I posted an image of the completed sofa in the kid's playroom on Instagram this past week, and there ensued a flurry of comments about the cost of reupholstery, and at what point was it worth doing. There were also a few misunderstandings on what I'd written, as can be the way when you're writing briefly and in tiny font that others might skim over... so here's a longer version.

 Client job completed last year- reupholstered French gilt armchair in linen with linen gimp


The mistakes people make when looking at reupholstering are:


  • using an item that is significantly broken and that will cost more to repair than buying a new frame of equivalent quality
  • having something reupholstered that you don't particularly like the shape of, that is uncomfortable, or because it was expensive a long time ago/ you have some sentimental attachment to but you feel it's wasteful to pass it on.
  • Having something reupholstered just because it cost a lot a long time ago. I recently advised a client not to reupholster a sofa that while originally expensive, but was not well constructed to start with and past its prime.


Re-upholstering is a good idea if

  • you have something of age, with a very solid frame and horsehair stuffing (Quality)
  • an unusual shape that cannot be found in new furniture
  • it's an item you've always found extremely comfortable for ergonomic reasons, and it's attractive (because Lay-Z-Boy recliners are never attractive, even if they are comfortable)

The cost of reupholstering is not insignificant. Here in Adelaide a fully upholstered Armchair will cost around $700 and a sofa will cost around $900, with fabric costs on top of that (allow approximately 5-7 metres for an armchair and 13 meters for a 3 seater sofa of plain fabric). Something like a French style armchair will cost around the $450 mark. You can buy new furniture, already upholstered for around this price from low to mid range furniture retailers such as Pottery Barn, Ikea, Freedom, Domayne etc but the difference is that the frame, springs and foam will not be of such good quality as an older piece, and you can probably expect a lifespan of 10 years maximum for a sofa that is used as the primary seating in a house from a low/mid quality retailer. Older pieces were made better as a rule as they were investment pieces - people didn't turn over furniture with the regularity that they do these days by casting an eye at current fashion.

The other problem with purchasing new and lower end is that you generally will get a fairly inferior fabric on the upholstery. It will usually be extremely cheap in quality which will make it wear poorly and stain easily, and there will be a limited choice as well.

When I'm buying new for myself, or for clients, I have a variety of sources that I use, but if I'm buying a new chair or sofa through one of my to- the- trade suppliers you can expect it to cost around 5 times the cost of reupholstering an existing chair/sofa (with fabric cost extra on both) to get equivalent quality, so you can see that reupholstering is often worth the cost.

If your upholstered item needs some work done to it, then you'll pay extra on top of the basic upholstery cost. Most upholsterers will include piping and gimp (the tapes used to cover the raw edges in lieu of piping) in the basic upholstery price and refreshing dacron wrap over seat cushions and replacing broken webbing as standard for instance, but other items that may add additional cost include:

  • Spings replaced - $200 and up depending on quantity
  • Feather top up in seat or back cushions - $50
  • Nailhead -$200 to an armchair, and $400 to a sofa 
  • Legs repolished/ colour changed - $50-100
  • Foam replacement - this can be expensive if it includes large seat cushions, so check before you proceed.


Your sofa could end up costing a bit to redo if all of these things have to be done, and this is generally why a lot of Decorators will say throw it out rather than redo it - if they don't like the shape they'll say it to you even louder.

Very old, very heavy small scale dressing room armchair upholstered in a GP & J Baker fabric, with new feather/down seat cushion

This all sounds like a negative, but I do love reupholstering items. The best part about reupholstering, aside from the environmental one of recycling, is that you end up with a completely unique piece. I had a fairly grumpy upholsterer when I first came to Adelaide, who interrogated me on how much I'd paid for two very small scale armchairs that I took to him. Both were free (happily), as they were from my husband's family. He thought I'd bought them from an Auction room and was going to tell me I'd paid too much (regardless of what I'd paid for them). They cost $650 each plus 5m of fabric to reupholster, and you could easily buy new larger scale armchairs for that price ready upholstered. The thing was, they were solid, with incredibly heavy frames, were attractive and unusual shapes, I had them upholstered in fabrics that I loved, and I've since found out that they're most likely George III and William IV based on their style, so they're very very old. They are too small for a comfortable modern armchair (which was how we ended up with them in the first place), but they're perfect for a bedroom chair to sit on putting on shoes, or in a child's room, which is how we have used them.

