How to Select Durable Furniture for Your Library
Types of Materials, Joinery Methods and Finish
Looking at the materials that are used, the sources of those materials and the way they are connected to each other are some basic factors. Density of material is important in the structure of the furniture; and when it is on an exposed portion of the piece, how it finishes will be a visual consideration. The denser the wood materials, the more likely it can support itself over spanning lengths without warping. The denser the foam (in the case of seating), the firmer the "sit" —and this is sometimes a factor in the foam holding up over time). Another factor is how the furniture pieces are attached (one to another) to form the structural integrity of the unit. There are different methods of gluing; some involve bonding with heat, and some use more gluing surface to provide additional strength. There are various types of hardware used for different types of connections. Metal-to-metal connections perform well in that they do not cause the hole to become larger as it wears into the connection, but rather allows a means of retightening if needed. Some hardware connections are designed to allow one element to fit into another in such a way that gravity itself makes the connection stronger. Joinery that is of the same material (i.e., wood) and that fit into each other may have additional glue points and not be dependent on the amount of pressure that will be applied to the specific connection.
Testing of Furniture
Performance testing assists in evaluating how much use (and abuse) that a piece of furniture can receive without failing. These tests are done "in-house" (by the manufacturer) or by an independent testing firm, and often by both. Tests are conducted for normal wear of a chair (a machine that simulates weight of a user weighing on portions of the chair; seat, back or arms); this test performs the movement and simulates the use the piece of furniture will receive over time. Tests are conducted on the joinery methods to try to break the connections with use of normal and then abnormal strengths to pull the connections apart. These tests are sometimes performed to failure and other times stopped when a sufficient point of use has been achieved. Fabric testing is done by methods that simulate the rubbing of materials (often with tools that cause abrasion of the material) against material as to how the fabric will perform with use. Some fabrics will allow penetration by a writing instrument and have what is called the "memory" to return to the way the materials were originally woven, thus not leaving a hole. There are also tests concerning potential fading of the upholstery. There are treatments offered for fabrics to beef up their use, and there are fabrics that have superior cleaning capability.
Samples and Installations
Once the evaluation is narrowed down and a few candidates are singled out for your project, it is always a good idea to order a sample of favorite chairs from the manufacturer. When testing out the furniture, get feedback from your users (library staff, building committee or end users). If you set up some means of evaluation that can be recorded for your use, you will get honest opinions from those who will not be privy to cost consideration (the options presented are realistic to your budget) but rather pure and simple feedback. Either before or after you have requested a mock-up of the furniture pieces that you have chosen, a trip to the manufacturer or to site installations of their furniture may be part of your plan.
Tish Murphy, Library Furniture Consultant and Author of Library Furnishings; A Planning Guide lives in Phoenix, Arizona. www.libraryfurnishings.com
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