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What You Need to Know Before You Reupholster

Thinking about reupholstering a worn-out piece of furniture? Take a look at these tips to make the process simple and easy.

Image courtesy of Calico Corners

Reupholstery is major surgery -- the furniture is stripped down to the frame, then rebuilt, which explains the project's cost. However, you get a "new" piece of furniture as a result. We checked in with the upholstering experts at Calico Corners for more information.

What to Look For

Look beyond ugly fabric to the furniture's bones. Check the following:

  • Look at the bottom frame and make sure it's hardwood and kiln-dried. Check for strong, intact corner braces and stable construction.
  • Ask if the furniture was made with 8-way hand-tied springs. They are tailored to each piece for prime comfort and support.
  • Test the furniture to make sure it doesn't rock during use.
  • Look for a recognizable brand name. Henredon, Vanguard, Michael Thomas, and others produce furniture worthy of reupholstering and using again.

Know your upholstery fabric options and take these factors into consideration before buying costly fabric for reupholstering:

  • The weight of the fabric depends on where and how the piece will be used. Furniture for the bedroom doesn't need to be heavy-duty, but living room furniture does. Non-upholstery-weight fabric works for a purely decorative piece.
  • Take a look at the back of your fabric swatch for the Weisenbeck rating. The rating is determined by an abrasion resistance test; a machine rubs the fabric and keeps track of the number of rubs before the fabric is worn through. A heavy-duty rating translates to 30,000 double rubs. The Weisenbeck rating is most commonly used for commercial fabrics.
  • Take home a fabric sample and tuck in existing furniture to see if you like it. Ask to borrow a bolt or a large hanging sample to cover as much of the piece as possible. Live with it for a few days before making your decision.
  • Choose a fabric that will truly update the piece, not just copy the look it had before. Choose a different color, go from a solid to a pattern, or change pattern scales.

Here are some ways to really change the shape and contour of a piece:

Image courtesy of Calico Corners
  • Add a contrast welt to define lines. This looks best on a sculptural piece.
  • Try a mingled cord (three colors twisted together) or a cord with a lip instead of a contrast welt.
  • Change the skirt (or add or remove one). This works great on older furniture that now look squat because of their short skirts. Have an upholsterer install a skirt higher up on the piece for a more graceful look.
  • Add banding to the bottom of the skirt.
  • Take the channeling or tufting out for a more modern look.

How Much Will This Cost?

Remember, costs will vary according to region, fabric choice, and project details. For example, Calico Corners gives these cost estimates for the most popular types of furniture to reupholster. These estimates are for custom labor only, not fabric.

Standard wing chair: $450-$700 (includes a bias self or contrast welt, decorative trim, and tailored single-pleat skirt)

Sofa, three cushions over three cushions: $850 to $1,250

Club chair, one over one: $550 to $700 (one seat and one back cushion)

Ottoman, attached cushion, no skirt: $225 to $300


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