Armchair in Brunschwig & Fils fabric with contrast solid piping  in my daughter's bedroom

After I found a different upholsterer, I've had more recently the wingback armchair reupholstered. Total cost of reupholstery was $1,200 which included a loose new seat cushion in feather and down, spring replacement, webbing replaced, and nailhead trim to the sides and back. I had bought this chair originally at Auction, and it wasn't cheap to do it all, but equivalent style/ quality armchairs in an antique shop would sell around the $4,000 mark and can be hard to track down anyway, so it was worth it to me. The frame was in good shape, the legs are attractive, and it had the original horsehair stuffing in it (which is a mark of quality construction).

Antiqued brass nailhead, new feather/down seat cushion, Pierre Frey fabric

As for the sofa, well, it was certainly worth reupholstering. I could have bought a sofa as cheaply as $1,500 and sent this one to the curb, but I still liked the shape, and it was a solid frame. The spring replacement and extra feather infill in the back cushions have completely given it a new lease of life, and it is again incredibly comfortable (funny what a difference those missing springs made!). Most of all, by being able to select a fabric that was very child friendly (an indoor/outdoor fabric from Jim Thompson), it should outlast the children now while still looking good. If you have been reading the blog for a long time you'd know that I am fairly dull in that I don't change over my furniture or decor with much regularity, which doesn't make for the most exciting design blog....  I completely understand the thrill of the new, of changing things up and the high from buying something... but equally I think that if you've put thought, effort and money into something and it works, it's worth keeping and using for years and years... and years.

reupholstered sofa in the kid's playroom in Jim Thompson indoor/outdoor fabric, new springs and extra feather fill in the back cushions.

When weighing up whether to reupholster or not, there are a lot of factors that come into play besides just the money.  But the biggest one is the cost v's replacement cost analogy. For me, most of the time it's worth reupholstering. Something completely unique in style and fabric choice is worth going the extra mile for.

Additional reading - older post on sofas here

costs will vary depending on whether you are in a rural or city location and the client base of the upholsterer (there is an Eastern Suburbs markup in most Australian cities)... this is intended to give a guide price to what you might expect to pay. Always get a quote before proceeding, most upholsterers will give a quote based on an emailed photo, or by paying you a visit in person to asses the item if there is some rectification works to be done. 

22 comments:

  1. Thank you for the incredibly informative post Heidi. That is really helpful for me right now actually, as I have plans to get a pair of armchairs for my living room. I know that I want to use Zoffany's cochin as the fabric but have been dithering as to whether I should get a pair of chairs at auction or simply get them from a furniture maker. So - this is food for thought.
    I think your daughter's chair looks so sweet. I love the skirt at the bottom - perfect bedroom chair.
    I had a sofa reupholstered a few years ago (the blue brer rabbit one) and it totally transformed the piece. They actually did it in situ, so I got to see the various stages and it was fascinating. The upholster was very experienced and he said many of the same things that you say in your post. The quality of the sofa was excellent, so it was not worth throwing it out, but it did cost a lot to get it recovered as it needed to be built back up and new cushions. I went for feather wrapped foam and the sofa is the most comfortable place to sit in the house.
    X

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    1. In situ Charlotte! I've never heard of an upholsterer doing that. Fascinating indeed to watch. I think your sofa (having seen photos of it on Insta) is so beautiful, and definitely it was worth redoing in that beautiful fabric.
      I'll be very interested to see how you go with your armchairs. The auctions in the UK are so much better than the slim pickings we have here, I'm sure you'd be able to find something really lovely. And that Zoffany fabric would look stunning on whatever you choose... are you going for the blue colourway? xx

