Shabby To Chic

By Kristen Castillo

July 23, 2018 5 min read

Before you donate that old chair or couch to charity, or ditch it altogether, consider whether or not it has new potential with reupholstering.

The term reupholster dates back to the late 1800s and refers to upholding or repairing furniture. The concept makes sense: why discard something that could be fixed?

Interior designer Mark Cutler of Mark Cutler Design says reupholstering is a good idea if the item is well-made and in timeless shape. Also, many people choose to give new life to pieces that are worn but have sentimental value.

Don't just jump into a project though. Have your upholsterer look at the frame, a process that involves inspecting the underside of the item.

"A piece that was cheap to begin with, may not have a frame that will stand up to this," he says. "A lot of pieces that are bought from mass retailers are actually just stapled together and these frames are not worth the effort."

*What to Consider

Fixing old chairs and sofas can be pricey and a lot of work. But experts say many projects are worthwhile.

"Reupholstering can absolutely be worth it," says Sallie Kjos of GreyHunt Interiors, who advises not taking on the job if the piece is low quality or old with outdated frames.

She offers these guidelines to consider before getting started:

1) Is it vintage or does it have a unique frame?

2) Is it a high-quality piece?

3) Do you like piece's size and level of comfort?

It's also smart to test the furniture -- is it wobbly? Is the frame crooked?

Especially for an old piece, look at the manufacturer's name. Do a web search to see how well the furnishings hold up. A good brand can be a sign of a quality item.

*Cost and Value

Cutler says most people don't realize that reupholstering only saves the cost of the frame of the seat or the sofa. All the springs are usually replaced and cushions are re-stuffed.

"Depending on your fabric choice, reupholstering might only save you 25 percent of the cost of a new sofa," he says. "However, it's important to know that what you get back is, essentially just that, a new sofa, or chair."

Kjos says the cost of redoing a basic chair can start around $250. But pricing can go up based on fabric choice, embellishments and the fees charged by the upholsterer.

HomeAdvisor says consumers will spend $1,200 to $3,500 updating a couch. They point out the cost of a new couch can be $2,000, while a new armchair can run $800.

*Fabric and Style

When it comes to styling your chair or couch, you have more options than ever. Expect to pay for fabric by the foot, just like any other textile task.

Outdoor fabrics are becoming a great choice for their varieties of patterns, colors and textures.

"These are becoming very popular to use in high-traffic areas as they resist dirt and pets better than most fabrics," says Cutler, who's also seeing use of heavyweight linens and cottons, which are elegant and can modernize a vintage piece. He recommends personalizing your style by adding nail heads and deep buttoning.

Kjos suggests choosing a timeless fabric in a solid color for lasting impact and classic appeal. Then for added appeal, toss in some trendy pillows: "Easy to remove, replace and change as your space changes -- not to mention less expensive than reupholstering," she says.

*Good Foundation

Whether you're reworking your own furniture or transforming antique seats purchased at swap meets or estate sales, know that vintage items were built to last.

"The frame is meant to be used over and over again," says Cutler, explaining frames typically have been glued and nailed to be sturdy.

Most items will need to be professionally done, especially if repairs need to be made to the frame and springs. In some cases, if you're skilled, you may be able to do simple fixes on your own, such as like replacing fabric or adding trim. You'll need the right tools though, including a staple gun, tacks and fabric scissors.

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