If youre thinking of reupholstering a piece of furniture, first take a
hard look and decide whether its likely to last long enough to justify
the cost. Dont reupholster if the piece wont last as long as the new
And even if a piece is good enough to last, you may not save money by reupholstering
it. By reupholstering, you do save the frame, the springs, and probably
some padding and stuffing. But a comparable new piece can cost as much
as, or even less than, what an upholsterer will charge you.
If you decide to reupholster, choose your upholsterer carefully: As our
ratings reveal, there are area companies that routinely offer superior
customer service, and a few others where slipshod workmanship and other
problems are all too common.
When shopping for an upholsterer, find out how large a deposit youll have
to put down (the lower the better). Ask to see examples of similar work.
Check its fabric selectionthe best shops should offer seemingly unlimited
choices. Get a written estimate in advance, and shop around to make sure
youre not paying too much. Our price index scores, shown on our Ratings Tables, should help you find a shop that charges fair prices.
Before turning over your furniture to an upholsterer, discuss exactly what
work will be done and get the main points and price written onto a work
Buying new furniture means spending lots of money and making lots of decisions.
Style? Fabric? Pattern? Filling? Its enough to make you want to keep your
old stuff. Which might not be such a bad idea. A skilled upholsterer can
make old pieces look new again, and our ratings reveal several area shops
that you can trust with the job.
A good piece of furniture deserves a second chance. But if youre thinking
of having a furniture piece reupholstered, first take a dispassionate look
and decide whether it will last long enough to justify the cost of reupholstering.
Dont reupholster if the piece is unlikely to outlast the new fabric. Most
furniture of at least medium quality should hold up through one or more
rounds of reupholstering. But check the condition and quality of your piece.
Some checks are easy. Make sure there are no cracks in exposed wood, and
that legs or castors are solid and firmly secured. Then check whats beneath
the surface by taking hold of an arm and pushing from side to side. If
the piece is in good condition, the arm wont wobble or creak. Also, lift
one end of a sofa to be sure the frame doesnt sag or creak.
If it is fundamentally a good piece of furniture, it may be easy to fix
a frame that doesnt seem solid. To check, turn the piece over and remove
a portion of the dust catcher beneath. Some signs of quality:
Solid hardwood, rather than plywood or fiberboard, used for key structural
elements, such as the long piece that runs beneath the knees across the
front of a sofa.
Wood at least one to 1 1/2 inches thick used for these key structural members.
Reinforcing blocks used to strengthen corners.
Coil springs under the seat, with each spring tied by twine in eight directionsalthough
firmly secured sinuous wire springs (long, wavy wires) used in many high-quality
pieces may function equally well.
You can get an opinion about the quality of a piece by taking small pieces
to the upholsterers shop. For large pieces, ask an upholsterer to come
to your home. Many, but not all, shops will send out an estimator at no
charge. Keep in mind that an upholsterer might be biased toward advising
you to restore an old piece, rather than sending you to a store to buy
But even if a piece will last, you may not save money by reupholstering
it. By reupholstering, you do retain the frame, the springs, and probably
some padding and stuffing. But the cost of buying a comparable new piece
may be as low as, or even lower than, what an upholsterer will charge you
to restore it.
To assess cost, compare price quotes from upholsterers with prices for
comparable pieces of new furniture. If your existing piece is of very high
quality or an antique, an upholsterers charges will be small compared
to a replacement. On the other hand, if your piece is of low or medium
quality, the upholsterers charges for fabric and labor are very likely
to cost more than a brand-new replacement.
Cost will not be your only consideration, of course. You might want to
reupholster a piece if you particularly like its design, it matches other
pieces in your home, it fits perfectly in the available space, or for sentimental
reasons. Also, you might want to reupholster because the fabrics you like
best arent available on new pieces.
If you decide to buy something new, our ratings of furniture stores
should help you find a reliable retailer.
If you decide to restore what you have rather than replace it, the ratings
shown on our Ratings Tables will help you choose the right shop to
do the work.
