Wednesday, December 30, 2020

the 2020 FRIHETEN sofa reupholster project - pandemic edition;

Picture shows FRIHETEN pullout sofa bed 3 seater with an optional chaise on the right. This is the model that I had re-upholstered. Arrows point to the chaise on the left and the hidden/stored away pull out section. 

Chapter 1 - FRIHETEN sofa - IKEA's entry level sofa;

Entry level sofas are there for a reason - to capture the largest market share - and I am certain that IKEA has been successful there. People hate this couch tho. It has a very poor rating - only 2.2 stars [out of 5] - and that includes on the IKEA's own website. I am here to change your mind - the poor rating comes from the wear and tear that occurs during the lifespan of the couch. There are number of elements of the couch that directly contribute to the comfort that the user experiences - the springs, the backer fabric cover, the foam, the batting and finally the fabric cover itself - when these elements break, wear out or shift the discomfort starts. 

Picture shows a well loved, heavily used, fully unfolded FRIHESTEN sofa that had the pull out section deconstructed - the upholstery, the batting, the foam and the backer fabric has been removed to clearly illustrate the softwood frame. 

We've had ours for 6 years now with daily use, including sleeping and vigorous jumping by children [to the point that I thought it is going to break, me, as a furniture maker was worried about labour hours required to fix things]. 2020 with the lock downs has had us stuck at home for a lot longer than we liked, and since the couch is also part the gaming center it has received significantly more use. Then a spring broke - leading to the foam collapsing - and the sofa become uncomfortable.

How long should sofas last? 6 years? 10 years? I would say that our sofa received above average usage, high usage, heavy usage - no two ways about it. Look at this pictorial - this is the anatomy of FRIHETEN sofa -

Picture shows a cross section of IKEA's Friheten sofa clearly outlining each element of the design. Arrows point to the three elements that I recommend upgrading and replacing - batting, foam, back cover fabric;

This is essentially the anatomy of any 'modern sofa' - I know I am generalizing, but you get the picture - 'squarish seats, sides and back + puffy pillows for back rests and side rests' look PLUS whatever legs you get.  It's soft and supportive where most of your butt hits, got some flexible back support and it is comfortable enough that you can fall asleep on it. 

When I was in Design School I got a scholarship to work for Canadian equivalent of Herman Miller - Nienkamper. I spent two months working the floor across various departments - I met some incredible, creative, inventive craftspeople! My favourite department tho - hands down! - was the upholstery. They do some really, really nice stuff - designer stuff too - there is only so many recipes for for modern sofas. 

Theoretically I could have re-created a high-end version of FRIHETEN - built a 'proper hardwood frame', make up better legs [the original are cheap plastic, but the do the job]. And then sell it for a million dollars to the consumer - that's how it works in the high end sofa business. 

But why? For what reason? If this FRIHETEN has not collapsed so far - I completely agree with the designers making the right choices when it came to materials - what would be gained if functionality is not affected? The upholstery frames were European softwood, but well selected for straight grain with minimal warp. The finger joint was strong and stapled properly, adhesive likely used - thumbs up. The torsion boxes for the sofa were rigid and strong - baltic birch for greatest loads, moving onto organic 3/4 particle core for structure with some 1/4 mdf for non-load bearing skins. If I were to optimized a production costs for a 100 000 sofa run I would make the same decisions - nothing in structural integrity is compromised. 

As to the complaints of it 'squeaking', run-aways and 'general wobbliness' - it's all tied to loose hardware. Grab your Allen keys periodically and adjust all fasteners - wood gets compressed and loses that 'tightness' - 1 full turn can work wonders. This is just a function of the incredible modularity and flexibility of the design. If I knew that this FRIHETEN sofa is never coming apart I'd just throw in some silicone beads in the right spots ~and you done~


Picture shows a newly re-upholstered FRIHETEN sofa bed, without cushions, fully unfolded. The sofa looks clean, and plump and the original fabric - which was washed and air dried before being re-installed - looks brand new with minimal wear. 

