours to hand sand some of the chair legs until he figured out a way to do it with a hand sander. He said he was also thinking of ways to make his job easier and will probably think of even more ways soon!

This machine can cut about 30 chair legs at one time from a single pattern.

This is the only place in the factory with saw dust on the floor that I am sure is cleaned up at the end of every day.

These wood forms are fitted into the machines to cut the different pieces of the furniture frames. One of the employees came up with the idea of attaching a plastic box to each one that houses the knife blade for the machine so they don’t have to go to another area to find it. The fewer steps they have to take means the job can run easier and faster.

This area is where the furniture samples are put together and on this day, the worker was adding swivel hardware to this style of chair.

Some parts are pre-cut like these ball and claw foot legs. When the levels get low, each employee can pull out a card in the pocket below and order more pieces to be made.

I thought this gentleman was applying the caning to the sides and back of the Beaufort Chair but it’s really the Sheraton Occasional Chair which is a little more delicate but just as lovely.

They are assembling chair and sofa frames in this area.

I was surprised at the age range of the employees. There were quite a few who looked like they were past retirement age but were still working and enjoying it.

After the frames are finished, they need to cure until they are dry and ready for the next step.

This is where the light colors of finish are applied. Hickory Chair can also color match the finish to paint colors such as Benjamin Moore and will send you a sample to approve.

One of the most interesting areas of the tour was the handpainting room where the artists can apply any artwork your heart desires. You can send them an exact drawing or even a piece of fabric from which they can be inspired to create a design for your piece.
A chalk outline is applies to the bottom doors of this breakfront and then filled in with gold.

This naked Alexandra Chair by Suzanne Kasler has been finished and is now ready for upholstery.

It was very fun to watch the workers hand tie the springs into the chairs. Hickory Chair furniture features “custom engineered seating comfort which is a method where a variety of gauges and sizes of double-cone springs are used to create a platform with the appropriate support to create maximum comfort.”
The seats feature 8-way hand tied springs and some of the chair and sofa backs feature 4-way hand tied springs for even more added comfort. Many of the dining chairs have springs in their seats which I can attest make them much more comfortable than most other dining chairs!
The sewing room is air conditioned so not only are the employees comfortable but your client’s expensive fabric will be well taken care of.
Many of the plain fabrics can be cut on a machine that uses AutoCAD patterns. If the fabric has an print or repeat, it will be laid out by hand to assure that it will be centered on middle of the furniture seat and/or back. All sides will be matched as well.

This woman pulls the cut pieces of fabric off of the machine and will lay them out in a bundle according to the order in which the pieces will be sewn. This is another example of how one employee is helping to make the job of the next employee down the line easier.
I just read that Hickory Chair has over 1000 fabrics to choose from but if you decide to send in a COM (customer’s own material) they will inspect it for defects when it arrives and will call you if there is a problem. The average lead times for upholstery are about 14-21 days plus shipping and what will delay your order are missing COM’s and trims, as well as COM fabrics that have no sidemark. If you are a designer, you can sign up for an account online where you can find COM forms you should send to the vendor who can send it with your order. The goal of Hickory Chair is to be able to produce custom upholstery in 10 days which would be amazing!

They also have an online order process to order fabric samples which is much easier and faster than faxing in an order. This is just one wall of samples in the factory!

I think that most people don’t realize that all upholstery is made by hand by highly skilled seamstresses and upholsterers which why it can cost so much. I always tell my clients that it is the one place that they should never try to skimp because well done upholstery will last for many years and still look good and feel comfortable!
After the pillow and seat covers are sewn, the chairs and sofas move onto the upholstery room where the frames are covered with padding and fabric. “All fabrics are sewn with an interlocking stitch sewing machine which means that it a thread should break or be cut, the stitching would not unravel.”
Custom orders must have custom patterns created which is the job of this employee.
I didn’t get a good shot of these chairs but I can tell you that the pattern on the fabric is matched on all pairs and/or series of chairs so they all match perfectly. The flowers on the arm of the one chair will be in exactly the same place as the flowers on the other chair which is pretty impressive!

These chairs are waiting to have their backs upholstered. The legs are also wrapped to prevent scratches and dents and is another example of employee ingenuity. Hickory Chair used to buy special fabric to wrap the legs but one of the employees noticed scrap pieces from the backing they apply to their leathers and suggested that they wrap the legs with it. There is little to no waste at Hickory Chair and anything else will be recycled. They also use the wood dust and wood palettes from the wood deliveries as fuel to run and heat the factory.

Everyone was mesmerized watching this woman make quick of this chair! The Hickory Chair employees are highly skilled and experienced master craftsmen and women!
After the upholstered pieces are finished, they are inspected and not just alone. If you have ordered 2 or 20 chairs, they will be inspected together to make sure that the finish and upholstery match on every single one.

The Kit Ottoman on the right is one of my favorite pieces and can be custom ordered smaller or larger. I think I just might know the perfect project for it too!

The sofas with exposed back rails like this one would be perfect for floating in a room.

The button tufting on this sofa is perfect from the front and…

…also from the back!

Even the inside of this skirted ottoman is perfect. The legs have been finished and the entire piece is lined. These look great and they haven’t even been steamed yet!

There are ladies who just press and sew the skirts onto the different pieces. The skirts are measured and attached last so that they are exactly the right length. All of the skirted upholstery pieces come standard with adjustable glides that allow you to adjust the height of the skirt when they are placed on carpets or uneven floors. Something we know about all too well in New York!

This is the chair that is waiting for it’s skirt.

While we were there, the seamtress finished the skirt and placed it on the chair for the next stop on the line where it will be attached, steamed and inspected.

