STUDIO 103 @Sand Sea and Air Interiors

Upholstery for Yachts, Aircrafts, Home, Hotels and Office


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Affordable cushion alternatives

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There are several cushion design options to offer a customer with a limited budget. The cushions shown here have butterfly corners, which resemble a boxed corner, but involve fewer fabrication steps, translating to a lower price point. This affordable and efficient solution allowed us to deliver a client’s project within an aggressive time frame.

Terri Madden’s May/June 2018 article for Marine Fabricator Magazine.
Check out Sand Sea & Air’s amazing work with cushions at SandSeaAir.com.

It is often challenging to offer successful cushion design solutions when a customer wants a champagne look on a beer budget. Getting the answers to the following four questions during the initial client meeting can make all the difference in finding an affordable solution that leads to a satisfied customer:

  • Who is the final decision maker? This may not be obvious, yet knowing this is critical to the success of the project.
  • What is the scope and time frame of the job? Perhaps the customer wants a full boat refit—and wants the salon cushions delivered in time for next month’s vacation. Can your production team meet that time frame?
  • What is the budget? This can be an uncomfortable conversation, but it is necessary. Knowing the budget up front will reduce customer frustration and prevent you from offering solutions that may be far out of reach.
  • What is the value of this project to your customer? Is it to resell the vessel at the best price possible with the least investment? Is it an upgrade after an insurance claim settlement? There are many possibilities, and understanding the value will help you offer the best solutions to your customer.

A recent challenge

Sand Sea and Air was contacted by a new customer who lives outside of Puerto Rico. He purchased a sailboat with large salon areas consisting of spacious seating on both the port and starboard areas of the salon. Hurricane María had damaged the vessel and he had thrown away 24 cushions and wanted new ones by the following month when the family was leaving for a live-aboard summer adventure down island. He had purchased the vessel at a bargain price and wanted new cushions at the “best price” possible.

Old photos of the vessel showed lumbar seating that was not reversible and held “in place” while out at sea in wavy weather. This usually involves several fabrication steps, which translates to a higher price point for cushions. The primary challenge was to tackle this job in the most efficient manner possible to provide an affordable solution and deliver the project within the desired time frame.

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Everything a project requires adds to the cost. For this customer, we included marine upholstery fabric, UV thread, medium-density polyfoam for the seats, and for the cushion backs we chose to utilize smaller pieces of stock foam triple-wrapped with Dacron®. Depending on cushion size, you might consider purchasing affordable bed pillows.

Assess the variables

We had our client review a checklist of options to confirm his priorities, such as tie-down solutions so that the cushions don’t go flying on bumpy seas. The checklist was our guide to effectively planning an affordable and winning solution that was within budget, comfortable, easy to maintain and secure.

Based on our customer’s request to fill spaces that originally housed 24 cushions, we devised a way to fabricate a single cushion in an hour. Doing the math with a shop rate of $100, his cost was already $2,400 without the cost of foam or fabric. This is why knowing your customer’s budget is crucial to planning, fabricating and delivering a profitable solution. We budget our proposals to bring the cost of goods within a margin of 35 percent. Assessing all these factors allowed us to design a cushion that provided durability, comfort and style at a reasonable price that was also profitable for us.

Plan your cushion lengths to the size of foam sheets available in your area for the least joins or waste. Theoretically, from a sheet of 55-inch by 75-inch foam you can get six seat sections at 25 inches by 25 inches or four seats that are 25 inches by 37 inches. Fabricating four longer rectangle cushions takes less fabric and time than cutting and sewing six square cushions. Additionally, fabricating only rectangle cushions for the seat cushions is a more affordable option than intersecting corner cushions with diagonal edges at each corner, which involve considerably more construction time. Reducing the overall quantity of seat cushions to a total of five long rectangles rather than the original 13 helped us keep the budget affordable. To secure the cushions on the vessel, we included a 2-inch band of Velcro® across the bottom of the cover prior to assembly.

Use the tips in this article to provide seat and back cushions with corner details that reduce fabrication hours and translate into affordable and attractive solutions for your customers.

Screen-Shot-2018-04-27-at-10.51.41-AMHigh style on a budget

Boaters want to sink into a safe and cozy spot to enjoy their time at sea. So why not create back pillows that offer the comfort of a bed, yet look classy for family and guests? Boxed cushions are the most widely used cushions for residential furniture and boats. They are tailored and frequently include a welt or piping with the boxing sewn to the top and bottom pieces of square or rectangular cushions.

However, a mock box cushion provides a lot of style for very little effort. It looks like a box cushion, yet it does not have the separate boxing strip. The fabric top and bottom pieces are measured and cut to include the area for the boxing, and corners can have a short seam or corner stitch to create a tailored, squared-off look. Other corner options include butterfly corners and Turkish corners (sometimes called a gathered corner). Similar to a box cushion, the mock-box cushion can include a zipper welt with a bit of practice.

MockBoxCushionMock Box Corner Prep

Image 1: To prep the basic cushion pieces, measure and mark with pins identical top and bottom pieces that are the exact size of the foam form (obtained from your pattern). On each of the four edges, add half the finished boxing depth. For example, the cushion foam form is 25 inches by 25 inches with a 4-inch boxing; this requires a 29-inch by 29-inch top and bottom piece for a cushion without a zipper, or add ¼ inch on edges where a zipper will go. Cut the two pieces, install the zipper, and then close the remaining seams, pivoting at the corners.

