This is the story of the reincarnation of a particular piece of furniture and a brief explanation of the factors that you should consider when deciding to reupholster a couch or sofa and when selecting the right upholstery fabric for the project. We will be using the term “reupholstering” to mainly refer to recovering furniture with new fabric. Of course, reupholstering can involve more than that, such as replacing padding, re-tying springs, mending the frame, etc., but at the end of the day, the fabric is the most important piece of the puzzle. We will also use the terms “couch” and “sofa” interchangeably (even though they are technically not the same thing!).
How It All Began
When Darva Hirsch started Adelene Simple Cloth™ in 2012, she came up with the name by combining the first names of her maternal grandmother, Ada Modisette, whom she called “Grandma Modisette” and her husband Rick’s paternal grandmother, Elene Lansky, whom they called “Nana.” Grandma Modisette, who was the bedrock of Darva’s childhood, passed away in 2001 at the wonderful age of 95. Nana passed away after 94 years of living life to the fullest at the end of 2011. A couple of years earlier, Nana had given Darva and Rick a Chippendale-style camelback sofa. She always called it a sofa, not a couch, so we will too. The sofa had been in her house since before Rick was born; Rick and Darva both had an incredibly close relationship with Nana, so that sofa, which embodies decades of family memories, holds a lot of significance for them.
It was a quality piece of furniture from the 1950s. It happened to be the perfect size for the space under the front windows of their living room. The sofa, which was covered in a peach-toned silk-blend damask fabric, was in solid shape and didn’t have too much wear. It had accumulated a number of stains, but nothing a good professional cleaning couldn’t have taken care of. However, there were two real problems with it that a cleaning wasn’t going to fix.
One problem was that the fabric it was covered in was never going to be able to stand up to the affection it was receiving from the canine and feline members of the household. Their two dogs and two cats used it constantly. Either napping on it, jumping up on it to see out the window, or in the case of the cats, clawing at it the way cats tend to do. The other problem was that it was very dated and just screamed “welcome to Grandma’s sitting room!” So, Darva decided to reupholster the sofa, which meant she had to pick upholstery fabric.
Fabric obviously has the biggest impact on how a reupholstered piece of furniture will look. What is not so obvious is that fabric is primarily what drives the cost of reupholstering. Why? Because there is a lot of it! Most sofas take a dozen yards of fabric or more, and even a chair is likely to take at least 6-7 yards.
You want to choose a reasonably priced fabric. One that is both durable enough to hold up for a long time, even with heavy use, and that you will still love sitting on and looking at many years from now! Darva was obviously going to use upholstery fabric from Adelene, but which one?
Upholstery Fabric Construction
The upholstery fabric Darva chose was Picnic Daisy. Picnic is a performance linen-cotton-poly fabric. Woven exclusively for Adelene in Belgium, it offers a refreshing take on classic farmhouse ticking. It was a perfect choice. It is soft, with a nice hand, but it is also a very durable, hardwearing fabric that can stand up to the people and pets who use it daily.
The Daisy pattern, which has long been one of Darva’s favorites, is flax with a subdued chartreuse-yellow ticking stripes. It would bring the sofa up to date and make it fit better with the surrounding décor.
The End Result Was A Wonderful Transformation:
(Cat, a.ka. Cutter, not included)
How Do You Know If Reupholstering Is A Good Idea?
Well, there are a few main reasons you might choose to reupholster a couch rather than buying a new one
- Creative Expression
Some pieces of furniture have so many memories and emotions attached to them that you just don’t want to let go of them. If that stuffy old love seat reminds you of holidays and family gatherings at your grandparents’ house, or that first couch you bought after you got married holds memories from when your kids were young, then the ‘replace or reupholster’ decision probably won’t require much analysis.
You just can’t hang a dollar amount on sentimental value, so that is enough of a reason by itself to reupholster without getting too hung up on evaluating the quality and condition of the piece or how much replacing it would cost.
Upholstery Fabric Quality
Furniture is basically a commodity so, in general, the quality of a piece will actually be reflected in its price, meaning you will usually get what you pay for. Even though you may pay a little more for a big name brand, you will still almost always find that a $600 couch is just not going to perform as well as a $2600 couch.
