Different Types of Upholstery (Automotive, Furniture, Commercial, Etc.)

I bet you’re as excited as I am to dive into the world of upholstery. It’s a fascinating field, filled with variety and creativity. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a newbie just getting your feet wet, there’s always something new to learn.

Quick Summary: Here’s a quick overview of the ins and outs of different upholstery types.

Upholstery CategoryKey Description
🚗 1. Automotive UpholsteryMade to withstand weather elements, popular choices are Sunbrella fabric and marine-grade vinyl.
🛋️ 2. Furniture UpholsteryMerges art and science to craft harmonious and comfortable spaces with leather, cotton, and synthetic materials.
🏢 3. Commercial UpholsteryCombines utility and aesthetics, using materials that are durable and easy to clean for various business settings.
🚢 4. Marine UpholsteryDesigned for the harsh marine environment, primarily using marine-grade vinyl and fabric.
🌞 5. Outdoor UpholsteryMade to withstand weather elements, with popular choices being Sunbrella fabric and marine-grade vinyl.
✈️ 6. Aircraft UpholsteryEnhances the flying experience with materials like leather and fabric that meet specific safety standards.
🕰️ 7. Antique UpholsteryAdds style and personality to antiques, prioritizing craftsmanship and material choice.

In this article, we will explore the different types of upholstery. From the plush velvet that makes your favorite armchair so inviting to the durable leather of your go-to office chair – we’ll cover it all!

1. Automotive Upholstery

A commercial car featuring blue and white seats
Video | Sailrite

Alright, gearheads and design enthusiasts! Let’s rev up and dive deep into automotive upholstery, where style meets the open road. Buckle up

  • Design: Automotive upholstery dives deep into the design universe of vehicles. Beyond just covering seats, it shapes the entire interior ambiance. This extends from seats to door panels, roof linings, and dashboards, making it a comprehensive design universe.
  • Materials: Automotive upholstery is the material – usually fabric – that covers the interior of a vehicle. It’s not just limited to seats, either. We’re talking door panels, roof linings, dashboards… the works! There are several different types of materials used in automotive upholstery:
    • Leather: Classic and luxurious, leather is a popular choice for high-end vehicles.
    • Vinyl: Affordable and easy to clean, vinyl is a common choice for everyday cars.
    • Fabric: Often used in budget-friendly vehicles, fabric upholstery is comfortable and versatile.
  • Characteristics: Each type of upholstery has its own pros and cons. Leather, for example, is durable and easy to clean, but it’s also expensive and can be hot in the summer. Fabric, on the other hand, is cheaper and cooler – but it’s also prone to stains and can be difficult to clean.

2. Furniture Upholstery

Let’s dive into furniture upholstery. You might think it’s all about making your sofa or armchair look pretty. Well, that’s only part of the story.

  • Design: Furniture upholstery is a blend of art and science. It’s not just about making your sofa or armchair look visually appealing or covering it with fabric. Instead, it’s about crafting an overall harmonious and comfortable space.
  • Materials: There are several choices when it comes to materials for furniture upholstery:
    • Leather: Luxurious, durable, and easy to clean, though it can be pricier.
    • Cotton: Known for its affordability, comfort, and durability, but it can be prone to staining.
    • Synthetic: Offers high durability and resistance to stains but might not have the natural feel of leather or cotton.
  • Characteristics: Each material has unique properties and advantages, making it essential to align with individual lifestyles and preferences when selecting upholstery. Whether it’s the luxurious feel of leather, the comfort of cotton, or the resilience of synthetic materials, each brings its own charm to the furniture.

Moving on to the next type of upholstery…

3. Commercial Upholstery

So, you’ve got a taste of what automotive and furniture upholstery is all about. Now, let’s dive into commercial upholstery. It’s a world where utility meets aesthetics.

  • Materials: In the realm of commercial upholstery, we have a variety of materials to choose from. The options are endless, from authentic leather that exudes elegance to synthetic fabrics that promise durability. When it comes to commercial spaces, the choice of upholstery also depends on the nature of the business. A high-end restaurant may opt for plush leather seats, while a daycare center might prefer colorful, easy-to-clean fabrics.
  • Characteristics: One cool thing about commercial upholstery? It’s not just about looks. These materials must be durable and easy to clean. After all, they’re going to see a lot of use.