Squared-off corner

Photo 2: Separate each corner and ease open seams and align one seam on top of the other. Measure down from the corner half of the finished boxing depth, drawing a line across the corner, perpendicular to the matched seams; the length of the line should be equal to the finished boxing depth. Stitch securely across the line for all four corners. Option: Finish seams with a serge edge and/or topstitching.

ButterflyCorners1Butterfly corner

Photo 3: This corner is similar to the soft-box corner, yet it is less tailored and resembles a butterfly wing.

The corners are trimmed diagonally and then folded into inverted pleats. Measure in from each corner along the raw edge half the finished boxing depth. Mark these points and connect with a diagonal line. With the pieces together, cut along the diagonal line at all four corners. Fold to find midpoints along the diagonal, and mark these points with pins placed perpendicular to the diagonal edges. Separate the pieces with the right side of one piece up. At each diagonal cut, make two folds that meet at the center pin. Sew a tacking stitch to hold the folds in place and repeat at all four corners. Turn the cover to the right side and insert foam or Dacron® fill.

TurkishCornerCushionTurkish corner

Photo 4: Sometimes called a gathered corner, this corner has an exotic flair that is easy to make. Stitch the top and bottom pieces as described in the butterfly corner, and secure the corners from the wrong side. Start at one corner and measure from corner stitching along each seam line half the finished boxing depth. Mark these points on the fabric edges. Repeat on the remaining corners. Use a compass or small bowl to mark a curved line connecting marks on both the top and bottom pieces (eight curved lines in all). Put one hand into the pillow and reach into one corner “cone.” With your other hand, run a small gathering stitch (using strong double strands of thread) around the circle formed by the curved lines of the two pieces, opening the seams as you come to them. After encircling the corner, pull the gathered thread tight, wrap it around the gathers several times, and take a few tacking stitches to secure. Repeat at the remaining corners. Do not trim or cut the corner. Turn to the right side and insert foam or Dacron fill, working the filling into every corner.

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Selecting the best fabric

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Photos 1 and 2: Designer and private label textiles, such as this Ralph Lauren anchor pattern, can cost $100 or more per yard. Using a matching tone in a solid Sunbrella® fabric on the zipper bands and bottom lining can help keep a project within budget.

Terri Madden’s March/April 2018 article for Marine Fabricator Magazine.
Check out Sand Sea & Air’s amazing work for marine environments at SandSeaAir.com.

Thank goodness for Dr. Google! When sourcing textile options for projects, fabricators can simply type in “marine fabric” and up pops a plethora of vendors and nautical-themed images. You’ll find individual maritime insignias that correspond to each of the 26 letters of the alphabet as well as graphic illustrations for almost every kind of nautical hardware—from anchors to navigation wheels. Also in abundance are fish patterns, playful sea horses and giant photorealistic renderings of marlin, swordfish and many other images that can be used on accent pillows, custom cabin quilts and pillow shams on larger vessels.

Budget for success

The initial discovery meeting with your client lays the groundwork for a successful project. Obviously, you will discuss the scope of the project, color palette, etc. But most importantly, you need to understand the client’s budget. Clients often avoid giving you a firm number, but moving forward without a sense of the budget can be a tremendous waste of time for both you and the client.

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Photos 3, 4 and 5: Images such as flags and the nautical alphabet add dramatic flair to interior decor.

As you narrow your offerings down to a few key textiles that fall within your client’s budget, keep in mind that you can introduce a dramatic fabric as a focal point with as little as one yard of material. Using dramatic textiles makes a strong impression and helps ensure your position as a preferred fabricator. Check with your supplier about minimum quantity requirements, yardage availability and lead times.

It’s important to have a realistic sense of how much yardage is required for the items to be fabricated and to charge accordingly. For instance, an L-shaped sofa can easily require up to 14 yards of material. If your cost for material is $25 per yard plus a 50 percent markup, this translates to $525 for the fabric alone. Cost has to be taken into consideration if the project requires foam upgrades. Additionally, calculate the time and cost of removing the original material, fabrication of the new covers and the installation. And keep in mind that projects incorporating fabrics with patterns will require additional yardage.

At Sand Sea and Air, we use spreadsheets to calculate the material costs for each project, the fabrication steps necessary and the time each step requires. After we complete a project, we go back to analyze and record any changes that affect the final “true” costs and profit for each project. This system ensures we’re not losing money on a project and helps us tweak our budgets moving forward.

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Photos 6 and 7: This pattern required us to balance horizontal and vertical repeats as well as a hinge fold in the bow cushions to accommodate the incline of the vessel. The final seams on the pilot and copilot seats reflect a harmonious transition, yet it was extremely challenging to fabricate the high/low back cushion in harmony with the seat cushions.

