The Importance of Specifying Commercial Grade Furniture

Jul 25, 2018 | Interior Design Trends

The Importance of Specifying
Commercial Grade Furniture

By Kim Schoenadel, CID, NCIDQ

How hard can it be to select furniture?

We all have done it in our homes and are often drawn to the ease and budget of online shopping outlets like Wayfair and Overstock. Catalog vignettes inspire us and direct us to a harmonious palette and arrangement.

Selecting furniture and finishes for public spaces, ranging from institutional environments to hospitality spaces like hotels and restaurants, requires more than just a great visual. Stringent codes for furnishings and finishes are enforced for commercial spaces in order to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public.

I wasn’t thinking about those criteria when my oldest and youngest sons were in college and lived on campus with their football friends. This on-campus “house” was a fraternity-style building where many people lived and numerous parties took place until the fire.

The house was a wood structure without any of the construction or furniture criteria required in commercial construction today. This wood structure and all of the wood based furniture was inherently highly-flammable. College personnel regularly inspected the house to make sure no one was placing items on the walls or windows that could easily catch fire. I still remember one of the moms complaining that they wouldn’t let them hang residential curtains. Unfortunately, personnel did not pay attention to the furniture selections.

One of the guys was smoking a cigarette and accidentally dropped it in the corner of the sofa. Since no one saw smoke, they assumed the cigarette had extinguished itself, and they all went to bed. One of the guys awoke to find the house ablaze and the fire moving rapidly. Getting quickly out of the house was a life or death situation. Another guy couldn’t find his best friend and went back into the house only to be surrounded by smoke and fire. He survived by breaking through a window and was critically injured. His friend was outside.

The truth is many fires can result from the wrong fabrics or finishes in an environment. Residential furniture is not required to meet the stringent codes that are required for commercial furniture. Does that mean that commercial products cannot catch on fire? No. It does mean that the commercial products have fabrics, cushions, and construction that can keep a fire from igniting and/or spreading.

In addition to fire safety, commercial furniture and finishes are tested for weight capacity, abrasion resistance, crocking, colorfastness to light, cleanability, etc. All of this information is considered by commercial interior designers as a part of the selection process. The final selections still have the aesthetic and overall palette and arrangement, but all of those qualities are contributing to a space, functional environment for the public.

In today’s college/university environment, the focus is on large, flexible spaces where the students can collaborate. The furniture and finishes need to last 10 to 20 years because renovating and replacing items in that time span is not financially feasible. KSA Interiors’ designers are qualified to design these facilities through their education in accredited design programs and their continuing education and examination. The potential liability of having someone harmed because of lack of knowledge on the designer’s part is not an option.

Imagine students coming into your home and rearranging your furniture, tracking in outdoor dirt, spilling drinks, overloading your power sources, and writing on your walls. Would your house hold up for 10 to 20 years without replacing furniture or finishes? Would the students be safe in the event of a fire?