4. Marine Upholstery

Let’s set sail into marine upholstery, where the high seas meet high style. Dive in and discover the art beneath the waves.

  • Design: You’ll find this on boats, yachts, and other sea-faring vessels. The high seas aren’t exactly kind to materials. Saltwater, sunlight, and constant moisture can be a nightmare for most fabrics.
  • Materials: The most popular material for marine upholstery is marine-grade vinyl. This stuff is tough and can withstand harsh marine environments. It’s waterproof, UV-resistant, and easy to clean. It comes in various colors and patterns, allowing for serious customization. But wait, there’s more. Marine fabric is another top contender. It’s designed for outdoor use and is perfect for boat cushions and coverings. It’s also resistant to water, mildew, and UV light.
  • Characteristics: Its breathability distinguishes marine fabric from vinyl, offering increased comfort in hot weather. When it comes to marine upholstery, it’s not just about the material. The craftsmanship involved is just as important. The little details like the quality of stitching, the type of foam used, and the overall design can make or break your boating experience.

Now, let’s move on to the next type of upholstery, which is…

5. Outdoor Upholstery

Let’s step into the vibrant world of outdoor upholstery, where design meets durability under the open sky. Ready to embrace the elements in style?

  • Design: Now, let’s talk about outdoor upholstery. It’s a different game altogether. This type of upholstery needs to be tough. It must withstand the elements – rain, sun, and occasional bird droppings.
  • Materials: So, what kind of materials can handle all that? Well, you’ve got a few options. Sunbrella fabric is a popular choice. It’s water-resistant, fade-resistant, and comes in a variety of colors. You’ve also got marine-grade vinyl, which is another strong contender. It’s easy to clean and holds up well against Mother Nature. Then there’s solution-dyed acrylic, a technical material that adds the dye while the fiber is still liquid.
  • Characteristics: The result of using solution-dyed acrylic? A material that’s colorfast and UV resistant. But remember, it’s not just about the material. The quality of the stitching and the density of the foam also play a part in how well your outdoor upholstery holds up.

6. Aircraft Upholstery

The commercial interior of an airplane with rows of seats featuring different types of upholstery
Video | CNBC

Jet-setters, buckle up! Dive into the high-flying realm of airport upholstery, where comfort and style ensure every traveler’s journey starts on a luxurious note. Ready for takeoff?

  • Design: Regarding style and comfort, aircraft upholstery is in a league of its own. It’s not just about making the seats look pretty. It’s about enhancing the flying experience. Imagine reclining in a seat upholstered with top-notch materials.
  • Materials: Each material used in aircraft upholstery has its own perks. Leather offers a classy vibe, fabric provides more options for design, and with synthetic materials, you’re looking at durability and stain resistance.
  • Characteristics: The craftsmanship in aircraft upholstery is something to behold. It takes skill to transform flat materials into three-dimensional, form-fitting, and comfortable seats. Stitch quality and foam density are also critical considerations. Stitch quality ensures the upholstery stays intact, even under heavy use, while foam density is all about comfort and longevity.

7. Antique and Specialty Upholstery

A green velvet upholstered chair
Video | Christie’s


Antique upholstery is all about capturing the elegance and grandeur of bygone eras. These pieces tell a story, often reflecting the cultural, social, and artistic movements of their time.

  • Historical Accuracy: Designs typically reflect specific periods, such as the ornate patterns of the Victorian era, the intricate details of Rococo, or the simpler, cleaner lines of the Arts and Crafts movement.
  • Pattern and Texture: Antique pieces often feature-rich, elaborate patterns, with fabrics like damask, brocade, and tapestry taking center stage. These materials not only add visual interest but also convey a sense of luxury and opulence.
  • Color Palette: The colors used in antique upholstery can vary widely depending on the era, but they often include deep, rich tones like reds, greens, blues, and gold.


The materials used in antique upholstery are crucial not only for historical accuracy but also for maintaining the integrity and value of the piece.

  • Natural Fibers: Antique pieces feature natural fibers such as wool, silk, cotton, and linen. These materials were favored for their durability, comfort, and appearance.
  • Leather: In some pieces, especially chairs and sofas, you might find high-quality leather, which adds a touch of luxury and is known for its longevity.
  • Horsehair and Hay: Before the invention of modern foam, upholsterers used materials like horsehair and hay for padding. Horsehair, in particular, was prized for its durability and ability to retain its shape.
  • Wood: The frames of antique furniture were often made from high-quality, durable woods such as oak, mahogany, or walnut. The craftsmanship of these frames was meticulous, with hand-carved details and joint work.

