Upholstery 101: Part 1

Recover or Recycle? Has your sofa seen better days?

There’s a hole smack dab in the center cushion. The piping is coming out of the cushions edge, and lord only knows what that stain is on the arm.

Sigh. To recover or to ditch it? That is the question. Oh, girl, you are LONG past getting it steam cleaned. You can just forget that. It’s time to get serious. That sofa has definitely seen better days.

 Does a trip to the fabric store leave you frazzled?  Do the “Upholstery” yellow pages make you green?  Did the price tags on new sofas in the furniture store frighten you? 

What’s a girl to do?  Or a guy for that matter. As if guys care about things like sofas. They are way more interested in the size of the television screen in front of the sofa. Am I right?

Never fear. Auntie Missy is here. I will walk you through the possibilities.

First of all, you need to determine if your sofa is a quality piece of furniture woth the time and expense to recover it.   If you inherited it from Mama and it’s over 20 years old, it is likely pretty good quality if it’s held up this long. 

If it’s leaning to one side and the baby rolls over when you try to sit him on it, it might be time to just leave this particular couch in a frat house parking lot in the middle of the night. Those guys can sleep on anything. They don’t care.  

 Here’s how you can tell if your sofa or chair is high quality:

When you lift up the cushions and push down on the front edge, does that area “give” with a springy bounce back?  If so, you have what is called a spring tension bar.  

Bingo. Good sofa. This is the hallmark of quality furniture. If it has a spring tension bar, it also likely has 8-way hand tied springs. This is the way they used to make furniture “back in the day” when quality was goal # 1.

If you have this in your sofa or chair, but your cushions are worn out and squished down, don’t worry.  While furniture construction may have declined in the era of “buy it cheap now and replace it soon,” things like foam and fabrics have vastly improved.

Let’s say your sofa has good bones and you like it well enough to recover it. Here are your options:

First option is slipcovers.  There are many available and on-line and they aren’t that hard to install. Some slipcovers even come with instructions on how to put them on.

Advantages of slipcovers are that they are inexpensive and quick.  This might be a good solution for you if your budget is tight, or if you have small children and/or pets because they can also be laundered.  This is also a good option if you like the “shabby chic” look of loose and comfortable. 

The downside of slipcovers is that they require constant maintenance if you like for things to look neat. They require lots of pulling, tugging, re-tucking every time you sit down and get back up. This might not matter to you, but it would drive me nuts. However, if it’s just your tv room and the kids play in there, it really won’t matter and slipcovers may be exactly the thing for that space.

If you think re-upholstery is more your style, you have several things to consider. First, how much is it going to cost? You have to consider fabric cost and labor cost. Ask around, get some references, and call an . 

Most will come by for a free estimate or accept photos by email to give you a quote. If it’s a sofa, I’d say expect around $750 for labor.  That sounds like a lot but believe me, if you were doing that much work yourself you’d charge that much, too. It’s a difficult and tedious job and only a few in this profession exist.

Then you have to consider fabric cost. Most upholsterers have fabric suppliers from whom they buy wholesale fabrics. They will bring sample books to you and help you figure out what you want. They know the ins and outs of things like pattern repeat, “railroading”, stain protection,  comfort, clean-ability, and longevity.

They will also be able to tell you if you need new foam in your cushions or can just additional batting. They will give you options on things like skirts or new feet, and can even do things such as rebuild a low sofa back to make it higher and more modern looking. 

For example, when I re-upholstered my sofa, I had get rid of the three “loose attached” cushions on the back that were constantly squished down, and had her crew instead add lots of fluff and tuft the entire back. I was going for the look of that sofa in the café on ‘Friends." It came out great and is holding up nicely! 

By the way, my re-upholstery job including fabric and labor cost $1300, but I paid $3800 for the sofa when it was brand new 15 years ago. It is high quality, so the expense was definitely worth it.

However, you don't have to purchase your fabric from the upholsterer, you can shop at , but you should definitely consult with the upholsterer for tips on what to look for in before you do that. There are lots of available and not all are suitable for upholstery!

Depending on pattern repeat and the style of your sofa, you can expect to need about 18 to 22 yards for a full sized sofa. Price range of fabrics is enormous! You can spend as little as $10 a yard if you shop at local fabric chains, or you can upgrade and go up into the hundreds per yard if you have a mind to.

Let’s say you are willing to spend $1,000 in fabric and labor combined. You can potentially purchase a new sofa for $1000, but quite honestly, you aren’t going to get a good quality sofa for $1,000. If it’s something that won't be used very much, that’s a consideration. If it’s going to get lots of use, a $1,000 sofa isn’t going to hold up very long. You get what you pay for.

If you have a quality piece of furniture, it’s definitely worth spending the dough to recover it, and a $1,000 budget means you can spend around $14 per yard on your fabric if you choose a solid. Solid-colored fabrics are easy to work with, allowing you to change out your throw pillows whenever you feel like it. They easily work in patterns on your chairs or other pieces.

If you are spending all that money and not sure how to choose a fabric, look on-line and at magazines for inspiration, and if you can’t decide, it might be worth a one-hour consultation fee with your favorite designer for an educated opinion. Most designers fees locally range from $85 to $125 an hour, and it will be worth it to prevent making an expensive mistake on selecting your fabric.

All that said, if you don’t have a quality sofa and need to purchase a new sofa instead of re-upholstering, check back next week and I’ll give you some tips on that option.


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