Plastics occur in upholstered furniture in many different guises. These include structural usage in frames or 'shells', support systems and filling materials, fittings and fastenings such as hook and loop fasteners and zips, and as seat covering materials. They are also widely used in the form of paints and coatings on frames, and as adhesives, fabric coatings, printing inks and dressings.
Synthetics are materials made artificially by chemical reaction. These usually consist of a polymer plus additives. Polymers of styrene, vinyl chloride and methyl methacrylate have been known since the nineteenth century, polyester since 1936, polyurethane since 1937. Additives are used for a wide range of different purposes. Reinforcing agents, for example in fibre or rubber crumb, are used to increase strength. Fillers are used to extend the polymer to decrease cost, plasticizers to increase flexibility, and pigments or dyes to identify a density or disguise a tendency to discolour. Blowing agents are used to create foams. Stabilizers (antioxidants), flame retardants and many other additives may also be used.
Chlorinated fluorocarbons (CFCs) were previously extensively used as blowing agents but since 1989, 'environmentally friendly' flame retardant upholstery foams have been available. These carry a blue/grey four-dove logo and omit ozone-depleting CFCs.
A good introduction to plastics and rubbers is provided by Blank (1990). The uses of plastics in furniture and the developments in upholstery that have occurred as a result of the introduction of these materials are discussed by Buttery (1976), Gill and Eastop (2001), James (1990), Kovaly (1970), McDonald (1981), Timar-Balazsy and Eastop (1998) and Wilson and Balfour (1990). Further information is given in Chapter 4.
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