Our Ratings Tables report the results from our surveys of area consumers
(primarily CHECKBOOK and Consumer Reports subscribers) who rated local
shops they had used inferior, adequate, or superior for such questions
as doing service properly, starting and completing work promptly, letting
you know cost early, advice on service options and costs, and overall
performance. For each shop that received at least 10 ratings, the table
shows the percentage of surveyed customers who rated it superior for
each question. (For more information on our customer survey and other research
methods, click here.)
For the most part, customers rated their shops quite favorably. But a few
shops received low ratings from their surveyed customers.
Determine in advance the amount of the deposit. Most shops require 20 to
50 percent of the jobs price. A substantial deposit is fair because it
protects the shop for its expenditure on fabric and labor if a customer
abandons a piece. But the smaller the deposit, the more likely youll get
quick service along with leverage for demanding corrections if the work
is not acceptable.
If you want to consider shops we have not evaluated, or learn more about
the ones on our Ratings Tables, visit them and examine their work.
Look at both finished pieces waiting to be returned to customers and items
in process. Here are a few points to look for:
No shop should send out a finished piece until its structurally sound.
If necessary, a shop should completely disassemble and reglue the frame.
Check by pushing and pulling on the arms of chairs and sofas, and lifting
the corners of sofas to make sure there is no wobbling or creaking.
Exposed wood on legs, arms, and seatbacks should be cleaned and brightened
up. All the shop usually needs to do is rub a piece with fine steel wool
The deck is the platform beneath the seat cushions. In a piece with coil
springs, considerable skill is required to tie the springs with twine to
make them even. When pieces of old twine have become loose or broken, top-quality
shops use new twine to retie all springs. Lower quality shops may retie
only where the old twine is broken, with the likelihood that the old twine
will soon break in other places. Also, lower quality shops that do retie
all springs may fail to get them even. The worst shops may simply try to
conceal problems with broken or loose twine by adding padding on top of
the springs. Check the smoothness of the deck with your eye or hand. Better
still, look at partially finished pieces to see what the shop has done.
If a piece has a skirt, it should be lined. Its best if it is also weighted
to ensure that it hangs evenly.
One of the most difficult upholstering skills is tuftingdrawing a thread
through a cushion or seatback at regular intervals to create depressions,
which may be ornamented with buttons. Check for uniformity.
There should be padding over the frame in all areas of contact. Feel around
arm tops, arm fronts, seatbacks, leg rests, and other exposed places to
make sure there are no hard edges, because fabric wears out quickly on
such hard spots. In seat cushions, which are usually made of polyurethane
foam, the foam should be covered with polyester batting to give the cushion
smooth, filled corners and reduce wear between the foam and the upholstery
fabric. Overall, frame elements and cushions should have smooth, even contours.
Stitching and Welting
Seams should be stitched so tightly that it is hard to see the threads.
Welting, the decorative, fabric-covered cord that is often used around
cushions, arms, and seatbacks, should be smooth and even. The best approach
is to cut the fabric for welting on the bias, so that the fabric threads
run at an angle to the cord.
A stripe, a vine in a floral pattern, or any other distinct line should
flow from the top of the seatback, across the cushions, and down the front
of the frame and skirt. There should be no more than a half inch of irregularity.
Patterns should be used symmetrically; if there is a stripe down the center
of the right arm, there should be one at the same place on the left arm.
Major elements, such as a large flower, should be centered on the seatback
or cushions. It takes skill and time to match patterns. Also, fabric with
large patterns needs substantially more fabric to do the job properly,
so shops may make compromises.
Workmanship is your main concern, but promptness is also importantyou
dont want to be without your promised sofa when your in-laws arrive. Our
Ratings Tables show how surveyed customers rated shops for starting
and completing work promptly. Youll get some assurance that the shop
will do the work in a timely fashion if you get it to include an estimated
completion date on the work order.
A shop should help you make a good fabric selection. Most shops can order
almost any fabricand if it cant, you can purchase it separately somewhere
else and bring it to the shop to apply. But its convenient to use a shop
that offers a wide variety of fabric samples and that gives good advice
on fabric selection. You can easily check out this aspect of shop service
on your own.
