Sitting Pretty

Furniture reupholstery involves skillful cutting, sewing and attention to pattern.

If that sofa Great-Aunt Gertie left you is looking a little forlorn, reupholstery could revive its spirits and create a whole new look for your living room. 

A good upholsterer does more than just wrap fabric around wood. 

“People might want to change an arm from square to round, or sometimes a chair is too tall,” explains Marcello Evangelista, owner of Marcello’s Upholstery in Winter Park. The reupholstery process demands skill that comes from experience, he says. “It’s an art” that involves the upholsterer, the cutter and the person doing the sewing.

Prices for the art of reupholstery vary greatly, depending on the fabric, the size and condition of the furniture, and the need to replace cushioning. Angie’s List suggests a range of $700-$1,200 for a sofa overhaul.

The upholsterer determines how much work it will take to restore a piece of furniture to its former glory. Fine furniture is made with solid wooden dowels and glue—as opposed to the plywood and staples holding together mass-produced furniture. High-end chairs and sofas are constructed with eight-way, hand-tied steel springs in the frame. Over time, the twine in the springs dries out, causing the springs to break down. 

The upholsterer strips down the chair or sofa to check for wobbly joints, reglues as necessary and strengthens the furniture. “Most of the time the springs are good because they’re made of steel,” Evangelista says. “But they need to be put back in place,” so he reties the springs with new twine.

Antique furniture poses a special challenge. “Old pieces of furniture are very fragile,” Evangelista says. “The wood is pretty much dry” and the small nails used in bygone days can leave gashes when removed, further weakening the wood. 

Antique cushions often were filled with horse hair, hog hair or Spanish moss, Evangelista says. “A lot of times, there’s hay in there.” For customers who crave authenticity, he says, these materials can still be found, but they’re pricey. 

Seat cushions for any fine furniture are all about customer preference. “It depends on how comfortable you want to be and how much money you want to spend,” Evangelista says. A standard cushion is foam with a polyester wrap. An upgraded version is a foam cushion with down surrounding it. The Cadillac of cushions consists of a spring core that’s wrapped with down.

Once the upholstery material is cut and stitched to the cutter’s specifications, the upholsterer covers the frame with the new fabric. Evangelista suggests avoiding polyester because “it stretches a lot and has a tendency to give you that ‘furry’ look on top.”  For everyday use, he recommends nylon/cotton blends because “they’ll take a beating.” 

Fabric choice is personal, of course, but some rules apply. Diane Spano, an interior designer with Calico Corners in Altamonte Springs, says: “Reupholstery fabric usually is a medium-to-heavier weight. Pattern, color and scale are very important. On chairs you want a small geometric pattern,” while sofas can take a larger pattern.

 “You have to be very conscious about a pattern that repeats,” she adds, “because it all has to be matched. That’s how you can tell a good reupholsterer as opposed to someone who just puts the fabric on there any old way.” +

Categories: Decorating