Things to keep in mind before you Reupholster Furniture

Reupholstery is a major furniture project. It involves stripping the piece down to its frame before it's recovered in new fabric and put back together. Although reupholstering furniture is a labor-intensive process, the results can be stunning. New fabric 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 there are a few things you should know before you begin. To help you master the art of reupholstery, we've gathered must-know tips on determining which items to reupholster, the types of upholstery fabric that work best, and ideas on decorative elements to add during the project.

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.

  • Pick up the chair or lift the one side of the sofa. If it's heavy it means that it's constructed of solid wood - it's a piece that will last a lifetime and worth re-upholstering.

  • Ask if the furniture was made with 8-way hand-tied springs. These are tailored to each piece for prime 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.

Best Fabric for Reupholstering Furniture

Upholstery fabric can be costly, so make sure to choose a material you'll be happy with. Fabrics come in a variety of 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 Weisenbeck 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 the fabric is worn through. The industry standard for upholstery-grade fabrics is about 30,000. If the fabric description doesn't list a rub count, ask the seller.

To help with the decision, feel free to 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 a large hanging sample to cover as much of the piece as possible. Live with it for a few days before making your decision. Keep in mind that reupholstering furniture is an opportunity to 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 for a bold new look.

Furniture Reupholstery Ideas

As you reupholster, you can change more than just the fabric of the piece. To really change the shape and contour of furniture, consider adding or altering other details for a more decorative look. For example, welting (also called cord or piping) in a contrasting color 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 because of their short skirts. Have an upholsterer install a skirt higher up 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: R400 - R900 each

  • Dining room chair: R1,000 - R1,5000

  • Armchair: R3,000 - R6,000

  • Sofa: R5,000 - R9,000

  • Large sectional sofa: R12,000 - 16,000

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