Slipcovers were once part of a seasonal decorating ritual. Every spring your grandmother would roll up the woolen carpets, replace the draperies with diaphanous sheers, and dress the furniture in its warm weather finery (think tea-stained florals). In addition to lightening up the living room, slipcovers provided protection from clammy bodies and airborne dirt wafting in through open windows in an age before air-conditioning.
Today, slipcovers are pure fashion. Designer Vicente Wolf, who often integrates slipcovers as design elements in his jobs, adores them for their sensuality. "I want a slipcover to feel like a slip," he says. "To accentuate the best curves and hide the flaws." Wolf's modern interpretations of the slipcover are usually constructed from cottons or linens, in neutral solids, often with sheer skirts or unusual detail. "They are a playful way to bring a new color into a room, without a major commitment."
They are also an obvious solution for budget-minded consumers who need to give ghastly hand-me-down furniture an instant face-lift. Slipcovering a sofa or chair costs at least a third less than reupholstering the same item and the piece doesn't necessarily have to leave the house, further sparing inconvenience and trucking fees. Most workrooms will send their "mechanic" -- a cutter who is often the sewer -- to "chisel" a perfect-fit pattern on-site. (All agree, however, that for tweaking a pattern, it's ideal to have the piece in their own workrooms.)
What follows is a cross section of nimble-fingered practitioners who can turn that nightmare of a sofa into a thing of beauty or quickly camouflage a pedestrian bridge chair for a dinner party. Prices quoted are for labor only. (com, or "customer's own material," means you supply the fabric.) Fabric can cost anywhere from $10 to hundreds of dollars per yard. A club or wing chair will require approximately 8 to 12 yards; a three-seater sofa, 16 to 22 yards; and a Parsons-style chair (with some dressmaking details, perhaps a full skirt), about 6 yards. These numbers will vary according to the width of the fabric, the match-up of the pattern, and the style of the slipcover. The finished product usually includes welting, a lined skirt, and arm sleeves. Trucking and travel time can drive up the cost; and a 50 percent deposit on labor is standard.
70 Washington Street, Suite 1104, Brooklyn; 718-875-6763; by appointment only.
Roughly 75 percent of Martinez's business is to-the-trade, and therefore almost all of his jobs are com, although he will happily shop with or guide a client for a modest fee. He's a creative designer with an artful eye, and his finished product is meticulously detailed (every button on a plaid slipcover matches the fabric's grid perfectly). He adores handwork -- so dressmaker detailing (smocking, tucks, buttonholes, detailed ties, rosettes) are welcome here. The only job he's ever turned down was a blow-up, plastic chair -- "Where would I put the pins to make the muslin?" Prices start at $250 for a simple wing or club chair with no back cushion and go up to $1,500 for a fussy, three-seater sofa with back cushions.
132 West 22nd Street;
212-463-0085; by appointment only.
Monte Coleman's fastidious work is anything but traditional, so don't come to him for frou-frous -- he prefers solid cottons and linens -- and you won't find a single picture of anything floral in his portfolio. ("A slipcover should be a slipcover," says Coleman, who studied architecture but is self-taught in all things fabric.) He creates what could best be described as "deconstructed" clothing for chairs and sofas -- clean, crisp, modern, minimal. True works of art. In fact, he'd love to make a slipcover that appears to be inside out. A simple dining-room or Parsons-style chair starts at $400, a wing or club chair at $500, and a three-seater sofa at $700; minimum job is $1,000.
165 West 4th Street, Suite 22;
212-243-2778; by appointment only.
Although she operates a one-woman studio, Mitchell (she uses just one name) is not fainthearted when it comes to work. (She took on a job to make 400 slipcovers for one hotel chain.) She's even made slipcovers to drape over metal armatures for cabanas at the U.S. Open. She'll prewash fabric herself to prevent shrinkage, and she likes to line most of her work, especially when working with a fabric like taffeta. She created one dining chair to look like a private-school-girl's kilt (with pin!); another dining chair she cloaked in bold polka dots with a giant bow at the back, and she recently overhauled a club chair with a funky cow print. "The more design input I can have in a job," she says, "the happier I am." A dining-room chair starts at $200, a club chair at $400, and a love seat with two back cushions at $475.
H & A Upholstery
141 Front Street, Brooklyn;
718-855-9664 and 800-341-8776.
Anna and Hector Barbacone began their business in their native Argentina and transplanted it to Brooklyn five years ago. Anna's father, Luis Moscoso, assists Hector with the reupholstery and structural furniture rehab, while Anna makes the slipcovers and creates all the sewn goods. "I just love to do slipcovers," she says. "I think they're like a woman's clothes. You can change them for different styles and moods." She designs handsome, well-made slipcovers for both the trade (antique dealers and architects) and retail consumers. She doesn't shop for any fabrics or trims, so be prepared to bring it all to her. A simple club chair starts at $300 ($50 more for a back cushion) and can easily soar up to $500 or $600 for a complicated pattern with a lot of hand-embellished trim; a three-seater sofa starts at $550 ($150 additional for three back cushions).