Tricky cabin tricks

Creating bedding for fitted mattress covers and cabin quilts presents specific challenges. Mattresses often have oval curves rather than a traditional rectangular shape, and you many need to work around framing that holds mattresses in place. Also, a master cabin bed is generally 60 inches wide, yet material is often available in 54-inch widths. To ensure you have sufficient material, it’s important to calculate and construct the additional sections on both sides of the center yardage with consideration to the pattern repeat on the top panels. I prefer to use the full 54-inch-width as the center and then use narrow bands of 4 to 6 inches of fabric on either side.
Additionally, side mattress bands can be as high as 10 inches, which means a good portion of the side bands will be visible. You will need to maneuver the fabric pattern repeat to get the most attractive part of the 54-inch width in the band front, with seams joining as needed toward the sides.

We recently fabricated fitted mattress covers for a queen-size bed in a Ralph Lauren anchor pattern. The material had anchors twisting left and right, some in opposite directions, while others were in the same direction along adjoining rows. Since this fabric was expensive, we used a matching tone in a solid Sunbrella® fabric on the zipper bands and bottom lining, as they would not be visible once the mattress was onboard. This helped keep us within budget and ensured a successful project.

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Photos 8 and 9: It’s important to calculate the waste factor on side-by-side cushions when the visual pattern must remain harmonious. It can be as much as 14 inches, as was the case in the Kravet® Turquoise Flamestitch pattern with a 17-inch height repeat. Fortunately, that was exactly the height needed for the upper back cushions. We darted the excess fabric in the center of the curved corner cushion so the sides maintained the continuous visual repeat of the pattern. We also manipulated the fabric along the sides and back of the bow headrests to continue the dramatic pattern seen on the front of the cushion.

As you fabricate the details of your projects, imagine each one as a winning entry in the Marine Fabrication Excellence Awards. Careful planning and execution will create a complex masterpiece that embodies more than form, fit and function for your customer; it will provide the personal satisfaction of a job well done.


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Preparing for disasters

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Hurricane Maria damage at a marina in San Juan. A metal roof structure collapsed
on the boat of one of Sand Sea and Air’s customers. Photo: Alayna Wool.

Terri Madden’s January/February 2018 article for Marine Fabricator Magazine.

Editor’s note: Like many people who live and work in Puerto Rico, longtime contributor Terri Madden, owner of Sand Sea and Air Interiors Inc., has been deeply affected by the hurricanes. We asked her to write a column to help others learn from her experience.

When a disaster occurs, everything takes on a new meaning. The essential needs of food and shelter become primary not only for ourselves, but also for our loved ones. With world news at our fingertips, we read daily about tragic circumstances affecting both strangers and people we know. So…do you and your family have a disaster plan in place? Do you as a business owner have a contingency plan for your employees as well as your facility? If the answer is no, I hope this column will propel you to action. You never know when a disaster will strike.

The new normal

As I write this from Puerto Rico [Oct. 30, 2017], more than three million people are still in survival mode. It has been 41 days since one of the world’s strongest hurricanes on record made a direct strike on the “Enchanted Island.” Nine hundred and eleven people are confirmed dead and our borders may be closed indefinitely due to bacterial contamination or yellow fever epidemics. Airplanes carried more than 73,000 people to the mainland so far and airline tickets are currently sold out for at least three weeks. Electricity has only been temporarily restored to less than 10 percent of the island.

I am fortunate that my home and business were not completely wiped out. I have declined offers to “go somewhere” because Sand Sea and Air has employees and customers who depend on us. These days I am in survivor mode and I am not alone. Several other U.S. fabricators’ homes and businesses were also affected in 2017 by fire, flooding, snowstorms, hurricanes and tornadoes. Some were left with only the shirts on their backs, while others fared slightly better but are still dealing with the aftermath of a crisis, trying to pick up the pieces and plan their next steps.

Where to start

Ask yourself, if you had to quickly flee your home or business, what would you take and how easily could you let other things go?

Look around and evaluate your belongings. What would you put in your car or suitcase? Your pets, photos, a computer, documents, a few clothes, a passport, a cell phone? What could you leave and drive away from with a peaceful heart? Pause for a moment to evaluate and scale down your essential belongings. Get clear on your priorities!

ImportanceofSupplierSupporttowardRebuilding

Donations are critical for rebuilding damaged homes across the island. Shade sails and hardware donated by IFAI-member Wholesale Shade, San Marcos, Calif., will cover the new framing of this home. Photo: Alayna Wool.

Keep your business viable

Once the immediate hours or days of tragic events have passed, you may find that circumstances present themselves to strengthen you. Hopefully, you are better off than others and can lend a hand that will bless you twofold. But, if finding basic necessities like food and shelter is all you can do, then hour by hour pick yourself up.

At Sand Sea and Air, we worked the first five weeks by propane lantern light and wore bicycle headlamps to pattern and prep materials for current orders. We set up a temporary mobile office nearby in a facility with a generator.

We are still working on laptops to plan our next steps and keep batteries charged. We vacillate from frustration to a sense of accomplishment when we achieve even just one task in a day! Orders have been forthcoming as customers try to jump-start their lives and ask us to replace missing, broken or deteriorated items. I like to believe that we are better off than most, yet I can’t help but wonder at times.

The immediate aftermath

Short-term actions

Be grateful if you are able to stay in your home or with family members or friends as you gradually pick up the pieces. We are accustomed to multitasking and doing things on deadline. When we are forced to a standstill, it can be extremely frustrating.