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    2. Yes - it was going to cost a lot to get the sofa out of the living room (it wouldn't fit down the stairs, so we would have needed a lift to take it out the window) and I found someone in Fulham who said that they would do it in situ, save for the cushions.
      Yes, the blue colourway for the Zoffany fabric. I think it will work well with the brer rabbit as it has that same slightly vintage feel to the cream but it is a darker blue. My curtains are in now, so I'll take a snap and put it on insta x

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    3. Ah! That's always a problem when you have to have something rebuilt in a room!! I LOVE that blue, and the chairs will look stunning! The lovely faded, washed out quality to it is just beautiful. Looking forward to seeing it on insta x

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  2. Great post Heidi. When I had my dining room chairs redone last year it was a big investment, but they are so unique and belonged to my great-grandparents. The fellow took each chair apart and re-glued them, made them comfortable and beautiful. He told me to that 20 years ago, our area had 17 people who re-upholstered furniture. now there are only two. We have become a real throwaway society and I don't think re-upholstery even occurs to people. Yours are lovely!

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    1. It makes me so sad that Upholstery seems to be a bit of a dying art. We are a throw away society indeed. I loved the story of your chairs - such a special family heirloom to have, and they came up so beautifully. Definitely worth redoing when you look at what the equivalent quality chair would cost new now.

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    1. So do I - weighs a tonne though! x

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  4. I had reupholstery guilt ages ago with a sofa that I had intended to last me a lifetime but the quote to get the sofa reupholstered was astronomical. In fact if I waited for a sale I could have gotten it cheaper. Maybe not the exact one but similar enough. S sold it for me on ebay and I feel so much lighter. But I felt so guilty not recovering it but truth be told it I was just so sick of it and even though it was a classic shape - no one liked it including me.

    I did an upholstery course as I love it and so many had paid off the certificate by doing odd jobs. It's a skill that is universal! I love your done chairs and hope to get around doing all my projects when I get a chance xx

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    1. You shouldn't feel guilt though - if you didn't like it you shouldn't keep it. A bit like with clothes... someone else would feel very appreciative of the sofa. So definitely not worth upholstering and instead getting something new that suits you better.
      You've done such interesting courses Naomi!! You should definitely give a couple of your projects a crack though - you've certainly got the fabric stash to raid for it!! x

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  5. Gosh you have good taste. I absolutely love that top sofa with the gilt and how you've done the wallpaper and the gold keys.Where do you get your ideas?
    Before this lot of furniture we've never owned anything special enough to re-do, but I think if something has beautiful lines or wood like the top one (and all of pieces in the photos above) then it totally looks like a special piece.

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    1. I guess the starting point was the wallpaper, which my client chose, and then it was a matter of balancing it all... so the linen was a balance to the gilt and formality of the chair, and the chair complemented the gilt keys of the wallpaper, and it was a balance of contemporary and classical too.
      You've got some great pieces in your place though, and they're exactly the sort of things that you'd want to reupholster when they've worn out the current incarnations - chairs for a lifetime! x

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  6. Hi Heidi,

    Thank you for your timely post. Just wondering what your tips are for identifying whether your sofa is good enough for re-upholsternig. Would you need to start to pull the sofa apart from underneath? Also do you think leather couches are worth upholstering again in leather. I love the shape of my current sofa and it was quite expensive when purchased years ago, but the couch had bonded leather on it and the surface is coming off. Fabric sofas don't hold up in our semi rural home.

    Would love to hear your thoughts. Kind regards, J

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    1. Hi J, I think the starting point when assessing the sofa is to try to work out if the frame is sound. If it creaks or cracks, that's not a good start. There should be springs, so you could give them a bit of a prod to tell if they're working. you could then have a look at it from pulling off the underside if you're still unsure.
      As for leather - that's a whole topic in itself! If you redo it in leather again then you have the opportunity to choose a high quality leather. Unfortunately despite what many manufacturers tell you (and despite high price points) they can still use very cheaply processed leathers. If you have a look at one of the suppliers websites I often use http://www.instyle.com.au/products/categories/contemporary-leathers/ you can see the variety of manufacturing techniques. I like aniline leathers, however they can stain if there is spillage on them of food and drink as they don't have that glossy protective coating applied that you've had delaminate. Semi- Aniline or corrected grain leathers might be more the thing to go for if this is a concern for you. But the Aniline leathers are so soft, so luxurious feeling... they are nothing like the shiny, stiff leathers you see on a lot of furniture. Ultimately if you're looking for durability, then you either need a fabric with a commercial rating on it, or a leather that has had a bit of correction and a coating applied (and hopefully from a manufacturer that has produced a quality leather to start from). Hope that helps

