Have you found a beautiful, but worn piece of furniture that you are considering reupholstering? Perhaps it’s a chair you found at a second-hand thrift store. Or maybe it’s an antique that was in your grandfather’s attic for the past several decades. Or you may have even found a beautiful settee for a steal at a local garage sale. Regardless of where you found the item, here’s what you need to know before you reupholster any piece of furniture.
Remember: Reupholstery is a major undertaking. The specimen will be stripped down to the frame and then completely rebuilt. You get what you pay for and it is better to be assured of high-quality work than ruin your furniture find. In the end, you will have a “new” piece to add to your home that can be passed down for generations to come.
When determining whether a piece of furniture would make a good specimen to reupholster, you should look beyond the outdated, worn, or ugly fabric. If the base of the item is not sturdy or well-built, it may be a waste of your time and money to attempt to have it reupholstered.
Type of wood
Turn the piece over and look at the bottom frame. It should be hardwood without weak or rot spots. Hardwood means it is oak, maple, cherry, walnut, or other broad-leafed deciduous trees. Soft woods, such as pine, cedar, and other evergreens tend to warp or dent easily.
It should be kiln-dried, rather than air-dried or engineered wood. Engineered wood is basically plywood or particle board. Particle board is basically wood chips and fibers glued together and shaped, while plywood is several thin layers of wood glued together. Neither option is strong enough for weight-bearing furniture.
Why should the piece be kiln-dried? Kilns are huge ovens that are used to dry objects for various uses. Since most wood contains moisture, the kiln-drying process is used to quickly and effectively to remove 93 percent of the moisture content. The dried item should no longer warp, shrink, or expand with changes in temperature and humidity.
Air-dried frames are a suitable alternative to kiln-dried ones, but since the process is not controlled as in a kiln, there is no way to be certain that the moisture content is sufficiently decreased.
Plywood frames may work well as long as they are thick enough to support the weight. In fact, many reputable manufacturers rely on plywood frames over hardwood. Metal frames are also sometimes used; however, they are prone to rusting and changes in humidity if not properly treated.
Regardless, look for a well-constructed form with
- strong, intact corner braces
- reinforced joints that are dowelled and glued
- screws, not staples
- overall stable construction
Check the springs of the couch or chair to ensure that they are made with eight-way hand-tied springs. This system of coils requires laborers to tie each spring eight ways: from side to side, front to back, and diagonally each way. The eight-way spring technique requires skilled craftsmanship and reaches its goal of comfort and support tailored for each piece of furniture.
Some reputable furniture is made using a sinuous spring system consisting of heavy-gauge steel wires that form continuous S-shaped coils. Padded clips and fasteners attach the spring to the frame and the system is reinforced with horizontal metal tie rods. The sinuous spring technique is cheaper to construct and requires less labor costs. However, it is often used in place of the eight-way spring system and provides “no sag” comfort and durable quality.
Prior to purchasing expensive fabric for your new piece, take into account how the piece will be used. For instance, a living room sofa should have heavy-duty upholstery, a kitchen chair should offer easy clean-up, and a bedroom decorative bench can have just about any type of fabric you desire, even non-upholstery-weight fabric.
Be sure to check the Weisenbeek rating to determine the fabric’s durability. The rating is provided based on an abrasion resistance test in which a machine rubs the fabric until it is worn through. The number of rubs for a heavy duty rating would be in the range of 30,000 double rubs. While Weisenbeek rating involves rubbing along the warp and weft of the fabric, the Martindale abrasion test is a figure-eight rub. A heavy duty fabric would rate at 40,000 cycles with the Martindale method.
Choose a fabric that will update the piece, not just recreate the old look. Consider selecting a different color, going from a solid to a pattern, or choosing a different pattern scale. Take home a few samples, as large of a bolt as you are permitted, and live with it for a few days before making a decision on the fabric.
Is it worthy?
After checking the frame, the wood, and the springs and considering the fabric choice, it’s time to test the piece of furniture to make sure it is worthy of being reupholstered. Look for a recognizable brand name, including brands like Vanguard, Century Furniture, American Leather, Lee Industries, Michael Thomas, and other worthy producers of furniture. Make sure that the piece is capable of handling many more years of use.
Test the piece. Sit down. Recline. Relax. Does the piece rock? Can you feel the springs? Does it make noise? You want a piece that is stable, sturdy, comfortable, and quiet. If you find one that meets these criteria, it definitely is worthy of reupholstering to add style and comfort to your home.