Case Studies of Real Life Upholstery Jobs: What Do People Really Pay?

published Jun 19, 2012
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Here are some examples of real people who have had work done–and what they actually paid. And we have also included some words of wisdom (and pricing ranges) from a handful of designers and upholsterers.

Case Studies of Real Life Upholstery Jobs
Here are some real examples from friends who have upholstered various pieces of furniture. It should be noted, of course, that most of these folks live in Washington DC, which is hardly the country’s best locale for bargain goods and services! If you live in a smaller town you can count on lower labor costs.

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I wrote about Kevin’s fabulous mid-century modern haven. Kevin knows his stuff and wanted only high quality work on his vintage furniture and chose expensive materials. His Knoll chair cost $450 to reupholster, and something like $650 total for the Spinneybeck leather material. His Knoll sofa was about $650 to reupholster and another $600 for fabric. He recalls, “the Womb settee was really expensive to reupholster because I wanted it to original specs and you need someone with specialized expertise. It was about $1800 total for upholstery and fabric.” Kevin recommends Dave Erbe (610-967-4658) for his high quality work and for being a “really nice guy.”!

Jen recently had a club chair reupholstered by Calico Corners and it was about $560 for the labor.

Was considering getting a Bergere chair redone but has put it off because of the price she was quoted. She was told the labor would be $395 plus about 6 yards of fabric. The chair’s single cushion would have a Dacron wrap ($25) and if she chose down/feather it would be about $95. Delivery was $95. The real cost for Elizabeth was the Madeleine Weinrib fabric she lusted after, which was a whopping $250 per yard (meaning the fabric total would come to about $1,500!

Sarah got a basic contemporary 3-seater sofa reupholstered with similarly basic solid-colored fabric for $860, fabric included. She says it was worth it because the sofa is very well made and super comfortable but the original fabric was irreversibly stained.

Mary Anne:
About ten years ago Mary Anne inherited two very heavy club chairs and a sofa from her parents. She found a really good upholsterer named Ana who was incredibly economical. The upholsterer stripped the pieces to their frames, reinforced the frames and redid the pillows in spring down, a combo of manmade and down (she regrets not doing full down). “Ana works out of her home. She and her son picked up the 3 pieces in Skokie and delivered to Downers Grove, a suburb of Chicago. Fabric excluded, she did the whole job for $800. No lie. It was a gift beyond belief. She is a magnificent upholsterer with emphasis on finishing detail. She was extremely careful of matching seams and patterns. For example, she explained that the 3 sofa cushions can be turned for wear, like a mattress, and alternated so that the fronts and backs match the back pattern of the couch at all times. Even the arm covers match the pattern of the underlying arm of the couch.” A few years later Ana covered 8 dining chairs, including 2 armchairs, with fabric backs and leather seats. All together the labor was around $1,000.

Mary Anne’s advice is to ask around in unlikely places: “I found Ana through my hair stylist! Ana has done work for major hotels like the Hilton and Marriott, so maybe ask at those types of businesses.” Mary Anne also says that fabric stores can be a good resource for upholsterer: “Be careful though; make sure you see some of their finished work. If they’re good, they’re proud of it. Good upholsterers can give you great tips on fabric too.”

The Pros Weigh In
Because interior decorators are constantly referring out and contracting with upholsterers, they can offer a good general overview of the costs associated with upholstery.

Annie Elliott of Bossy Color
Annie Elliott of Bossy Color, an interior design firm in Washington DC, has some great, detailed advice for those considering reupholstering a piece of furniture.

Sofa: Allow 17-20 yards of fabric if you’re using a solid or texture, but if you’re using a large-scale pattern, you’ll need more. Labor cost can range between $800 – $1000, depending on whether you have loose seat and back cushions or not. “Of course there are less expensive upholsterers, but you do NOT want to skimp on this, especially if a pattern is involved.”

Dining chair, seat only: You might only need a yard of fabric, but it will still cost $75-$100 per chair to upholster.

Comfy living room armchair: “You might – shockingly – need 10 yards of fabric if you have loose seat and back cushions. If there aren’t separate cushions or a skirt, you might be able to do 7 yards.” Labor would be around $500.

Bench or ottoman: You may only need a few yards of fabric, depending on the repeat. Labor shouldn’t be too high; maybe $150 – $200 depending on whether there’s welting, cording, etc.

Annie says there are some factors that will affect the labor costs:

Tufting is labor-intensive. Also, will the buttons be covered w/ the same fabric as the piece? That’s more work for the upholsterer.
Welting (that cord-like edging) is also more work.
Zippers on the cushions
Making sure patterns line up. Geometric or striped patterns are harder to work with

Other factors to consider include whether any structural repairs need to be done to the frame or springs and whether you want arm covers or delivery.

Should you try to DIY? The only upholstery Annie thinks a novice should attempt is a dining room chair if the seat pops right up out of the frame. “There’s practically a sticker on the bottom of those seats that says, ‘Go ahead. Staple gun me.'”

Annie wrote a great blog post that provides some very wise advice and some case studies of actual upholstery costs.

Meaghan McNamara
Meaghan has an interior design and furniture rehab business in Washington DC (301-509-1098) . According to her, “the size, shape, and fabric all weigh in on your final price. But typically for an arm chair you are looking at $250 to $350 and for a couch it can be even more of a range in price anywhere from $600 upward.”

Meaghan also adds that tufting, piping, and trim require more labor and are therefore higher in price. Some fabrics like a vinyl can also be more time-consuming then a cotton because it is harder to ensure smooth surfaces and edges with a thicker texture.

What have you paid for upholstery work? Was it worth it? Why did you decide to redo the piece instead of replacing with a new piece altogether?

(Image: Jill Slater/Rita Konig Does Up a Penthouse)