Trends and Innovations in Upholstery: What’s Hot and What’s Not!

Alright, design enthusiasts, let’s shake things up and talk about the latest and greatest in the world of upholstery. If you’re itching for a home makeover or curious about what’s on the horizon, you’re in for a treat!

  • Eco-Friendly Fabrics: Sustainability is the name of the game these days. We’re seeing a surge in organic cotton, recycled leather, and even fabrics made from ocean plastics. Not only are these options kind to Mother Earth, but they’re also durable and stylish!
  • Smart Fabrics: Think upholstery that can charge your phone or adjust its temperature based on your body heat. Yep, it’s not science fiction anymore. These tech-savvy materials make waves and turn our living spaces into futuristic hubs.
  • Bold Patterns and Textures: Minimalism had its moment, but now it’s time for big, bold patterns. From tropical prints to intricate geometric designs, there’s a pattern for every personality. And don’t get me started on textures—velvets, bouclés, and even corduroys are making a comeback!
  • Performance Fabrics: We all love a good-looking couch, but what about spills and stains? Enter performance fabrics. These materials are designed to resist stains, moisture, and even UV rays, making them perfect for families, pet owners, or anyone who’s a tad clumsy (guilty as charged!).
  • Mix and Match: Who said you have to stick to one style? Mixing vintage pieces with modern fabrics or pairing contrasting textures is all the rage. It’s all about creating a space that’s uniquely yours.
  • Natural Tones with Pops of Color: Earthy tones like browns, greens, and grays are big now. But here’s the twist—accent these with bright, bold colors. Think of a muted beige sofa with vibrant blue cushions. It’s all about balance!

So there you have it, the freshest trends shaking up the upholstery world. While keeping up with the latest is great, always pick what feels right for you and your space. After all, your home should reflect your style and personality. Happy decorating!

Upholstery Maintenance Tips: Keep It Fresh, Keep It Clean!

Hey there, design lovers! If you’ve invested time and money into choosing the perfect upholstery, you’ll want to keep it looking its best. So, let’s jump in and talk about some rock-solid maintenance tips to ensure your upholstered pieces stand the test of time.

  • Vacuum Regularly: It might sound simple, but giving your upholstery a quick vacuum every week can make a difference. It helps to remove dust, dirt, and those pesky crumbs, ensuring the fabric stays fresh and vibrant.
  • Spot Clean ASAP: Accidents happen—maybe a spilled glass of wine or a rogue pen mark. The key? Act fast! Blot the stain (don’t rub!) with a clean, damp cloth. Consider using a mild detergent for tougher stains, but always test on an inconspicuous spot first.
  • Rotate Cushions: Just like rotating your car tires, switching up your cushions helps ensure even wear. Flip and swap them every couple of weeks to distribute the load and keep them looking uniform.
  • Keep Away from Sunlight: Prolonged direct sunlight can fade the color of your upholstery. Consider using curtains or blinds during peak sun hours if your furniture is near a window.
  • Professional Cleaning: Sometimes, upholstery needs a little extra TLC. Consider cleaning it professionally every couple of years. It’s like a spa day for your furniture!
  • Use Slipcovers: Slipcovers are a great solution if you’re keen on preserving that brand-new look. They protect against spills, stains, and wear; you can switch them out to change your decor.
  • Mind the Pets: We all love our furry friends, but their claws and fur can be tough on upholstery. Consider using throws or pet covers, and give them a designated spot to chill that’s not on your favorite couch.

Remember, while these tips are here to guide you, it’s essential to refer to your furniture’s care label for any specific recommendations. With the right care, your upholstery will remain the centerpiece of your space for years to come. Here’s to a well-loved and well-maintained home!




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Video References:






Boating Magazine


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About Shelly

ShellyShelly Harrison is a renowned upholstery expert and a key content contributor for ToolsWeek. With over twenty years in the upholstery industry, she has become an essential source of knowledge for furniture restoration. Shelly excels in transforming complicated techniques into accessible, step-by-step guides. Her insightful articles and tutorials are highly valued by both professional upholsterers and DIY enthusiasts.

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