Furniture Recovery : When that favorite old chair or sofa has started to sag, don’t despair. It can soon be sitting pretty with some reupholstery.

Special to The Times

They can be found in most homes--the tired chairs that look like thrift-store rejects, the sagging sofas with cushions that no longer bounce back to form when someone gets up. But these aging pieces are often the most comfortable furniture in the house, sometimes steeped in family history as well.

Sure, they could be replaced with new furniture. But that may not be what you want for the chair that kept your parents company on Saturday nights as they waited up for you or for the davenport that has tirelessly given your body rest after a hard day.

Your beloved piece may be a good candidate for reupholstery.

New padding, fabric and frame tightening can bring an old piece of furniture back to life. But don’t expect the transformation to come without a price. The cost can be the same as buying a new, mid-quality piece, or half to two-thirds the price of a new, high-quality piece. “That’s the biggest problem in this business--the public’s idea that reupholstering is really cheap,” said Marc Crawford of Golden West Upholstering in Orange. “A lot of times they ask why they have to pay $1,000 to reupholster when they can buy a new couch for $500. I have to explain that their old couch is probably made better than a $500 new couch.” Think about what it is you’re comparing, upholsterers say.


“It’s cheaper if you compare apples to apples,” said Linda Luchay Dill, owner of Mesa Upholstery in Costa Mesa with a showroom in Fashion Island Newport Beach. “An old sofa is made better than most of today’s furniture. So to get the same quality new could cost as much as $10,000, but to reupholster would only run about $2,000.”

It is costly to reupholster because it’s a labor-intensive process--time-consuming and requiring special skills.

When you select an upholsterer, ask to see samples of finished work. The lines should all be straight and the fabric tight. “Never judge an upholsterer just by their workshop; all workshops are a mess,” said interior designer Jason Titus of Irvine. “The best thing to do is choose one based on referrals.”

When weighing the cost, you’ll probably want to think long-term.


“It’s sometimes hard for people to commit the money it takes to reupholster,” said Peter Luczak, owner of Master Craft of Laguna Hills. “But it can mean the difference between having a sofa that lasts 20 years and one that lasts two.”


So how does one decide if that favorite chair or sofa is worth the cost of reupholstering?

“There are two” criteria, said Titus, who often suggests reupholstering to his clients. “The quality of the piece and its sentimental value to you, even if it’s not quality.”


Judging the quality of a piece can be difficult for the untrained. Most aren’t tuned into the names of the top manufacturers or the finer details of furniture construction. It’s best to ask an expert, either an interior designer or a qualified upholsterer.

Another way to decide is on the look and fit of the piece in your house. “If it fits perfectly in a room or is an older style that’s now hard to find, it’s worth the cost,” Crawford said. “Also, most older couches were made with wider seats than today’s, so if you like a couch to nap on, then it’s worth the cost.”


When you take your tired piece to an upholsterer, expect it to get a real make-over.


Most upholsterers strip a piece down to the naked frame and build up from there. After making sure the frame is sound, the next step is to replace or retie the springs.

Most experts agree eight-way, hand-tied springs are best for strength and durability. The eight-way, hand-tied method uses a coil spring sewn to the webbing, then tied to the coil next to it. Each row of coils is then tied front to back, side to side and diagonally two ways. All are tied on the same level to make even suspension.

Zigzag, or “S,” springs is another form of suspension of equal quality to eight-way, hand-tied, according to Luczak: “It really depends on the frame and the style of the piece that dictates which way to go with the springs.”

The “S"-shaped springs are simpler in construction. Also referred to as “no sag,” this system of suspension can withstand the toughest of uses when properly tied, he added.


Padding that covers the frame is the next important element of good upholstering. It is the material that goes directly against the frame. Its function is to fill out and firm up the contours of the sofa or chair so that the fabric fits smoothly. If the padding is inadequate, the fabric will wrinkle and pucker.

A good padding will also guard against wear and tear along the backs and arms of a piece, where friction can wear away corners and edges. Cotton padding is considered the best because it is long-lived.

The cotton is often mixed with a bit of felt and fabricated into rolls. These come in different grades--a thickness of 1 to 1 1/2 inches is considered a quality padding. The padding can be covered, usually with sheeted Dacron, to create the smoothest finish.



The filling is next, and it is the material that provides comfort on the seats and backs of upholstered furniture. Style of the piece often dictates the type of filling used. If the chair or sofa is sleek and tailored, even though the cushioning is thick, a firm filling is used. If, however, the style has soft, loose cushions and lots of tucks and draping, a fluffier filling is used.

“Down is the best material to use on seats or backs,” according to Gloria Luna, owner of ATM Custom Upholstery in Irvine. “It is more expensive, of course, but it will last for years. Especially if you wrap it around foam--that way the cushion bounces back when you get up from it, without having to fluff the way we used to.”

Fluffy polyester can be used as substitute for down. It also provides a soft cushion but does not have the same feel or longevity of down.

Polyurethane foam is the most popular filling in furniture because of its durability relative to cost. It is available in different densities, but most upholsterers agree that only the highest density should be used.



Choosing the fabric that goes on top of all that padding and filling is the fun part for most people--a chance to exert their decorating prowess, an opportunity to change the look of a room with a splash of bold color or whimsical pattern.

Just as choosing a skilled upholsterer is important to the success of your project, so is choosing the right texture. You’ll want a material with durability as well as the color and texture you desire.

Fabrics with a nap, such as velvets and corduroys, change their look in different lighting and will show wear. Silks are known for delicacy and also show wear easily. Look for silks fortified with manufactured fibers for a longer life.


Highly textured surfaces will become mashed and pull over time. Flat weaves, such as cottons, damasks and Jacquards stand up well to use.

Even the new Naugahydes have been refined for suppleness and a more leather-like look and are a good choice for reupholstering.

Fabric is a costly element of reupholstering, next only to the cost of labor. It can cost anywhere from $15 to $275 a yard.

“This is an area where the customer can control the price,” Crawford said. “Instead of going top of the line with a designer fabric, choose something a little less expensive.”


Upholstery shops usually have a wide variety of fabrics. An upholsterer also has the expertise to guide clients to an appropriate choice.

It is possible to buy fabric elsewhere and take it to the upholsterer, but be sure before you buy that it is appropriate for the piece.

“Bring your upholsterer a sample before you buy 30 yards of fabric that won’t work,” Luczak said.

Try to make choices that will stand the test of time; that way the money you’re spending in giving new life to that favorite old chair or sofa will be well-invested.