Sunday, June 23, 2024

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To reupholster or to buy new? That is the question.

What to do with that old couch or chair that you think you can't live without? Designer Sue Schwarz of Gallery315Home in Lakeville gives good advice.

More often than anything else, my interior design clients at Gallery315Home, which is based in Lakeville, Conn., want to know whether it’s worth the investment to restore and re-upholster their old chairs and sofas, vs. purchasing new ones. This is a seemingly simple question that needs more discussion to answer.

The comfy chaise before reupholstering.

If I am working on the re-design of the room I always ask these questions:

  • Will their current furniture work with the new design?
  • Are they hoping to update their design, i.e. transition to a cleaner, lighter look from their older, perhaps heavier or rolled armed sofas or chairs?
  • Is the shape and form of the piece consistent with the feeling they want to achieve in the newly designed space?

If the answer is no, and the piece will not work with their desire for cleaner lines or a more contemporary setting, the decision is relatively easy. Unless the pieces have some important sentimental value, investing monies for fabric, restoration and re-upholstery may be comparable to purchasing new pieces at wholesale prices.

A Mid-Century Modern chair that will fit right into a cleaner, lighter look awaits reupholstering. Stay tuned!

Consider these two points when deciding whether to re-upholster or not:

How many yards of fabric will your chairs or sofas require?

Many sofas require 18-20 yards of fabric. At $50/yard, the price will exceed $1000 for the fabric alone. Consider a $75-$125/yard fabric and the costs go up considerably, often to the $2,000-$3,000 range. A wing chair or other comfortable armchair may require 7-9 yards of solid fabric. When considering fabrics with patterns, the need to match the fabric where the fabric “repeats” requires additional yardage and incurs added expense.

Understand that there may be underlying damage – and associated costs!

I always photograph pieces we are considering re-upholstering to share with my go-to upholsterer, Mimi Krysiak of Mill Upholstery. Mimi has provided me with a great education over the years; she and her team of talented experts share their deep experience generously.

A Victorian chair — before.
The same Victorian chair — after.

Not unlike a house that seems great on the outside, Mimi says that “occasionally, once a piece is stripped of fabric, we find that more extensive refurbishing is required. When estimating from photos, I have no idea of the internal condition of the pieces.   Too many times we have opened up furniture to find a foundation that is in poor repair.  This can range from broken springs to cracked frames. Sometimes there is mold or animal damage to the existing padding. All of this needs to be corrected and that adds to our labor and materials.”

This George Smith ottoman, previously torn and tattered, came back to life with new Pollack fabric.

I hope I am not discouraging you from considering “rescuing” pieces that you love! I’ve had clients who love the way their chairs “sit” and don’t want a thing changed but the upholstery. Sourcing economically priced fabrics and not replacing cushion interiors with the more expensive down fills can moderate the costs. One recent example is a pair of mid century swivel chairs that were attributed to Milo Baughman, the modern furniture designer. The exterior of the chairs had been extensively damaged by two kittens. The seats and curved backs were foam filled, which our clients wished to keep. Finding moderately priced solid fabrics and not altering or replacing any of the interior construction resulted in a total cost, including fabric and re-upholstery, of approximately $2,000 for both chairs! We could not replace both of these beautiful designer originals for twice that amount, so re-upholstery was a great option.

These are two of a set of eight designer DR chairs purchased at auction. They will be reupholstered and start a new life in my client’s dining room.

Overall, the decision of whether a piece is worth re-upholstering needs to be made after considering cost, condition and, perhaps most importantly, what it is you are trying to accomplish by re-doing or replacing the furniture.

Design options, such as replacing an outdated sofa with two well-priced chairs, is just one example of a solution to this common concern.


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