Crucial Tips You Need to Know Before You Reupholster Furniture

Thinking about reupholstering a worn-out piece of furniture? Our price guide and tips for fabric selection and construction can help you decide if reupholstery is worth it.

Reupholstery is a significant furniture project. It involves stripping the piece down to its frame before it's recovered in new fabric and reassembled. Reupholstering furniture is a lot of work (and pricey if you hire an upholsterer), but the results can be stunning. Updated material gives dated or unattractive furniture a fresh look, revealing the true potential within that faded armchair or worn beige couch.

However, not every piece of furniture is a good candidate for reupholstering, and you should know a few things before you begin. To help you with your reupholstery project, we have must-know tips on determining which items to reupholster and the types of upholstery fabric that work best. We also have ideas about decorative elements to add during the project. Whether you plan to reupholster furniture yourself or hire a professional, this expert reupholstering advice will help you turn old furniture into a personalized piece you'll love.

Interior of sitting room with houseplant by furniture and framed buffalo artwork
Kim Cornelison

How to Choose Furniture to Reupholster

Look beyond ugly fabric to the furniture's bones. An item is generally worth reupholstering if it's made with quality materials and is in good shape. When deciding whether to reupholster or pass, 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.
  • Determine if the furniture was made with 8-way hand-tied springs. These are tailored to each piece for exceptional comfort and support.
  • Test the furniture to make sure it doesn't rock during use. Check for any damage (such as warped or cracked wood) that can't be easily repaired.
  • Look for a recognizable brand name. Henredon, Vanguard, Michael Thomas, and others produce furniture worthy of reupholstering and reusing.
fuzzy ottoman, living room, couch, flea market projects
Jacob Fox

Best Fabric for Reupholstering Furniture

Upholstery fabric can be costly, so take the time to choose a material you'll be happy with. Fabrics come in various weights, and the best one for your reupholstery project depends on where and how the piece will be used. Bedroom furniture fabric, for example, doesn't need to be heavy-duty, but living room furniture typically does. Non-upholstery-weight fabric works for a purely decorative piece.

When shopping for reupholstery fabric, check the back of the fabric swatch for the Wyzenbeek rating, or the rub count, to gauge the fabric's durability. This rating is determined by an abrasion resistance test in which a machine rubs the fabric and keeps track of the number of rubs before it's worn. The industry standard for upholstery-grade materials is about 30,000. Ask the manufacturer if the fabric description doesn't list a rub count.

To help with the decision:

  1. Take home a fabric sample and set it against existing furniture to see if you like it. If needed, ask to borrow a bolt or sizeable hanging sample to cover as much of the piece as possible.
  2. Live with it for a few days before making your decision.
  3. Reupholstering furniture is an opportunity to update the piece to a more contemporary design, not just copy the previous look.
  4. Choose a different color, go from a solid to a pattern, or change pattern scales for a bold new look.
Living room with clear coffee table and geometric chairs
Annie Schlechter

Furniture Reupholstery Ideas

As you reupholster, you can change more than just the piece's fabric. To really change the shape and contour of furniture, consider adding or altering other details. For example, a contrasting color welting (also called cord or piping) can be used to define lines. This looks best on a sculptural piece. You can also try a mingled cord (three colors twisted together) or a cord with a lip instead of a contrast welt.

Adding, removing, or changing the skirt is another way to update furniture as you reupholster. This works great on older furnishings that now look squat or dated because of their short skirts. Have an upholsterer install a skirt higher on the piece for a more graceful look, or add banding to the bottom of the skirt. Consider adding channeling or tufting for a vintage look (or taking it out to modernize the piece).

Typical Costs for Reupholstering Furniture

The cost to reupholster furniture will vary according to region, fabric choice, and project details. These estimates for the most popular types of furniture to reupholster can give you an idea of the average cost:

  • Couch or chair cushions: $70-$200 each
  • Dining room chair: $150-$600
  • Armchair: $300-$1,000
  • Sofa: $600-$1,800
  • Large sectional sofa: $1,000-$4,000

Check with an upholstery company for exact details on pricing, or try reupholstering the piece yourself to save on labor costs.

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