Something had to be done. We either buy a new sofa or ...... what? How do you go shopping for a sofa in the middle of a pandemic lock down? You tell me. We don't really trust a lot of reviews - point being our FRIHETEN, we loved it, and now love it even more that it is practically ~luxurious~. 

I have to say that my butt has the final say on any piece of 'seating' in my house. So any on-line purchases were OUT.

I knew exactly what to expect from FRIHETEN - it was utilitarian cheap entry model that worked well for us. Can I repeat its success? Can I improve on the design? Can I fix all the flaws that were annoying me, and it seemed a whole bunch of other FRIHETEN owners? 

I know basic upholstery principles of slabs - that all this IKEA sofa is - what if I replace the worn out foam with something that is top-line? Since the original upholstery fabric must have stretched over the years of usage, I figure I can cheat and use 1" thick, quality batting vs. the original 1/2" 'cheap thing'. The synthetic backer over the springs has been worn out - what if I replace it with some heavy heavy gauge cloth that will further provide support and protect the foam from wearing out against the springs? YES to all. 

Picture shows the replacement batten, foam, and the backer fabric all laid out on a bench next to the bare FRIHETEN frame. I just stepped in from the the cold - dang it! it's freezing!

**A note about the ORIGINAL FABRIC:**

It is great. It held up incredible well over the years - even with all the spills and messes. It held up to to all the vacuuming, spot cleaning and 'wash-downs'. There were no snags, tears or rips and the joints were all solid - this is why it made sense to re-use the upholstery. All staples were removed with care to ensure that no damage was done to the fabric - that was probably my least favourite part of the job - long, tedious, and requiring care. But you got to do it.

Picture shows a close-up overhead shot of a staple removal by carefully lifting it with the blade of a flathead screw-driver. Once the crown was lifted, I used basic pliers to gently pull the staples fully out. 

Once they are all gone you can gently peel of the fabric and wash it - I used the gentlest, wool-only cashmere quality organic stuff, pre-soaked for hours.  I kid you not, it came out looking so good and clean and fresh that I was very impressed. It was not stretched by any means [and even if it did stretch I already had a plan in place for that with the thicker, best quality batting, 1" vs. 1/2" original].

I would say that my fabric got 'beyond abuse' or any 'rational use'. Children used to party on it, hard. It was a fort, it was a spaceship with multiple battles and multiple casualties on multiple levels [because you don't necessarily need to 'flip up' the pull out for use; when playing we would often lower it.] We played wrestling - my character was always the same - 'Pencil Pusher'. My signature move was 'the Scorpion' which I followed with 'the Slap Back' - I fully indulged my boys' firm belief in reality of wrestling for those brief periods of time in their life. FRIEHETEN held up so well and that's why I was so distressed about it breaking down. No way was I gonna let go a good friend. 

Peak Pandemic required to literally pull some strings at my favourite upholstery store so they would let me in - I picked a nice, full size foam slab, enough to cover the 3 sections of FRIEHETEN. It almost doubles the price of foam if you get it cut in-house, so you save money by cutting yourself. ALSO - I actually made my foam larger, about 3/4" over all - for a fuller look. It ends up looking 'less crisp' but the thicker batting and oversized foam are super comfortable - or should I say, just the way I like it. 

**Foam density can be a tricky thing**

 Some people like it firm and some like it soft. From the industry insider I know that the mattress business is a one big sham, in a way. Profit margins are ridiculous, competitors are bought out creating near monopolies and a guy who ran an accountability / review website for foam mattresses got sued by the industry - all true. 

For me sitting is a three part move. There is the first initial landing on the fabric - I prefer stiff, curt, utilitarian fabrics [like the FRIHETEN] - they last long and are easy to clean. Leather is not my preferred choice - skin on leather never feels right. 

Second is the 'soft support give' - provided by the batting; I like thick. Original FIREHETEN batting is 1/2" measly little thing - completely wore thru. 

[To be continued]