Reupholster or buy new is an often asked question by many. A woman called me last week to inquire about a sofa she had seen in a friend's garage. She said it reminded her of something similar she had seen online, and whether she should buy new or reupholster.
Her husband had wanted to sell it, but his wife was still in the deciding mode. I told her to see if she could find out what the inside looked like, meaning if it had coil springs or sinuous springs, and whether the arm and leg construction was all in one piece. As of this writing, the husband sold it without consulting his wife! I don’t want to know what happened after that, but the point is I would have recommended buying it and having it reupholstered. Why is this?
Because, depending on the age and manufacturer, she could have purchased a sofa with a high-quality construction method that combined coil springs, a kiln-dried hardwood frame, and legs and front of the arm cut from one piece of solid wood. The next question I have received on more than one occasion is “why is reupholstery so expensive?”
There are numerous reasons for this perception:
Accurate knowledge of the upholstery trade is required
Specialized knowledge and apprenticeship is required for master upholsterers
Someone has to remove the old welting/gimp, tacks, stuffing by hand
It requires practiced skills in using the correct tools
Repairing/securing joints and frame repair requires skill
Retying/replacing springs requires skill
Arranging the stuffing by hand to achieve the proper contour/crown/pleating requires specialized skill
Inserting/applying new nailheads/passamenterie requires skill
The video above of my upholsterer at work is why some would say reupholstering is so expensive. If you think of it this way. A timeless frame style, made from high-quality materials will last a lifetime. You only need to reupholster it depending on the wear and tear it receives over time, or as your taste changes.
Weigh the cost of three "inexpensive" sofas against one "expensive" sofa and in the long run, it is much better to make the investment once. As for the work involved, I won't deny that as in kitchen and bath renovation, the demolition phase requires the most labor.
Further, there is often the luxury of options, meaning, change a pleat, or add or delete welting, buttons, or other trim. If an upholsterer is really good, he can also make small alterations to the frame, changing the contour, seating configuration, providing it is not an antique with great value. Again, it you start with something timeless, there will be no need for alteration; only enhancement through the use of materials and suitable fabric and trim.
In addition, If you are fortunate to find a good sofa or chair that has coil springs, buy it over a new model with sinuous springs. Coil springing is what you ride on in most automobiles, and when is the last time you took it to the repair shop and they said, "Oh, it's just as we thought, the springs are gone."
Coil springs along with down and feathers or down and high-quality Dacron are what give your furniture that "cloud bounce" as I have termed it. I had a friend once, who had the most wonderful sofa from Henredon. When you sat on it, it was as if it opened its arms to you and took you in, yet left you assured you were properly supported. Alas, he sold it and I could have...well I will leave it alone.
The cost depends on who is doing the work, and the amount of work needed. Sometimes, upon stripping down the piece, the springs are in good condition, so it's only the stuffing that needs work. Other times, the springs may be bent, or the twine might have snapped leaving an uneven contour on the horizontal.
An American Empire Settee's Rebirth
Pictured below is the settee I was called about one evening. My clients wanted something to fill the dining room bay window to provide overflow seating. The style fits in perfectly, and although it was the perfect size, something about it bothered me initially. "What was it?"
I thought at one time, something was missing, but upon closer inspection that did not appear to be the case. I explained I would have a better look once Chris, my upholsterer picked it up. That was on a Wednesday afternoon. I got a call on Friday from Chris to come over and take a look.
When I arrived, he had already begun working on it. Now what do we have here...? It only took about two minutes to recognize the error in the prior upholstery job. The fabric and its button tufting flowed over the seat, and over the front rail. We looked inside and saw no damage to the frame from the inside, or to the front rail.
This is why upon first sight, I recognized that something was not quite right proportionally speaking. The frame's surface only needed work on the back side. My client also wanted the new upholstery to be something more contemporary and and absent of all of the Victorian style tufting.
Shown below is the final result. It turned out well, and my client was very happy with it. I specified a blended fiber fabric from Kravet, with a complementary gimp. Pillow fabrics are Brunschwig et Fils. Elsewhere in the dining room, a Lee Jofa damask similar to the pillow, covers the mahogany dining chairs.
When You Own a Highly Valuable Antique
If you own a period antique, you may want to think carefully before sending it out to just anyone. There is a master upholsterer named Bruno Paulin Lopez in New York City. He studied in France and is affiliated with the British School of Upholstery in Great Britain.
His workshop is a place of serious business, with all of the tools of the trade and various projects in progress. His methods are historic, meaning he only uses horsehair, twine, coil springs, burlap, cotton, and fine fabrics. To meet a man behind the upholsterer's needle, you can read more about Bruno Lopez here.
This 18th c. walnut side chair seen on 1st Dibs, and pictured below retails for $42,000. It would only benefit from the most highly regarded and expert upholstery work. However, a successful room design does not always require the highest end in seating and upholstery. Good design/upholstery is present in many ranges.
What If you do not own a highly valuable antique? Regardless, do your best to find a good upholsterer. Sometimes a piece will appeal to you, but you feel that something is not quite right, as i the case of the settee above. Also, consider where it is going, and how you will use it.
Finally, beware of the "70% off sale" and "free shipping" online for new upholstery. My question is always, "70% off from what?" At least if you go to someone's garage or yard sale you can actually sit on it (depending on condition) and get a better feel for what it is and could become.
In the end, you want to choose something that has classic good lines, will work in your space, and will hold up to continued use. When you secure your "find" contact me to help you make that final decision that you will be happy within the long run; not just for six months.