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  7. Fabulous primer on an important subject to those that are interested in holding onto their older pieces, thank you. I've had my antique camel-back sofa for over two decades and it as solid as the day we purchased it. I lived with the upholstery (a damask fabric in a minty-green color) for the first decade of its life, but had it reupholstered in a fabric of my choice about six years ago.

    I also purchased a small sofa that we installed in my daughter's nursery when she was a baby and that one went the way of the dumpster before she was even in Kindergarten. I could not believe the difference in construction and durability between the antique example and the newer one (which, by the way, was not cheap).

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    1. I think that is the perfect example of how different construction is now between new and old furniture. And yes, price doesn't necessarily reflect quality as the small sofa attests. The weight of that tiny little blue armchair in my dressing room belies the size - it's easily the same weight as the big wingback armchair, so I can only assume the frame is made out of a very dense hardwood, and thick to boot.
      Your sofa sounds like an amazing piece CD. It saddens me that we are such a throwaway society and that craftmanship and quality of construction has been rendered unimportant as long as the piece *looks* the part, and of course that people now baulk at paying large lump sums for better quality pieces because our expectation is that everything should be cheap.

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  8. Yet another great post! I do intend on re-upholstering some items around my place. That way you can pick exactly what you like. Doesn't have to be from a small sample book. I love upholstery and want to do more. I want to get my husband to build and me upholster a toy box for the girls room with solid soft close hinges. It'll be fab, I can just see it.
    I don't really have any furniture that is really good. One dayyyyy. I hope. I love my current couch and although it was cheap it has so far lasted 7 years without any real age shown. I would love to keep it (well... if and when we do an extension it will go in the new bonus/rumpus/toy room) but it is just too deep. 1010mm. We are too sloth-y on it hahaha.
    I really appreciate these posts and I love all your completed pieces. Well done.
    Laura

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    1. There really is so little choice when you're buying from a big box retailer on the fabric front. Definitely one of the benefits of reupholstery.
      As for the toy box - you're so clever! It'll turn out so well if your bedhead etc is anything to go by. xx

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  9. I tend to splash out for good construction so I love reupholstering. I wish it was not so spendy as I'd love to do it more often!

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    1. Agree - it's certainly not cheap, but def. worth it. I think I may have run out of things to reupholster at the moment, which kind of makes me feel sad!

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  10. 35 years ago I needed a chest of drawers and went shopping. I soon found that the big retailers sell furniture which is stapled together and fairly shoddy. Then I found an antique chest with dove tail joints and heavy carcass. No comparison! The same goes for old arm chairs and settees. Can't agree more about the issue of buying good bones and then allowing a good upholsterer to pad and primp. Judith

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    1. I know exactly what you mean Judith - when I went looking for furniture items for the kids playroom I naturally didn't want to spend huge sums of money... yet all the big box retailers like Freedom etc were actually quite expensive for the pieces (probably not if it were for your living room, but for children definitely high), but the quality was so incredibly poor that I just knew it would last maybe a couple of years if I were lucky - screwed together mdf sides, veneer or 2pak paint, drawer runners that were cheap and rattled as you opened them... I ended up with kids furniture from Ikea. But nothing compares to the old pieces in terms of value for money when you look at the timbers used and quality of construction.

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Architect & Interior Designer. Mother of three. A sometimes Cook, Baker, Reader, Gardener, Fashion Lover, Renovator, Writer of random things in South Australia email me on anadelaidevilla@bigpond.com
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