Among shops that meet your quality standards, find one that offers good
For firms that were evaluated in our last full, published article, the
price index scores on our Ratings Tables show how the shops prices
compared when our researchers called them (without revealing their affiliation
with CHECKBOOK) to obtain prices for six sample jobs. The price index scores
are adjusted to a base of $100 and show you relative price levels. For
instance, a score of $110 means a shops quotes were, on average, 10 percent
higher than quotes of other shops for the same jobs.
Table 1 shows the range of prices our shoppers were quoted. As you can
see, prices can vary sharply. For example, quotes range from $775 to $1,430
for one reupholstering job, and from $165 to $625 for another.
|18th century-style camelback Chippendale loveseat with rolled arms with Beacon Hill Broccato fabric
|Bench with rolled arms with customer-supplied solid-color fabric||$165||$406||$625|
|Wingback chair with Kravet Smart #31114.916 fabric||$775||$1,024||$1,430|
|Contemporary-style sofa with rolled arms with customer-supplied solid-color fabric||$895
1The descriptions of the jobs are summaries; shops were given additional detailed specifications for each job.
The price index scores are a useful predictor of how prices at rated shops
compare to prices at other shops. But dont rule out shops with relatively
high price index scores. We find that sometimes shops with high prices
on some jobs are low-priced on others.
Most upholsterers will quote prices over the phone if you provide a good
description of the piece along with the name and style number of the fabric
you want. So shops can give firm prices, if the piece is small, take it
to a few shops for an estimate. For large pieces, upholsterers may come
to your homealthough not all shops make home visits and some charge for
the serviceor email a picture of the piece.
When comparing prices, be sure to ask exactly what is included. Depending
on the shop, the quoted price might or might not include:
Replacing webbing beneath springs
Touching-up exposed wood
Wrapping cushions in new polyester batting
Supplying arm covers
Pickup and delivery
Keep in mind that such differences might explain some or all of the differences
in the price index scores shown on our Ratings Tables. For shops whose
base prices dont include important restorative work, the price index scores
on our Ratings Tables may be misleadingly low if your piece needs significant
restoration. On the other hand, some shops that routinely allow for restorative
work in their quotes may be willing to shave a little off their prices
if you assure them that, structurally, your piece is in like-new condition.
After you have selected a shop, deal with it carefully to make sure that
you get the best possible job for the money.
Your first decision is whether to buy fabric from the upholsterer, a fabric
shop, or other source. Upholsterers usually charge full list price for
fabric, while many fabric shops offer discounts of 20 percent or more.
But because part of an upholsterers profit comes from fabric sales, most
raise the price for labor by 25 percent or more if you supply the fabricmore
than offsetting what you save by buying fabric elsewhere. To determine
which approach costs less, price the job both waysbuying fabric from the
upholsterer and buying it at the best price you can find elsewhere.
Of course, youll want to supply your own fabric if you already have some
you like, or if your upholsterer cant get it for you (as is the case with
many discontinued patterns).
Wherever you purchase fabric, be sure you get material that both looks
good and wears well. Ask the upholsterer or fabric store for the fabrics
durability rating, which is provided by the manufacturer. A light-duty,
light-colored fabric may be fine for a rarely used living room. But youll
want heavy-duty fabric in a medium color for a family room used heavily
by children. Also, be aware that the fabric will last longer if it is treated
with a soil protector. And find out the proper way to clean the fabric.
Before you turn over your furniture to an upholsterer, discuss fully what
work will be doneand get the main points onto a written price quote, contract,
or drop-off receipt. That document should at least indicate the price,
and whether regluing, retying springs, new webbing, new batting for cushions,
arm covers, and delivery are included. Also, be sure the document notes
the projected completion date.
When you pick up or receive an item, examine it carefully. Check the sturdiness
of the frame, the matching of the fabric pattern, and other quality points
discussed above. If an item doesnt meet the quality standards you and
the shop have agreed upon, insist that the shop do the work again.