This little love seat looks like it’s waiting for nailhead trim. I wish San Fransico interior designer Grant K. Gibson had told me before my trip that he had custom ordered a sofa from Hickory Chair. I could have looked for it while I was there and photographed it for him and his client! Some of the designers on the tour did actually see their orders being made which must have been exciting!

And I couldn’t finish my factory tour coverage without a photo of myself and Arkansa interior designer Tobi Fairley in our safety glasses! Everyone in the factory is required to wear them which has cut down on eye injuries. Safety first! I owe a big thank you to everyone at Hickory Chair for the great tour and wonderful Southern hospitality!

UPDATE: There has been an overwhelmingly positive response to my factory tour coverage and many have expressed an interest in attending Hickoty Chair University. If you are an interior designer in New York would like to visit Hickory Chair and tour their factories and showroom, please email me. If you live outside of New York, you can speak to your local sales rep.

Comments Closed

  1. Anonymous June 6, 2009 | 12:00 am

    How lovely to see beautiful things made in America! Such care and attention. Thanks for letting us know about Hickory Chair.

  2. Andrea June 6, 2009 | 12:52 am

    These posts were really interesting. Thanks for posting in such detail!

  3. Kitty June 6, 2009 | 1:17 am

    heather, i’m in love with that alexandra chair!!! it is so wonderful to see american factories churning out such beautiful furniture. buying locally is green!

  4. Anonymous June 6, 2009 | 1:43 am

    My husband to be and I purchased a sofa made by Hickory Chair in 1962 – several reupholsteries and 3 different slipcovers later it moved to a house where it was just to big – it was still going strong in 1996 when it finally was given to a worthy charity – by that time it was sporting a lovely blue and beige toile slipcover. I still have the dining table and chairs also purchased in ’62 – these made of now unavailable wormy chestnut!
    There was also a lovely credenza but alas when my marriage failed I did not get to keep it. It was a beautiful piece. A very fine company.

  5. Grant K. Gibson June 6, 2009 | 1:53 am

    Loving that KIT ottoman as well.
    Look at all that fabric- I wonder if the sofa for my client at HC right now or the custom design was something you passed! It is amazing to see!
    These behind the scenes tours are really helpful I think for clients to see. When they complain that things “take SO long” they really should check out this post. This stuff doesn’t happen over night. Its all a process. Also great to see that there are so many craftspeople and artists working on these items- in this economy we want everyone working!

    But the most important question is:
    Is that a new haircut? So cute!

  6. Paula Grace Halewski June 6, 2009 | 2:02 am

    Heather – I am enjoying your blogs on Hickory Chair. I love Hickory Chair but have not had a chance to visit them. Your blogs are a documentary – it shoud be on television! I am going to link to it from my blog. Brava! Well done.

  7. Habitually Chic June 6, 2009 | 2:19 am

    Anonymous and Andrea – you are so welcome! Glad you enjoyed it!

    Kitty – I have already proposed it to a client as a desk chair! It’s really chic!

    Anonymous – WOW! That’s a great story…not the divorse obviously. Sorry about that. I would love to see a photo if you have one. I bet the table and chairs are fabulous!

    Grant – I wish I had known it was there! I would have made sure I found it! And it’s too funny that you noticed my haircut! It’s a lot shorter and layered now. I’ll probably grow it out again though so enjoy it while it lasts.

    Paula – I was thinking that they should tape the tour. I bet those who can get there in person would love to see it! We’ll have to work on it.

  8. Grant K. Gibson June 6, 2009 | 4:00 am

    Now one more important question.
    Were the earphones part of the tour or was Tobi just rocking out on the tour?

  9. Alicia June 6, 2009 | 4:07 am

    Just have them deliver the Kit ottomen as it is to my front door. Divine. Thank you so much for the indepth images to & how nice is Hickory to allow that. Nowadys people can be no pictures allowed & this just shows how gorgeous the pieces are under the fabrics & finishes. Best of all inspecting 20chairs to see they match is fantastic..and being anal i applaud that.
    Cant wait for your next tour….

  10. Laura Casey Interiors June 6, 2009 | 12:21 pm

    It is always so great to see hand crafted work in the States. Kuddos to Hickory Chair for keeping the jobs here. They are always one of my favorite stops during Market week. Great post!

  11. Anonymous June 6, 2009 | 12:52 pm

    sooo fabulous!!! thank you for sharing!!!what an amazing piece of made in america!!!! you keep inspiring us daily!!! my #1 blog!!!!cheers!!!

  12. Beth June 6, 2009 | 1:41 pm

    I’ve been loving Hickory Chair’s website for about a year now. They have the most beautiful room scenes and vignettes, you just have to search for them. When you click on many of their items, there are additional photos. You should feature some of these scenes on your blog–beautiful.

    P.S. I have a Burton sofa and it is so comfortable and well made. I’ve also been eyeing a hickory chest for my entryway, but can’t decide which one to get!

  13. Divalocity June 7, 2009 | 12:47 pm

    I’m glad that you acknowledged the fine workmanship of the people who produce this beautiful furniture.

    My sister and I would go to NC. to purchase furniture and many people don’t even realize the amount of money that they can save if they go there themselves.

    In the South, the North Carolina Furniture Mart is a destination. This is one of the last bastions of Made In America. Thank you for sharing this with your readers.

  14. sofas June 10, 2009 | 3:26 am

    It is amazing, how to make and produce these beautiful furniture. The picture fast loading with high resolution.

  15. amanda June 13, 2009 | 6:52 pm

    That is so interesting! I mean, we are so spoiled. Poof you have a poof. With no appreciation or knowledge of how it was made or where it came from. I thougth your post was fascinating! Thanks for sharing
    Amanda Talley