The Upholsterer

Photo: Danny Kim

What’s the difference between custom upholstery and reupholstery?
Custom upholstery is made from scratch. You have the ability to control sizing, proportions, comfort, design, and decorative and fabric details. You’re in full control from A to Z. Reupholstery, however, uses an existing piece and puts new fabric on it.

How do you know if a chair or sofa is a good candidate for reupholstery?
It should be a solid, well-built piece of furniture—basically, if it was originally constructed with quality materials and has historical, antique, or sentimental value. If it’s a strong maple frame that’s double-doweled and glued, versus staple-gunned or screwed, you know that it will have an enormous life span.

So if you look underneath your sofa and the frame is particle board, it may not be worth it?
Right. If you’re seeing particle board or something that doesn’t have springs at all, you might want to save your money. You want hand-tied coil springs. There’s a difference between coil and continuous zigzag springs and no springs at all. Having hand-tied coil springs is like having a good spine.

Describe a good upholstery job.
Patterns and repeats should be matched precisely. The geometrics of the print should correspond across the entire chair, not just the side you’re looking at. The way the fabric falls down to the platform, the arm, and the outside back of the chair all really matter. Thin fabrics should be lined, just like a suit jacket, or the fabric won’t be substantial and can stretch, tear, or not keep its shape.

Do the innards usually need to be replaced, too?
Usually cushions need either replacing or revamping. We can change out the foam, add some more padding or more down. Same thing for the springs—if they’re bulging out, or if you remove the cushions and rub your hand on the platform and feel bumpiness, most likely that means that certain parts of springs have become loose and untied.

Are slipcovers ever a better option?
If the piece is not in good condition, it should be reupholstered, not slipcovered. But if a client likes to have seasonal fabric changes, they’re a great option. A lot of people associate the slipcover look with being shabby chic and being very loose and wrinkled, but we make them look like they’re upholstered. You can’t really tell that it’s a slipcover.

How much does reupholstery set you back?
Sofas could run anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000, with the customer’s fabric. A club chair would run from $1,500 to $3,000.

Where’s the best fabric in the city?
The Decoration & Design Building. Go with an interior designer. If you’re looking for fabric that’s $40 a yard, you won’t spend hours looking at ones that run $140 a yard.

Think Beyond Fabric

“Further update your piece by adding a skirt or decorative nail heads or button tufting.”
Illustration by Kate Francis

The Upholsterer