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Is It Worth Saving? What to Consider Before You Reupholster

Updated: Mar 12, 2019

There is little in my designer life that brings me more satisfaction than rescuing something that others deem unsalvageable and breathing new life into it. I love second (and sometimes third) chances, and I think it makes good environmental sense too—keeping things out of our ever-expanding landfills.

I once rescued 100-year-old solid wood, single-panel doors from an old house on one of my Dad’s farms before he donated the structure to the volunteer fire department for practice drills. I was sad the whole house needed too much work to make financial sense to revive it, but I love that I now have those doors in my own home—adding character and a sense of family history. They are a daily reminder of a simpler time…

I also saved an old dresser that had been in my grandma’s bedroom for years, and had probably been handed down to her by a family member from an earlier generation. After she passed, the dresser was moved to a barn for storage and remained there for about 10 years. By the time we pulled it out, it looked pretty rough, but I could see past the imperfections and took it upon myself to repair it and refinish it. May I just say… it turned out beautiful, and has gifted us with over another quarter century of service!

If it is a hardwood item like a dresser or wood doors, it is pretty easy to assess the viability of restoring it. I could physically see the beauty of the wood under the peeling paint of the doors and the loose joints of the dresser drawers and knew it was worth putting time, effort and money into repairing and restoring them. But, how do you assess the worth of an upholstered piece of furniture when you can’t see past the fabric and fill?

Here are a few tips to help you determine if a piece is worth reupholstering or if it’s better to cut to the chase and buy something new:

Do you know the manufacturer?

If a piece was made by a high-end manufacturer, then you can be confident the frame will withstand many more years of use. If you don’t know who made the piece, you can assess the following…

Reupholstered Swaim chairs...Scroll down to see the original chairs from 1997!

Does it have good bones?

By this, I mean the FRAME and SPRING SYSTEM. The frame should be constructed with kiln-dried hardwood and have sturdy joints such as mortise and tenon, double dowel, or corner block reinforcement. The joinery should have an extra layer of support by being reinforced with screws &/or glued. If you can’t see inside to inspect the frame, lift one side of the piece to see how heavy it is. Generally speaking, the heavier it is the more solidly it’s constructed. Also, check to be sure the arms and back aren’t loose and the frame doesn’t wobble or shift when shaken.

The gold standard of sofa suspension is the 8-way, hand-tied spring system. If you pick up a cushion and run your hand over the seat deck you should be able to feel the individual springs through the fabric as well as some of the knots from the twine that has been hand tied at eight different spots for each spring and attached to the frame. Sinuous, or s-shaped springs are less durable, however, there are some manufacturers who use very heavy gauge sinuous springs that do hold up well. If your piece has sinuous springs, it’s helpful to know who the manufacturer is so you can weigh that into the equation.

8-way, hand-tied springs


Sinuous springs

Does it have a CLASSIC DESIGN?

In other words, will it be able to stand the test of time? If you get any feelings of it looking trendy, this may make it appear dated before it’s new life is lived

What is the condition of the CUSHIONS? This is a good time to replace the cushion inserts and padding if they have become saggy, but it does add to the cost—which brings me to the next consideration…

Does it COST more to reupholster this piece than it would to replace it?

Many have the impression that reupholstering a piece will be less expensive than purchasing new. In my experience, that isn’t usually the case. When you figure the labor cost plus 12-18 yards of fabric for a sofa (depending on the sofa size and the pattern repeat), the cost can add up pretty quickly. Just be sure to do your research and compare costs so you can make the best decision for your budget.

What is the INTRINSIC VALUE of the piece?

There are times when money isn’t necessarily the deciding factor though. If any of the following are true, you may determine that the emotional value of the piece outweighs the cost in your decision.

  • Is it a family heirloom with sentimental value?

  • Is it a valuable antique?

  • Is it irreplaceable?

  • Have you had difficulty finding a new piece that you like as well?

  • Does your existing piece fit the space or fit you perfectly?

  • Does keeping it out of a landfill make the cost of reupholstering worth it?

I hope I’ve given you enough helpful considerations in order to determine what is right for your circumstance. Whether you’re looking to buy new, or have a favorite piece you’d like to reupholster, give us a call… we can help either way!

Original Sectional: Purchased in 1997 and used daily by a family for about 12 years before the fabric started looking tired. It was made by Thayer Coggin, a high-end manufacturer, so we knew the structure was extremely sound. It had been specially designed for this space and was still very comfortable so it was worth having it reupholstered.

Reupholstered circa 2009:

After 12 years of use, new fabric gave this Thayer Coggin sectional a totally different look.

Eventually Replaced: After 9 more years of daily use, it was time to update the look with a new style and more neutral color. The original sectional was passed on to another family member, reconfigured for their finished basement and is enjoying a new home…still not in a landfill!!

(And notice the new finish put on the original cocktail table—a high-quality Marge Carson piece— to update the color and make it work with the new sectional.)

Original Swaim Chairs (purchased circa 1997) These added a bit of whimsy to the conservatory.

Sourced from Swaim, a high-end manufacturer, the frames are still very solid and it was worth reupholstering them to give them an entirely new, updated look.

New Fabric in 2018: The new look and texture greatly enhances the very sculptural design—it’s like having brand new chairs!


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