  • Contact your family, friends and employees.
  • Take photos of all damaged items and areas before doing any cleanup.
  • Assess damages and obtain estimates for replacements or repairs.
  • Contact your insurance company to file claims on personal property, vehicles, your business, etc. (You can be reimbursed for the contents of a home refrigerator up to $500 with no deductible.)
  • Seek help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which offers an almost immediate relief payment ($500) deposited directly to your bank account for individuals who have had to leave their homes during a disaster. You can apply at www.fema.gov.
  • If necessary, contact the Small Business Administration (SBA), which offers low-interest loans to businesses affected by disasters.

Picking up the pieces

Long-term actions

  • Establish a support network. Delegate one or two people to contact others. Keep distant family members and friends in the loop so they know how to help you.
  • If possible, post updates on Facebook or WhatsApp to reach others quickly when you can’t connect individually.
  • Let business associates know what you may need—they will want to help.
  • Set up links to GoFundMe and other crowdfunding sites.
  • Connect with organizations that offer help with small and large issues, including religious organizations, community groups, clubs, etc.

Help from IFAI, vendors and suppliers

In the hurricane season’s aftermath, sales reps and vendors such as Mike Hendricks at Keyston Bros., Derek Robinson at Glen Raven, Mike Sandercock at Quality Thread and Notions Company, Gregg Burrows and Patrick Howe at Wholesale Shades, Craig Zola at Herculite® and Greg Smith at Million Air have reached out to us offering assistance with discounted pricing, product care packages and samples. IFAI kindly posted an update on our situation in a member email news brief.

Ultimately, it is God, amazing friends, family and the encouragement of other IFAI members who are the web of support that gives me the energy and strength to survive. My heartfelt thanks to all of you!


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Keeping up on trends in marine upholstery

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Photo 1: The exterior upholstery on this custom-built vessel by Nor-Tech offers tones of sand and ivory in different, yet complementary textures of vinyl.
Photo 2: The decorative topstitching in contrasting colors on the seat of this custom-built vessel by Deep Impact is striking. Formerly flat cushion surfaces are transformed with visually appealing diamond-quilted patterns on ergonomic high-low surfaces. The boat show featured an extensive use of a double diamond quilted pattern (using the beefy stitch known as a cable stitch).

Terri Madden’s September/October 2017 article for Marine Fabricator Magazine.
Check out Sand Sea & Air’s amazing work at SandSeaAir.com.

Boat shows are a rich resource.

When was the last time you attended a local or international boat show? If it’s been awhile, I recommend you put it on your agenda. To stay a notch ahead of the competition, professional marine fabricators must be aware of new concepts, designs and materials. Viewing new boats at boat shows is an excellent way to keep abreast of the vast assortment of new options so that when a customer is considering a refit, you can maintain the integrity of the vessel yet offer tasty, new selections that deliver a fresh impact that enhances the style of the vessel.

Recently, I attended a local boat show where standard vessels like Boston Whalers and Grady-Whites were on exhibit as well as some striking custom vessels with state-of-the-art upholstery techniques that commanded top dollar. Not only were these vessels showpieces, one salesperson of a custom boat manufacturer said the company had a 32-vessel waiting list with an 18-month delivery time frame.

Here are some of the new materials, trends and ideas that struck me as I wandered around the show.

Vendors are a research treasure trove The marine vendors at boat shows, as well as those who support the Marine Fabricators Association (MFA) regional and national conferences, are a valuable resource—so take advantage of them. They provide sample cards and books of their current offerings, as well as larger swatches for your special projects; customers love to view and touch the materials onboard their vessels.

Make sure to review the manufacturers’ data on the backside of the sample cards. It’s filled with information that can help you compare specifications regarding lightfastness and the all-important Wyzenbeek test results for abrasion.

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Photo 3: Serge Ferrari’s Stamskin One and Batyline Eden upholstery materials offer extreme durability and resistance in outdoor environments.
Photo 4: Here is a classic rope pattern by Ralph Lauren® for an indoor/outdoor acrylic fabric being used as an accent pillow with a ¾-inch rope trim our customer decided to showcase on her salon sofa.

The Wyzenbeek test determines the number of times a material can be sat upon before it shows sign of deterioration. The number of “double rubs” are a measurement of a fabric’s abrasion resistance. To conduct the test, a piece of cotton duck is stretched over a mechanical arm and passed back and forth over the test fabric in each direction. Each back-and-forth motion is one double rub. These results are listed with most fabrics and are helpful in determining which fabric is right for a particular application.

Just last week I was looking for a commercial-grade vinyl and upon contacting a local salesperson, I learned about a vinyl that could withstand 1.5 million double rubs. We are currently working with a designer who will not even consider a material less than 50,000 double rubs. Gathering this type of information is essential to operating within a customer’s budget and to understanding the value of one product over another.

Impressive upholstery materials

A few top-of-the-line materials stood out at the show. Serge Ferrari manufactures an extensive range of technically advanced materials whose value surpasses the cost per yard and is an excellent offering for marine upholstery projects. Stamskin One, the “skin” touch material, offers extreme resistance in outdoor environments. It includes an outstanding seven-year warranty and is available in more than 24 colors, in either a matte or soft grain texture.