Martin Albert Interiors
9 East 19th Street;
Although this street-level retail shop caters mostly to the trade, the staff does know how to treat private customers and will coddle you throughout the entire process of selecting fabric (Decoration & Design exclusives to the trade are substantially discounted here), determining styling, and actual installation. Each summer they send at least 150 individual slipcovers to the Hamptons. Ask about "ghost" slipcovers made from gossamer see-though fabrics, similar to the types of summer sheers used years ago in the South. They have an on-site workroom for upholstery as well, making this a one-stop shop for decorating. A wing or club chair starts at $250, with or without a back cushion, and a two-seater sofa with two back cushions starts at $700; a three-seater sofa with three back cushions starts at $800.
Interiors by Royale
964 Third Avenue, near 58th Street;
Conveniently located across from the D & D Building, Carl Romanowski's shop is an alcazar of luxe -- with walls dripping in opulent textiles and divans piled high with sumptuous pillows. While he can execute a simple, Spartan design, "less is more" is not the mantra here. This is the place for rich fabrics (average price of goods here is $70 a yard, although cottons start at $30), extravagant fabrications, and luxurious treatments. A club or wing chair starts at $275, with additional back cushions starting at $128; a three-seater sofa starts at $770; a funky dining chair, with harlequin quilting edged in diamond points with tassels on each point, is $300; he'll even upholster a headboard and footboard, starting at $720 for a twin.
Beckenstein Fabric & Interiors
4 West 20th Street; 212-366-5142.
Over three quarters of Beckenstein's business is to private customers, and the shop is well equipped to service walk-ins and window-shoppers who aren't even sure what they need. The store sells furniture that is manufactured specifically to be slipcovered. "Interesting textures, washed chenilles, heavy wovens, and washable velvets prevail now," says Greenberg. "Florals are basically dead for slipcovers." He advises getting them made when you purchase your furniture, so all the work is done at once. A club or wing chair starts at $180 (with a back cushion, $270); a love seat, $360 (with two back cushions, $540); a three-seater sofa with back cushions and two side pillows, $630; a headboard and footboard for a queen-size bed, $650.
68 Orchard Street; 212-777-3767.
This warm and friendly shop is filled with resplendent textiles and one-of-a-kind pillows everywhere you look. Nearly three quarters of the business is to "civilians," so the salespeople and staff designers are well equipped to dispense advice and guidance. Fabrics are a good buy here, too -- I spied some pricey "uptown" goods for $150 a yard that could easily sell for $600 a yard elsewhere. Owner Sheila Mark loves the versatility of slipcovers. "You put the shmatte on, you take the shmatte off," she says, laughing, "and you get a new feeling in a room." Prices start at around $125 for a club or wing chair ($50 for back cushion) and $250 for a love seat ($50 each for back cushions); elaborate Parsons-style chairs, with abundant dress-making details are $250 each.
Off the Rack
If you aren't quite ready to commit to a custom-made makeover for your couch, here's where to go for "ready-to-wear" slipcovers that are completely functional, inexpensive, and (usually) washable.
The largest selection is at Bed Bath & Beyond (620 Sixth Avenue, at 18th Street, 212-255-3550, and 410 East 61st Street, 646-215-4702; www.bedbathandbeyond.com). Here you'll find more than 30 fabric patterns (cashmere, velvets, damasks) in a straight-skirt silhouette, with ties at each corner for adjusting the fit. The store carries three standard sizes, to fit club/wing chairs ($59 to $149.99), love seats ($79 to $179.99), and sofas ($99 to $229.99). Additionally, it stocks several patterns for straight-backed dining chairs ($24.99 to $29.99).
Pottery Barn's catalog and Website (800-922-5507 and www.potterybarn.com) feature more than half a dozen styles for armchairs and love seats, as well as for both small and large sofas. The look is draped, with four corner ties. Prices range from $169 for an armchair to $399 for a large sofa. The company also stocks cotton-twill dining-chair slipcovers for side and arm chairs, with short or long skirts, starting at $24.
For bargains, try Sure Fit (888-sure-fit and www.surefit.com), where the average price of a sofa slipcover is about $110; Domestications catalog (800-746-2555 and www.domestications.com), where dining-chair slipcovers start at $19.99 and a three-seater sofa slipcover starts at $130; or the Linen Source (800-431-2620 and www.linensource.com), which features 28 different styles, all reasonably priced. And for everything you've always wanted to know about slipcovers but were afraid to ask, check out www.slipcovers.com.