Reupholstering chairs and sofas: everything you need to know

March 7, 2012

If you’ve ever furnished a house or an apartment, it’s highly likely you’ve asked yourself this question: Should I reupholster or buy something new? Unfortunately, there is no quick answer. What kind of shape the furniture is in, how much new fabric you’ll need and how much the fabric will cost are a few things that should be considered before making the decision. There is also the cost of labor, which varies from shop to shop because there is no industry standard.

A reputable upholsterer should be able to provide potential customers with specific answers to all questions, including a final price, after seeing a piece of furniture in person.

As with any professional you are considering hiring, when searching for an upholsterer, do thorough comparison shopping. Ask relatives, friends, colleagues and neighbors if they have a recommendation. Visit an upholsterer’s workroom to look at the quality of his or her work. Ask for references, and call them.

Most important, keep in mind that reupholstering isn’t necessarily less expensive than buying something new.

“It’s going to be comparable to a new piece of furniture because you are essentially getting a new piece of furniture,” says Mark Walker, a manager at Calico Corners in Rockville. “It’s the same frame, but otherwise a new piece.”


(Bigstockphoto)

We contacted local upholsterers and asked them the questions we hear most often from readers. We threw in some of our own, too.

Should I reupholster or buy something new?

While there are high-end exceptions, our experts agreed that much of the furniture manufactured today isn’t well made and not worth the cost of reupholstering.

Walker offers this advice: “We recommend reupholstering if a piece has sentimental value or if it’s an heirloom; if it’s the perfect size to fit a specific space or if it’s unique or something you love and you won’t be able to replace. If it doesn’t fall into any of those categories, we suggest buying a new piece.”

How can I tell if my furniture is good quality?

The short answer: older is better. “Anything that is at least 15 to 20 years old,” says George Spicer of Spicer’s Upholstery in Alexandria.“If it was going to fall apart, it would have by now.”

Coil springs and solid wood are also indications of something well-made, says Michael Goncalves of Jose Goncalves & Sons Interiors in Arlington. To check for coil springs, he says, remove the seat cushions and press your hand down on the seat.

“If it feels like coil springs, it’s probably a decent piece and worth considering reupholstering,” he says. “And if you can pick up a sofa super easily, it’s probably not good quality wood.”

How do I find a good upholsterer?

Having a referral from a family member or friend is the best way to search for an upholsterer. Also check with your neighborhood e-mail discussion group and consumer sites, such as Consumers’ Checkbook, then visit the workrooms of the names you’ve gathered.

Good questions to ask upholsterers include: How long has the company been in business? Can you see examples of their work? Is your piece worth upholstering? How much are pickup and delivery charges? What is the turnaround time? Do they remove existing fabric?

Even if an upholsterer answers yes to the last question, Goncalves recommends taking it a step further: Request that they save the old fabric for you. “You can throw it away as soon as you get home, but it’s always a good thing to ask so you can be assured that the job has been done.”

Goncalves speaks from experience. He recently reupholstered a sofa for a client that had four layers of fabric underneath the top layer. “I saved it all to show my customer,” he said. “She had no idea.”

How much does it cost to have a sofa or chair reupholstered?

So many factors go into figuring out a price that it’s impossible for an upholsterer to provide an exact estimate without seeing a piece in person.

Some factors that determine price include: the size of the piece, its condition and the style. For example: How many seat cushions does it have? (More cushions cost more.) Is it a loose back or tight back? (A loose back will cost more.)

For a sofa, the starting price range for the upholsterers we spoke to ran $700 to $1,200, not including fabric; to have a dining chair seat re-covered, the starting range was $45 to $90, not including fabric.

How much fabric will I need?

The amount of fabric depends on the size and style of the furniture, whether the fabric chosen is a solid or a pattern (you’ll need more with a pattern), the number of cushions and pillows needed and any extras, such as adding a skirt.

Some upholsterers will let you e-mail a picture of your furniture and they will e-mail you back estimates for fabric yardage and the price of labor.

What are additional costs that might come up when having something reupholstered?

In addition to possible pickup and delivery charges: replacing cushions or pillows, repairing or rebuilding a frame, re-tying springs, and any extras, such as having a skirt made, replacing the legs, changing loose cushions to a tight back or adding tufting or nailheads.

Coming next week:

In next Thursday’s Local Living, our annual Kitchen Issue features a look into the home kitchens of three former “Top Chef” contestants who live in the D.C. area. Plus a kitchen makeover for House Calls, and more.

Also check out:

Chat Thursday at 11 a.m. Join staff writers Jura Koncius and Terri Sapienza for our weekly online Q&A on decorating and household advice.

House Calls gallery See designers’ virtual makeovers of local readers’ rooms.

Pinterest For decorating inspiration, follow our home writers: pinterest.com/terrisapienza and pinterest.com/jurakoncius.

Twitter Follow @JuraKoncius on Twitter for home and design news.

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