This material is impervious to oils and creams, such as sunscreen. It offers easy care and maintenance and is safe to use with alcohol-based cleaners. There are no “pinking” issues with this marine vinyl, as there have been with other vinyl-based materials, since no plasticizers are used in the manufacturing process of Stamskin One. Consider this thermal material that offers comfort, fire resistance and breathability for your next project.

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Photo 5: Throughout the 25-year life of this 83-foot Cheoy Lee vessel, the original owner selected exterior fabrics by Kravet® and JF Fabrics for the bow and bridge seating. The vessel hull was white with turquoise accents. It seemed only natural to provide sample selections that showcased this color palette.
Photo 6: Even though the material specifications noted that the horizontal pattern was a 17 ½-inch repeat with a 14 ¼-inch vertical repeat, it was extremely challenging to estimate the quantity of material. Even more challenging was maintaining the repeat layout during construction so that adjoining seams and cushions aligned to showcase the visual repeat of the material, especially on the curved corner cushions.
Photo 7: The classic herringbone pattern with a wave effect on this outdoor acrylic from Kravet was the client’s top choice. Since this pattern was very dramatic, Sand Sea and Air recommended a solid matching turquoise for the seat cushions. The contrast provided a perfect harmony for the spacious seating areas.

Serge Ferrari’s Batyline Eden is an extremely durable mesh material consisting of PVC and acrylic that combines strength and softness to produce a textile with the “hand” appearance and texture of an open-weave material. It is resistant to rot, mildew, UV radiation and fading, with a backside coating that provides a 100 percent waterproof mesh. It is a unique and comfortable material for your customers.

The comfort factor and ease of care make it a prime consideration for your next project. Whether for seating at sea or on exterior furniture, it is an impressive and functional material.

Contact either your local vendor or Serge Ferrari for color cards and pricing. Serge Ferrari is also an active participant at the national MFA and IFAI conferences, with an extensive assortment of other high-quality marine materials.

Sunbrella® fabrics are a far cry from the solid “canvas” that most fabricators were once familiar with. Sunbrella acrylic yarns are available to designers to create the patterns and textures that are now a virtual “Garden of Eden” in the marketplace. Designers at companies such as Ralph Lauren® and Kravet® have used Sunbrella in luscious patterns and textures at price points that are competitive to familiar brands, while others can exceed $200 per yard. The price may seem steep, yet just one yard can have a dramatic effect on your next project and be a showcase piece for the vessel owner.


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Foam failures and how to prevent them

Moldy Mattress Liner & Foam 2 copy

Exterior mattress that sat next to a Jacuzzi. An exterior mesh cover over Dri-Fast® foam could have prevented the deterioration of the vinyl cover over polyfoam. Stagnant water grew mold and the seams allowed the water and mold to seep into the polyfoam.

Terri Madden’s July/August 2017 article for Marine Fabricator Magazine.
Check out Sand Sea & Air’s amazing work with foam at SandSeaAir.com.

All marine fabricators who provide products for cushions, bedding and headliners face decisions on the best foam for the application. The right decision ensures quality projects and happy customers. The wrong decision contributes to foam failures.

Cheaper can cost more

Less expensive foams may seem like a good deal until you realize they can deteriorate far more quickly than pricier foams because they may include fillers and additives such as sawdust and soybean oil.

I saw this firsthand some years ago during the oil crisis when prices for petroleum-based products (like foam) shot through the roof. One supplier offered a less expensive marine foam that was not yet “captain” recommended—a definite red flag. Two years later we were contacted by a new customer to replace the deteriorated foam from that supplier.

Hi-LoFoamDeterioration

Here is one situation where a liner may have diminished the effects of sunlight. This image shows a commercial acrylic material on an exterior cushion where the polyfoam shrunk in the areas where the fabric was the lightest color. Interestingly, the foam was not affected where the dark stripes absorbed the sunlight. Photo Credit: Devin Genner

To prevent this sort of foam failure, only deal with reputable foam suppliers, ask a lot of questions and educate your customers who may not immediately understand why a more expensive foam product may be more cost effective in the long run.

Case study of cheap foam breakdown

A five-star resort hotel asked us to replace exterior cushions and daybed seating that were only two or three years old. One of the cushions looked like a former balloon that had been popped, another looked as if a wild dog had chosen it for a nesting spot and a third looked as if it had gastric bypass surgery!

Fortunately, we had not provided the original cushions and it was obvious the failure was due to a “budget” foam. A quality marine foam would have lasted twice as long. These cushions did not have liners—only exterior covers in an outdoor fabric.

Fabric liner considerations

Would a liner have prevented this issue? I don’t believe so. This

Lounge Seat Foam Shrinkage

This exterior daybed foam was one of several similar pieces at a resort property. It was a shocking example of foam shrinkage when inferior marine foam was supplied by a low-budget vendor.

was clearly a case of the cellular structure of the foam deteriorating in a commercial setting where the seating was used more frequently than on a private vessel. Fabric liners can prolong the life of exterior cushions in some marine settings, but there are important things to consider when using them:

  • Fabric type: Some liner fabrics are magnets for mold and mildew when used in an exterior application, and this will also affect the underlying foam. If a liner material is used, make sure it is mold and mildew resistant.
  • Application: If frequent cleaning will be required, foam placed inside a liner makes it easy to remove and reinsert into an outer cover.
  • Foam type: I generally always use Dri-Fast® marine foam here in the tropics where exterior cushions are frequently subjected to moisture. However, manufacturers offering water-resistant fabrics often question the necessity of using marine foam with their products. If your customer is on a tight budget and will be storing the cushions indoors when they are not being used, you might be able to use a less expensive foam.
Wet Seating under Cover

Asked to replace these old bow cushions, I was surprised to see how wet the cushions were underneath a protective cover that did not appear to be torn or broken. To prevent this, a water-repellent finish could have been applied to clean cushions at the first sign of water seepage. A breathable, water-resistant cover would allow for water runoff.

