Furniture: Replace or Reupholster?

By Cheryl Reed

September 14, 2013 4 min read

Want to add pizazz to a room? You may be sitting on an easy answer.

Reupholstering drab, dated furniture with new fabric and fresh details can be a satisfying alternative to buying new.

To decide whether to update an existing piece or replace it, follow these recommendations from our consumer-services researcher team:

1) Assess the quality of the furniture. Having a piece of furniture reupholstered can cost as much as buying new, so it's important to be sure the piece is in good enough shape to make it worthwhile. Test for wobbliness or other weaknesses.

Experts say older furniture is often of higher quality than new. Hardwood furniture frames from the past were often screwed together, while more recent frames may be stapled or glued.

2) Decide what the piece means to you. It may be worth paying to restore or refurbish furniture that has sentimental value, such as a family heirloom or comfortable piece you've enjoyed for years.

But be aware that not all beloved pieces can be made to look like new. For example, it may be almost impossible to restore the factory-fluffiness of recliners with attached cushions.

3. Compare costs. Reupholstery costs depend on the work required and fabric used. Replacing a single sofa cushion may cost $80, while a complete couch overhaul — new fabric, restuffing, repair of springs or backboards — ranges from $700 and $1,200.

Fabric, at $20 to $70 a yard, drives the price. A typical sofa requires about 13 yards of fabric; a chair usually needs about 7 yards.

The amount of fabric also affects labor costs, since more fabric requires more labor. Special or intensive work can increase labor costs. Examples include zippers, welt cords (fabric rims outlining the seams of cushions and pillows), pattern and shape alignment, and tufting (creating patterns by running a thread through fabric and tying the ends with buttons or knots).

If you have the time, patience, and supplies, you may decide to do your own upholstery work. To find a reputable, experienced upholsterer, ask friends and family for recommendations and read online consumer reviews from a trustworthy source. Other sources of references include fabric stores and interior designers.

Before you talk to an upholstery pro:

—Be aware that while most upholsterers carry samples ready to order from fabric houses, you can ask if you can provide your own fabric.

—Request to see photos of the upholsterer's completed projects, as well as references.

—Be sure the quote specifies the type and amount of fabric used and includes estimates for basic labor and extra labor should the frame require restructuring. The estimate should also list costs for padding, seat springs, fabric, and supplies.

Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie's List, the nation's most trusted resource for local consumer reviews on everything from home repair to health care. To find out more about Angie Hicks and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

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