An Upholstering Primer: Part 1 of 4 — Consider Your Furniture

An Upholstering Primer: Part 1 of 4 — Consider Your Furniture

Oct 8, 2009

Having something upholstered or custom-made is a complex endeavor — and for most people it is a world that is unknown. Taking your sofa in to be reupholstered is similar to taking your car to the mechanic: your car needs a tune up and the mechanic tells you “this needs tightening, that needs fixing and this needs overhauling” and you stare back at him or her and blankly say “OK” because you have no idea about the inner workings of the car that you drive every single day. You probably sit on your sofa every day and do not really know what is on the inside that makes it so comfy (or not so comfy)...

Upholstery means more than “just replacing old fabric with new fabric” as we have become accustomed to watching due to the recent oversaturation of reality-based home DIY shows. Upholstery is a complex trade and a dying art that originated in the early 18th century. It is a craft with limited resources for the layman to research and understand.

With that in mind, over the next four weeks I will share with you an in-depth primer on the art of upholstery. This week let’s discuss some things you should consider before having something upholstered.

There are three reasons why people have furniture upholstered. I have found, in my 20+ years of experience, it is always in this order:

  1. Sentimental value: Perhaps something that was handed down in the family. Or a beloved piece that you grew up with that evokes fond memories when you sit in it or look at it.
  2. It fits your living space or personal style: Simply put, you live in a tiny apartment and your piece fits that random nook perfectly. Or you happen to come across that dream piece at your local flea market that fits your style perfectly.
  3. It is a real antique or designer piece and it is worth something: These are investment pieces — Hans Wegner Papa Bear chair, Herman Miller Eames chair or a Louis XV chair. (No knock-offs, the real deal!)

If your project is not taken to the correct atelier it can end up being an extremely unsatisfying and costly experience. By all means do not take your project to a “chop shop” — a company that will simply upholster new fabric directly on top of your old fabric. Also, any upholsterer worth their weight will allow you to visit their studio at any time to view your piece in progress.

While the idea of “recycling” upholstered furniture is a noble one and seems to make sense, most mass-produced furniture is simply not financially worth reupholstering by the time you factor in the cost of fabric, supplies and labor. As a suggestion this furniture can be donated to someone less fortunate through organizations such as Freecycle or Vietnam Veterans of America.

Coming up next week! I will address how to differentiate between good quality and poor quality furniture and upholstery, how to determine what is worth upholstering and what isn't, and one’s options for “green” upholstery amongst other things.

-Matthew Haly

A master craftsman in his field, Matthew Haly has become an authority in the world of upholstery and high quality millwork. His broad skill set and friendly demeanor have made his downtown studio, The Furniture Joint, the “go-to” resource for design professionals and savvy clientele nationwide. Formerly a contributing editor for Domino, his work has also appeared in countless photo shoots for shelter magazines such as Elle Décor, Interior Design and Country Living. He has appeared on the Rachael Ray show, The Steven & Chris Show in Canada, and was most recently featured on ABC news. He has been touted as the “Furniture Doctor” by The New York Times.

Matthew recently authored Matthew Haly’s Book of Upholstery, published in 2009 on Random House’s Potter Craft imprint. It explores techniques, tips and tricks to producing A-level upholstery projects at home. The book is an excellent resource for those unable to enroll in Matthew’s highly popular evening upholstery classes.

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