Good cushion foam choices

Open-cell reticulated foam has extremely open pores that allow water and air to flow through it easily and is available in soft, medium and firm densities. These foams are comfortable and stay cool when used for seating cushions and mattresses. Dri-Fast (sometimes called marine foam) is a high-quality open-cell reticulated foam formulated with an antimicrobial agent to prevent mold and mildew. When paired with an outdoor cushion fabric for the top and sides with a mesh base, it creates a virtually maintenance-free all-weather cushion that is easy to clean without removing the foam, making it an ideal choice for most boat cockpit cushions.

Closed-cell PVN foam (also known as flotation foam) is three times firmer than polyurethane foam and is a more expensive option. Its buoyancy makes it a great choice for flotation applications like floating cockpit cushions and life vests. It is also a good choice for commercial boat seating or other seating that will be used as a step for getting on and off the vessel. PVN foam resists water absorption, so you can safely cover it with any type of fabric. Thin sheets of closed-cell foam are often glued to the bottom of other foam, adding additional support to a cushion, like a box spring to a mattress. When using it with Dri-Fast foam, cut holes in the closed-cell foam for drainage.

Supposedly Marine Foam Breakdown

These two-year-old exterior cushions were provided by a well-known manufacturer. Perhaps budget constraints determined the use of polyfoam and the fabricator thought a water-repellent liner would keep water out. Verify the specifications of the materials you use to avoid this situation. We omitted the liner and used Sunbrella® fabric with Dri-Fast foam.


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Foam: The what, when and where

Terri Madden’s May/June 2017 article for Marine Fabricator Magazine.

Cushion foam is an important component of any marine seating project. From cockpit cushions with hull angles to bosun’s chairs and boat mattresses, how do we as professional marine fabricators choose the best solution for cushion foam across a smorgasbord of applications? The task can feel daunting given the complexity of choices in foam types, materials, densities and compression factors, but choosing correctly is crucial to a project’s success.

Foam types

Foam is essentially a group of air bubbles trapped inside a solid matrix.

Open-cell foam is characterized as a soft material. The surfaces of the bubbles (the cells) are broken and interconnected so that air moves easily through all the spaces of the material when the foam is squeezed or compressed.

Open-cell foam is ideal for cushioning, padding and backing for furniture when you are looking for a balance of comfort and support. It is also useful for occasional bedding products and is generally available at an affordable price in standard sizes and heights as well as cylinders and wedges. Polyurethane foam, memory foam and latex foam are the three most common types of open-cell foam.

Closed-cell foam is generally much denser and firmer than open-cell foam. Its air bubbles are completely sealed (closed) off from those around it. These materials typically have higher compressive strength because the air does not dissipate when the foam is squeezed or pressed.

Closed-cell foam is often used in flotation equipment and marine products because it does not soak up water. It is also resistant to solvents, petroleum products, and has antimicrobial properties to prevent the growth of mold and mildew. I have rarely used it for cushions because it is not very comfortable to sit on. We recently supplied an expedition vessel with 4-inch x 96-inch laminated layers of closed cell foam. The sheets had to wrap over the length of 96-inch carbon fiber poles for protection.

see Artic P photos of foam with angled edges to cover over a cylinder. 

Factor in comfort

When choosing foam for your cushion project, you generally need a balance of comfort, support and durability that is appropriate for your application. I recommend you have different foam samples on hand so your customers can evaluate their preferences during “sit tests.” This is especially valuable when working on custom projects.

Support: The thickness of the foam will affect its ability to support weight. Consider the weight of the person being supported. A larger person (more than 250 pounds) will need firmer foam.

Comfort: The softer the foam, the more comfortable it will be. Adding a DacronR/fiberfill wrap topper is an excellent way to add a bit of comfort while still having a good supportive foam. The fiberfill also helps in “filling out” the sides and edges of a firm foam inside of the cushion covers. Since fiberfill compresses easily, cut your foam to size without compensating for the fiberfill, otherwise you’ll end up with a boat cushion that has a baggy appearance.

Durability: Higher density foams have a much higher resistance to collapsing or bottoming out then lower density, inexpensive foams. Applications in which a cushion is used onboard a vessel should lean toward a higher density. Seating that is used only occasionally could use a lower density foam.

Additional considerations

Cost will obviously be an important factor in your choice. The price for upholstery foam is based on sheets of a specific size and weight as well as density, in some cases. Some vendors will offer custom cutting and pricing for upholstery foam if you do not need the large pieces they normally sell. Expect the price to be slightly higher per square foot than if you bought it in larger sheets and then cut it yourself. Upholstery foam can range from $12 a sheet (sold in 24- by 24- by 2-inch sections) to more than $126 a sheet (sold in 6- by 24- by 84-inch sections).

