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Reupholstery is a guaranteed way to transform a piece of furniture. Just by switching out your upholstery, you can refresh a weathered antique, revamp an outdated accent, or craft that missing piece that’ll tie your space together.
“Well done reupholstery can completely transform your space,” Diane Montgomery, upholsteress and owner of Coventry Lane Upholstery, LLC., says. “Whether it is a neutral that is tailored and pristine or a funky chair with multiple coordinating fabrics, upholstery gives you the opportunity to make a piece exactly what you want it to be.”
Given this, reupholstery sounds like a no-brainer. But since it can be a time and money-intensive process, it’s not always an easy thing to commit to. To help you understand when reupholstery is worth the investment—and when it isn’t—we went straight to the experts: professional upholsterers. We also asked these experts to share what you need to know before reupholstering something yourself.
Meet the Expert
- Diane Montgomery is an upholsteress and the owner of Coventry Lane Upholstery, LLC.
- Michael Tavano is an interior designer at Michael Tavano Design and the co-founder and Creative Director of Marks & Tavano Workroom
- Lloyd Marks is the co-founder and President of Marks & Tavano Workroom
How Much Does It Cost to Reupholster Furniture?
The cost of reupholstery can vary a lot from project to project. According to Montgomery, you can expect to spend anywhere from $50–$70 on a simple chair to $1,200–$1,800 on a full-blown couch. Notably, these prices don’t include the cost of fabric. And they don’t account for other key factors, like the condition of your furniture, the city you live in, and any detail work you want completed.
“The cost of reupholstery depends on many factors, including the cost of the fabric, the condition of the furniture, and the size and detail of the project,” Michael Tavano, interior designer at Michael Tavano Design and Creative Director of Marks & Tavano Workroom, says. “Whether your cushions are down or foam—and other details, such as tufting, trim, nailheads, or welting—will also impact the final cost.”
If you decide to go the DIY route, you might save some money. But it’s worth considering how much time you’ll spend on the project. (After all, this is a cost, too.)
“For the best results, we’d only recommend DIY upholstery for the simplest of projects, such as a window seat or banquette where only the cushions or a small seat is upholstered,” Lloyd Marks, co-founder and President of Marks & Tavano Workroom, says. “In that case, you want to allow time to measure for, select, and purchase the fabric, foam, or batting. And then you could probably do it in an afternoon.”
But you should expect more involved reupholstery projects to take a lot longer—and you might not want to tackle them right away. “Choose an appropriate piece for your skill level,” Montgomery says. “If you finished the project and enjoyed it, then you can work your way up to more challenging pieces.”
Is It Worth the Cost to Reupholster?
All of our experts agreed that reupholstery is worth the cost. (This should come as no surprise—they’re professional upholsterers.) But they offered some steps you can take to determine whether a piece is actually worth reupholstering.
“I always tell clients hunting for a piece to grab an arm and give it a good shake. Does it move or squeak or is it solid?” Montgomery says. “After that, I tell them to feel under the bottom of the piece. Do you immediately feel resistance or can you push your hand up? Resistance most likely means a coil spring system, which means quality and longevity. You can also pick up an end. Is it heavy? If so, you probably have a hardwood frame and coil spring system.” All of these are signs that a piece of furniture is high-quality—and therefore worth saving.
And Tavano has an even easier litmus test: “A good rule of thumb is that if you’d be sad to see that piece go, give it a second life with new upholstery,” he says.
How to Reupholster Step-by-Step
Things You’ll Need
- Staple remover or butter knife
- Cleaning cloth
- Fabric cleaner
- Paint or wood stain *optional
- Fabric shears
- Sewing machine *optional
- Thread *optional
- Staple gun *optional
- Staples *optional
- Tacks *optional
- Screws *optional
- Buttons or trim *optional
Step 1: Choose Your Upholstery Thoughtfully
The star of any reupholstery project? The upholstery. So choose your fabric with care. “Figure out what your fabric priorities are,” Montgomery says. Are you transforming an accent piece into a statement-maker or revitalizing a piece you use all the time? One of these projects would benefit from a bolder fabric, while the other demands something more versatile and durable.
