Behind the scenes at hickory chair

We just got back from three days in Hickory, North Carolina visiting the factory of one of our favorite furniture manufacturers, Hickory Chair. We order from Hickory Chair quite often for clients, as well as for our own homes (we posted some images of our client’s dining room on Tuesday featuring Hickory’s Murano chest), so we were thrilled when Hickory invited us to Hickory Chair University. Over two days, Hickory’s Marketing Director Laura Holland took us through their 600,000 square foot, 6 floor factory, beginning with case goods (chests, desks, tables) and ending with upholstery (sofas, chairs, ottomans), explaining every aspect of their process from start to finish. It was a great education in how really excellent quality furniture should be made and opened our eyes to how incredibly labor intensive it is to build just one piece. Below, every piece of furniture starts as a slab of kiln dried wood. This is where the employees prep the wood to be shaped into legs, or cut into table tops.
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A worker inlaying the leg of a dresser. It takes almost 15 minutes to do the inlay for just one leg. IMG_6013Below, a bulletin board with the pieces the factory has to complete this week. They break up their orders so that they are assembling just three or four different pieces a day, but each piece is made at volume (around 65 or so).IMG_6001A beautiful dresser pre-stain…IMG_6004There were a few of these little rooms for staining and lacquering set up to contain the spray. This man, below, is lacquering a table. IMG_6189A dining table being prepared for lacquering. Before the lacquer is sprayed on, the grain of the wood must be filled with this black material. This process assures that the lacquer goes on evenly.  IMG_6044One of our favorite pieces, the Peony console, getting its first coat of stain. IMG_6043Here’s the Peony console from above in a room designed by interior decorators (and fellow Hickory Chair enthusiasts!), Tilton Fenwick:TiltonFenwick_HamptonShowhouse_05_small_croppedOn the second day we were taken through the upholstery side of the factory where we got to see some pretty incredible innovations. Look at this machine that can shape 20 sofa legs at a time. IMG_6133A few frames for a sectional sofa getting ready to have their springs applied (below). One of the things that was reinforced again and again while we were at Hickory Chair was the importance of the hard wood frame on upholstered pieces. One of the reasons why plywood frames don’t last is because it’s impossible to reupholster them. Once you pull the staples out of a sofa made from a plywood frame, the wood is ruined. So, when you buy your next sofa, think about how long you want to keep it; if you want it to last a lifetime, you’ll need to invest in a hardwood frame so that when the fabric gets worn out after 7 or 8 years you can reupholster it. IMG_6144Here’s a bed frame on its way to be upholstered. IMG_6184This is Hickory’s Fifth Avenue Bed, one of our favorites from the line that we recently used for a client’s bedroom.IMG_6186The Fifth Avenue Bed in our client’s master bedroom. Isn’t it incredible to see how it started?photo-156A dining chair being sanded down…IMG_6181Another key element to Hickory Chair’s upholstered pieces is the spring system in each seat. All of the sofas, chairs, and even dining chairs, are 8-way hand spring tied. What does this mean? It means each and every spring is tied in 8 places to make sure that weight is evenly distributed onto each spring. This is another way to ensure that your upholstered piece lasts a lifetime and that you aren’t kicking it to the curb in three years. Lots of companies advertise their upholstered pieces to be 8-way when in reality they are only 3 or 4. Beware!IMG_6158Below, a couple of club chairs having their springs applied and tied. IMG_6174We loved seeing these Allen chairs from Alexa Hampton’s line for Hickory in their “naked” form. How great is the scalloped base? IMG_6163Here’s what these chairs look like upholstered:alexaThere were rows upon rows of bins full of fabrics waiting to be used for upholstery. Hickory Chair gets over 450 bolts of COM (Customer’s Own Material) fabric a day. That’s a lot of fabric to keep track of!IMG_6203Before the sofas and chairs go to get upholstered, someone stuffs the loose cushions and pillows of the piece with the preferred mix of down or dacron. IMG_6216Here, chairs wait after their cushions have been stuffed to be upholstered. The fabric and batting has already been measured and is ready to be applied. IMG_6217We fell in love with these chairs being upholstered in a Galbraith & Paul textile. IMG_6258A spool chair going to Palm Beach was waiting to have its seat upholstered. How great are those Quadrille cushions to the right going to look on this chair?!IMG_6229This navy blue hand tufted velvet sofa was being lint rolled and inspected for any issues. It looked pretty perfect to us!IMG_6248We were blown away by Hickory’s dedication to American made craftsmanship. Their passion for making this furniture was palpable, every day making adjustments to better their finished product and please their very discerning customer. We loved learning more about how furniture is made, but more than that we walked away feeling truly inspired by everyone who works at Hickory Chair. Bravo!

  • Emily S. Davis

    Thank you so much for sharing this insight- really incredible to see the process!

  • Laura Holland

    Thank you for the wonderful story about your HCC University experience! We really appreciate you two coming and meeting our artisans and craftsmen!

  • Beth

    Lots of pictures won’t load for me, but the text was interesting. Pictures would be better 😉