You will find out rather quickly that foam is available in various thicknesses. Also, some states have flammability laws that may lock you into using foam rated as fire resistant. Check with local and national suppliers for these requirements as well as samples, sizes, custom cutting options and pricing.

Ultimately, the “perfect” cushion foam for a given project depends on the ultimate use of the piece you are fabricating. Understanding an application’s requirements and your customers’ expectations is the best way to determine the ideal foam choice among the wide variety of options available.

Open-cell foam types and common uses:

Polyurethane Foam is the lowest quality of foam and will often not return to its original form.

High Density Foam is sold primarily for mattresses, average sofa and chair cushions, interior boat cushions, camping pads, etc. Some vendors offer High Density foam (also called High Resilient foam) which is used in expensive seating including yachting and boating because it is very buoyant and resilient.

Memory Foam is also known as Miracle foam, Wonder foam or viscoelastic foam with additional chemicals increasing its viscosity and density. It is often used as extra padding atop a mattress as it is soft, comfortable and highly compactable as it conforms to a shape. Developed for space shuttle seating, it is used for mattresses and is the most unique foam currently on the market.

Latex Rubber Foam is a non-allergenic foam. It was the first type of foam on the market and the longest lasting. It is used in top-of-the-line products including mattresses, cushions etc. It is a better quality than High Density Foam.

Rebond Foam excels in situations where other foams do not hold up to demanding daily use. It is highly resilient and stands up to high impact usage. Ironically, we are currently replacing it on pilot cylinder roll bar cushions because it absorbs water, which seeps out from the seams and gets the crew wet.

Sew Foam is a light  ¼” – ½” polyfoam with a cloth material laminated to the poly foam base. This foam is great for creating a fuller, more cushioned look and feel, particularly under quilted upholstery in boats and car seats.

Shredded Foam can be used in throw pillows, cushions, patio furniture, cushion backs and many other applications. Available both in regular shredded foam and shredded memory foam.

Dryfast Foam is also known as Outdoor Foam, Marine Foam, Flo-through Foam and Open Cell Foam.

This foam is highly recommended for outdoor use where moisture and water is prevalent and especially in marine cushion applications because it does not absorb moisture like conventional foams. Here in the tropics it is widely used for boat cushions, boat mattresses and patio furniture. Whenever possible, these cushions should incorporate a mesh material underneath to allow for water drainage.

The large, open cells of Dryfast foam provide a degree of airflow not present in other foams, allowing the foam to dry quickly, even after complete saturation. I recently became aware that the Dryfast foam formula is antimicrobial and helps suppress microorganism growth, common in damp areas. Because of the antimicrobial formula and air circulation, Dryfast foam could also be used in home products like bedding for those with health concerns.

Closed-cell foam types and uses

Polyethylene Foam has excellent buoyancy and is typically used in flotation equipment and other nautical products.

Neoprene Foam is a flexible, form-fitting and durable sponge rubber that provides good thermal and moisture insulation. It resists ozone, sunlight, oxidation and many petroleum derivatives and chemicals.

Additional closed-cell foams include: Cross-linked PE, Polystyrene, Gym Rubber and Polypropylene.

Density and Compression (Firmness)

Density and firmness are two important measurements of foam quality. Knowing these will help you select the right foam for your application.

Different foam manufacturers may use different numbering or rating systems. In the common four-digit system, the first two digits specify the density of the foam and the second two digits specify the compression (firmness) of the foam. Firmness is measured in terms of ILD (Indention Load Deflection), also sometimes referred to as IFD (Indention Force Deflection).

Density technically means taking a solid chunk of 12- by 12- by 12-inch foam and weighing it in pounds. The denser the foam, the more resilient and durable it will be.

Upholstery foam is rated in density by a 2-digit number ranging from 18 to 35 with a decimal point between the 2 numbers. A #18 foam would be 1.8 foam. Here are some usage guidelines:

o 1.8 (extra soft, used as back cushions)

o 2.4 (comfortable soft, firmer back cushions)

o 2.7 (soft, soft seat but firm back cushions)

o 2.8 (medium soft, medium soft seat)

o 2.7 (medium, medium seat)

o 1.9 (medium firm)

o 2.8 (firm, typically a 2-inch thick dining room chair)

o 3.2 (extra firm)

Compression (firmness) is an ILD/IFD value represented by how many pounds it takes to compress the foam by 25 percent. A higher number means firmer foam and a lower number means softer foam.


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Seating solutions for reclining, storage and temperature control

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Terri Madden’s March/April 2017 article for Marine Fabricator Magazine.

When a customer requests an unusual type of seating for a boat, it’s a fabrication opportunity to begin a comfortable dialogue with that client. Instead of hesitantly saying, “I will try to do my best,” turn your response into, “I am here to help you.”

That customer may have already heard a reluctant fabricator say, “That’s not possible,” or “That’s going to cost a lot of money.” The open-minded fabricator will thoughtfully listen and ask questions as the customer describes his or her vision. The goal is to cultivate a constructive dialogue that will help a customer understand the value of the fabricator’s time, effort and skills. What’s more, creating an especially challenging seating project may become an award-winner that ultimately showcases a fabricator’s considerable skill and experience.

