Reupholstery: New Life for Tired Furniture

Home Maintenance & Repair >

Your favorite sofa is 25 years old, bought after college and before kids. It’s suffered through growing children, pets and parties. Now the beloved piece is worn and unattractive. Should it be recovered or set on the curb?

“Some people realize the value of having an older piece. The older pieces are built better. I’ll have a customer tell me, I bought this three months ago and the cushions are deteriorating already,” says Victor Aguirre, owner, Artistic Upholstery, La Habra, Calif.

Upholstered sofas and chairs built decades ago are likely to have been constructed with quality materials now only available in upscale furniture.

“It’s the bones. You’ll have a better framework, better joining, better suspension. In a lot of cases the framework is solid hardwood rather than pressed board. If you know you have a solid wood framework, it’s an advantage to reupholster,” says Kevin Shapin, vice president, Covers Unlimited, Chicago.

A quick evaluation of a piece of upholstery will help determine its structural integrity. Shapin suggests checking the steadiness of a sofa or chair, looking for loose joints and cracked wood. It’s also valuable to test the comfort and firmness of the piece by sitting on it.  A lack of support could be the result of several issues.

“If it sinks down, it might feel like there’s an issue with the foam when it’s actually the suspension,” he says. Once the decision has been made to reupholster, it’s important to find an experienced professional to do the work. Both Aguirre and Shapin offer several points to take into consideration.

“You want them to be local. You need to be able to touch, feel and look at what they’re doing. I’ll escort clients to the back and point out this is what I do. If anybody wants to come in the back, I have an open door policy,” says Aguirre.

At an upholstery studio, furniture in every phase of the reupholstery process should be available to see, with craftsmen on hand to answer questions.

“You should be able to see work completed at all stages, see the process and meet the people. Are they taking the fabric off? Will they evaluate the framework? Will they replace broken wood, make suspension repairs, put in new foam? Will they match stripes and patterns? Customers should understand it’s not just slapping new fabric over old fabric,” says Shapin.

In fact, merely replacing the fabric is not recommended. “Sometimes interior issues go unnoticed. Nobody has X-ray vision. Maybe the foam is deteriorating. I will try to insist on taking it apart and doing it right. It will last longer vs. a shortcut,” says Aguirre.

Even when internal repair is not needed, additional labor may be required to add decorator touches. “With anything with more details - paneling, banding, skirting, double welts, nail heads - you’re looking at more labor,” says Aguirre.

Complex fabric application also impacts labor. “If a fabric is striped or has a pattern that needs to be aligned, that takes more time in cutting and sewing. It will need more yardage as well,” says Shapin.

Though many upholstery shops offer a wide selection of fabrics, customers should not feel limited to those selections. Fabric stores often provide upholstery options; however, care should be taken when buying the cloth.

“Look for cleanability and durability. Check the weight of the fabric. Hold it up with a light behind it. If you see light through the fabric, that means fluid will flow through the fabric also,” say Shapin.

Customers should keep in mind the cost of the fabric influences the price of the reupholstery. “You should be able to find a nice quality fabric for $40 a yard,” says Shapin.

Once the reupholstery is finished, an evaluation of the piece should be done. “See how it looks. Is it eye-appealing? Check the comfort level. Is it too hard or too soft? If you see or feel something’s not right, there should be a resolution provided,” says Aguirre.
In almost every case, the updated piece will exceed expectation.

“Upholstery is an art. It’s that touch, It’s that experience. It’s craftsmanship,” says Aguirre.

Tags: reupholstery, tips, furniture