With modern technology, it has become fast and inexpensive to manufacture lower quality couches, so they have become surprisingly cheap. That means you will see plenty of new couches that cost less than redoing the one you have, but make sure you aren’t comparing apples and oranges. Top grade furniture is incredibly expensive, so you may find that the cost of reupholstering a warn couch of high quality may only be 50-60% of the price of a new one of comparable quality.
It can be hard to judge whether or not a piece is high quality because most of the key elements like padding, webbing and springs are hidden under the cloth, but there are a few things that will help make it easier.
Old furniture is usually better built than the stuff that is being made now. Most pieces over 10-15 years old will have frames made from good hardwood and assembled with dovetail joints or wooden dowels or screws, compared to new furniture that is often made with sapwood, particleboard, metal or plastic put together with staples and fast-drying epoxy.
The kind of springs used in a couch can also tell you a lot. High quality furniture has 8-way hand tied springs (i.e., coiled springs, not sinuous or “zig-zag” springs). A sofa with rubber panels under the seat cushions in place of springs is unlikely to be of a quality that is worth reupholstering. Weight can also be an indicator of quality. If a couch is heavy for its size, there’s a better chance that it is a good piece. If it feels light, it was probably made with lesser quality wood or other material and may not be good enough to keep.
So give the arms and back of the couch a shake. Sit on it and rock back and forth, wiggle around on it. Feel for the springs in the base of the couch under the cushions. See if it creaks, wobbles, rocks or feels unstable. Lift it by one end to see how heavy it is. You probably can’t go wrong reupholstering a couch with some heft to it that has tied coil springs and is structurally solid.
Reupholstering or Convenience
Shopping for furniture can be a real headache, even under the best of circumstances. It is time-consuming and inconvenient. If the couch you are trying to replace fits perfectly in an oddly shaped space or is an unusual size, finding something that works is a much bigger headache, and having something custom built will be slow and costly.
Reupholstering a couch that you know works for your living space and is just worn or dated will save you the time and frustration of starting over. It may be worth sticking with that sofa regardless of other factors. Similarly, if you know that you want a very specific look, it may be easier to reupholster than to find a new couch available.
Creative Expression Through Upholstery Fabric
Maybe you don’t want a generic couch from a catalog or showroom that looks just like the thousands of identical couches that other people have purchased. Even if it isn’t cheaper than buying new and you wouldn’t mind spending the time and effort to shop for a new sofa, the flexibility of reupholstering a couch gives you a lot more control over what the final product looks like and can allow you to express your creativity and individuality.
There are a gazillion upholstery fabrics online to select from. There are loads of other choices you get to make when reupholstering a couch.
- Contrasting or matching stitching
- Knife-edge or top-stitched seams
- Rounded or squared corners
- Edges with or without piping
- Plain or corded seams
- Tufted or untufted seat cushions and seat backs
1 Cushion, 2 Cushion, 3 Cushion, 4
Similarly, you could have a sofa done with 1, 2 or 3 seat cushions. A single cushion like the one used on Nana’s camelback sofa will have very clean lines. It can look more formal or modern in appearance, depending on fabric choice. Multiple seat cushions will generally look more casual and relaxed. Also, whatever number you choose, you get to decide if those seat cushions are filled with foam, down fill, or a foam core with a down wrap, all depending on your taste and budget.
Taking a Chance on Upholstery Fabric
Finally, don’t be afraid of using contemporary upholstery fabric on a traditional couch. Contrast can be wonderful. The right choice of fabric can really make a traditional design look fresh and up to date. That heirloom couch that currently looks like it belongs in a 19th century sitting room? It could look amazing in your 21st-century living room recovered in the right color or pattern.
Upholstery fabric with a fresh take on classic ticking, like Picnic Daisy, can be a particularly good choice. It is subtle enough to work on traditional couches and goes well with both solid colors and other patterns.
One last thing to consider when deciding if reupholstering a couch is the way to go: it feels better to give an old couch new life than to discard it and buy another one and it’s much better for the environment.
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