Fired Up - Why I Didn't Order a Residential Sofa for my Client's Office

I once met with a gentleman that wanted a new sofa for his executive office. He had a pretty clear idea of his style and showed me a sofa he had been looking at. I immediately told him that sofa would not work in his office.

Now, if you know me at all, you know that I don’t immediately push back on a client’s furniture selection unless it’s a safety issue. As I stated in another blog post, my personal design style doesn’t matter because I don’t need to live with it, the client does.

So what was the problem with this brown leather Chesterfield sofa?

It didn’t meet the appropriate fire codes. Oh yes, furniture upholstery and filling is addressed in the fire code. In fact, fire codes in relation to upholstery and filling is on several sections of the NCIDQ exam which all certified interior designers are required to pass. One of the most important codes is California Technical Bulletin 117 which became a law in 1975 (and was recently updated). This document notes the requirements, test procedures and apparatus for testing the smolder resistance of materials used in upholstered furniture including the foam fill. Codes are more stringent for commercial spaces because there are so many more people occupying them.

I told the client that I would find a commercial-grade option that had the same aesthetic, but was more appropriate for this situation. He countered and said “Joe Shmoe down the hall got to choose whatever sofa he wanted….” Okay, that’s neat, but Joe Shmoe doesn’t have two design degrees and a national certification to know that that particular upholstery and fill could contribute to a fire. In other words, my client could have gone ahead and purchased whatever he wanted, but I wasn’t specifying that residential sofa for two reasons. First, it’s literally a fire hazard. It’s dangerous! Second, if there is a fire and the sofa I specified contributes to the growth of that fire, guess who’s getting sued? Me. There have been architects and interior designers charged for manslaughter for specifying the wrong product.

No gracias.

This particular individual just didn’t like hearing the word no, but please respect the expertise of interior designers. We don’t mention it all the time because the part where we help keep clients alive in their home or office isn’t glamorous, but it’s something we think about all the time.

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