Customers are often looking for a wow factor in their new marine cushions and seating. At the same time, they usually have budget constraints and want the work completed as soon as possible. To balance these demands, fabricators need to help clients understand the give and take of turning unusual requests into reality.   

When an usually project is requested, here are ideas for preparing for your first meeting with the client:

  • Designate a day to review his or her request so you have sufficient time to explore solutions that will suit the project.
  • Consider whether this project will take away or add to your core business.
  • Review measurements and gather photos of similar projects.
  • Develop sketches and rough drafts for the client.
  • Research the type of materials required, including quantities, costs and availability.
  • Compare the customer’s budget to your rough estimate for materials and labor.
  • Designate your prototype fee in your estimate; this will be different than a quantity fee and re-orders on certain items.

Adjustable chaise seating

Consider what new projects you have seen in the past year. I find it inspiring to view fellow fabricators’ projects that, to my knowledge, had not previously existed in the marine market but are now are frequently seen on pleasure crafts around the world.

Adjustable reclining chaise seating has been in the furniture industry for years, yet only recently have a few fabricators sourced hardware and materials to transition this idea to the marine market. Now this comfortable solution is a reality for marine customers.

In the past, super yachts often incorporated flat cushions into a recessed area on the bow of the boat. Typically these “day bed” cushions have had elevated headrests integrated into the body of a cushion, providing only a few inches of elevation. However, fabricators like David Elliott, owner of David’s Custom Trimmers in Australia, have recently utilized a 25 mm Kingboard as a custom base with a stainless ratchet-hinge. The hardware is available from Taco Marine. This fusion has provided a durable and comfortable solution for guests to sit side-by-side with one person relaxing in an upright position while another person reclines.

Since the completion and installation of this project, Elliott has been sourcing additional prototypes for alternate functional hardware that is enduring and functional when installed into a fiberglass hull. He, like so many other fabricators, continues to strive to propel a great concept to the next dimension.  

Premium storage

Every vessel, no matter how large or small, needs optimized storage space, which is always tight onboard. Crew and owners need most items to be securely stowed away, yet they want easy access to everything from hardware to comfortable quilts.

Clever storage was recently created in the armrests of a custom-built sofa by Canvas Designers Inc., Riveria Beach, Fla. In fact, this upholstery project was awarded an Award of Distinction in the MFA 2016 Fabrication Excellence Awards. This custom sofa was for a 72-foot Merritt Sport Fish.

The two sofa arms of this handsome U-shaped sofa provide spacious custom storage via a hinge access feature. [Terri, this project was included in the March/April 2106 issue of MF (MFA Fabicator Awards). It stated “The entire seat and back are on hydraulic hinges, which lift up for storage space.” I think I should add this.]

Pat Erickson, at Canvas Designers, says the company slogan is, “If you can dream it, we can make it.”

The sofa is all leather with the back sections custom built with 2.25-inch horizontal channel pockets. The foam pockets were individually fabricated with a Stamoid back base for stability. The back has zipper access for stuffing the foam into the individual pockets. The size was specified by the client to match the leather boat blinds. This custom feature on the sofa back was exactly what the customer envisioned.

Just last week I received a customer request to include armrest storage in new custom sofa on a family vessel that is in a full refit stage. The customer saw this feature on the Internet and at a boat show. This opportunity illustrates how important it is to keep up with design trends for seating and cushions through Marine Fabricator magazine, seminars and conventions.

Climate controlled seating

Bill Marriott from Extreme Upholstery Designs, Charleston, S.C., is a talented fabricator who recently exceeded a customer’s expectations by creating climate-controlled mezzanine seating. He described the request as a “brain teaser, to say the least.” He puzzled through every step before preparing a prototype. Many times this type of process can take a fabricator days or weeks. I like to call it “chewing over a project.”

Bill’s client flew him to the boat site, so he could pattern the seat area on a new custom-made 62-foot Scarborough in North Carolina. The resulting seats are climate controlled with heat and air conditioning, so the owner can have a cool ride after a long hot fishing trip. Sunbrella® fabric was used. The one requirement the client had was, when standing on the dock or the back of the boat, he did not want to see into the open holes where the heat and air comes through the seat. Bill designed the seat so that only the fabric was visible when looking at the openings.

This was no easy task for a three-dimensional seat, which required access to insert the foam on form fitting cushions. Talent, ingenuity and years of design skills were incorporated into this amazing creation   .

Here are preparation tips that can guide you in creating a challenging project.

  • Do a conceptual “walk through” for each stage of a unique project to ensure that your time and talent are adequately compensated.
  • Confirm materials and hardware.
  • Prepare a maquette, sample or pattern.
  • Consider contours and alignment of all areas.
  • Determine time factors for each stage.
  • Determine what employee training may be required for the project.
  • Determine installation logistics and storage-related issues.

Don’t be shy about calling on fellow fabricators for advice when you hit a roadblock. You will be surprised at how willingly they share resources related to suppliers, techniques and professional contacts. I recall reading about scrim foam in the Marine Fabricator magazine several years back, I did not know what this foam was or how it would be utilized, so I contacted the author. She was more than willing to explain the various types and usages and provide a list of vendors. Through reaching out to others, I am fortunate to have many friends in this unique industry.