If you need something sturdy, look for a performance fabric. “Performance fabrics are key when it comes to upholstery,” Tavano says. “Especially if you really want that white sofa, get a fabric that repels spills, resists stains and odors, and cleans up like new.” And make sure your performance fabric has a high double rub count. “This measures how quickly threads of fabric will start breaking,” Montgomery says, adding that a higher rating indicates a stronger fabric. “I usually recommend a rating of 20,000-50,000 for residential use.”
Step 2: Carefully Remove the Current Fabric From Your Furniture
Once you have your fabric and your furniture, it’s time to get to work. So slowly start to remove the upholstery you want to replace.
Odds are, this upholstery is attached to your furniture via staples, tacks, or screws. If you’re dealing with staples or tacks, you can use a staple remover to remove them. (You can also use a butter knife in a pinch.) If you’re dealing with screws, use a screwdriver to remove them.
It may be tempting to cut up the fabric you’re removing, but try to keep it intact. You’ll want to use it to measure your new upholstery later on.
Step 3: Clean the Furniture
Once you’ve removed the old upholstery, you might be looking at a lot of built-up dust and gunk. And now’s the perfect opportunity to clean that up.
Use a cleaning cloth to wipe off any surface-level dirt, and use a vacuum to suck up any tucked-away debris. This is also a great time to freshen up your cushions with fabric cleaner, or to repaint or restain your furniture—if you’ve decided to do that.
Step 4: Precisely Cut Your New Fabric
It’s time to measure and cut the new fabric you picked out. And while that may sound intimidating, the process should be pretty easy if you held onto your old upholstery.
Simply lay your old fabric over your new fabric. Then, cut your new fabric into a matching size and shape. (Really, it’s that easy.) Take your time with this step, and keep your lines as clean as possible.
And if you’re replacing any pieces that had stitching on them, use a sewing machine to mimic those details to the best of your ability. And be sure to choose a thread color that complements your new upholstery.
Step 5: Staple, Tack, or Screw the Fabric Onto Your Furniture
It’s time to attach your new fabric to your furniture. Start by lining the fabric up where it’s supposed to go. Then, smooth it out, and fold it over the edges of the piece you’re attaching it to.
Once your fabric is exactly where it needs to be, you can start attaching it to your furniture using staples and a staple gun, tacks, or screws and a screwdriver. (Pick your method based on how the upholstery was originally attached. If it was stapled on, use staples; if it was screwed on, use screws.)
Work as slowly and meticulously as you can here, making sure to smooth out the fabric after installing each staple, tack, or screw.
Step 6: Finish Things Off With a Few Design Details
If you’ve decided to top things off with fun upholstery details, like buttons or trim, now’s the moment to add them. Typically, you can sew, staple, or tack these into place. But you may want to look up specific instructions, depending on the detail you’ve chosen.
Step 7: Take a Final Look at Your Finished Project
Once your work is done, take a moment to review it. Can you spot any loose thread or other mistakes? If you can, take care of them. And if you can’t, your project should be completely finished. Feel free to pick up your masterpiece and put it back where it belongs.
The Best Tips for Reupholstering Furniture
Want to make sure your reupholstery project delivers great results? Experts have a few tips to share.
For starters, make sure the fabric you pick is adequately durable and versatile. “The biggest mistake is loving a thin print and putting it on a high-use piece,” Montgomery says. If you’re reupholstering an oft-used item—like your living room sofa—you need a fabric that can handle wear and tear, so consider favoring more versatile options.
“That doesn't mean you should be timid,” Tavano says. “Choose a nicely textured, solid color fabric on your sofa, and save extravagant patterns for your occasional chairs or even for throw pillows.”
If you decide to spring for professional reupholstery, take your time in finding a great upholsterer.
“Find a shop that has good communication, and always look at some of their work prior to pulling the trigger,” Montgomery says. “And when you have your estimates in hand, don’t just choose the cheapest price—you may pay for that decision later.” Instead, ask the upholsterer about their process. Montgomery recommends posing questions like: do they remove all the old fabric? How long will the project take? Will they send you in-progress photos? Will they contact you if any problems arise?
Finally, if you want to try your hand at DIYing reupholstery, start with a basic project and work your way up from there. “I recommend starting with a simple project and a solid fabric,” Montgomery says. “No need to challenge yourself twice with a new skill and a stripe to keep straight!”