When you want the best information, go straight to the source. In this case, the source is the ultimate upholstery diva herself, Karen Olivia, the creative mind behind interior design blog Alkemie.
Check out my recent interview with Karen. She had some really terrific insights. Enjoy!
When looking for a reputable upholsterer, where do you start?
References are best if you can find any. When I first began, I didn’t know anyone who had used an upholsterer so I started with the yellow pages, online listings and even Craig’s list. I called many places for ballpark quotes and asked whether they also had the ability to pick up large pieces like sofas.
In the end, I chose the upholsterer who had the following criteria:
1.) Willing to work with residential clients with no hemming and hawing. Some upholstery firms only do commercial work and don’t like to take on residential clients. Make sure the company has experience with non-commercial work as well and has no qualms about doing it.
2.) Reasonable Rates. When I called many of the firms up to get ballpark quotes – there was quite a range. You get a firm sense of what is reasonable though if you call enough of them. Stay away from firms who refuse to give ballpark estimates. Estimates on chairs and sofas are not so wide that they shouldn’t be able to give you a reasonable range as a quote.
3.) Reputable/In business for a long time. You don’t want to end up with a company that takes your chairs and months later still hasn’t done any work on them. You want a reputable business that is dependable and up front about the costs and turn around time. If the company can provide references or if you know they’ve been established for a long time, this definitely helps.
What can you expect to pay to reupholster a piece of furniture?
Pricing on upholstery can vary based on several things: where you live, whether you need new cushions, whether the piece of furniture needs repair or simply re-upholstery, the size, and whether you need finishing.
Wing Chairs $300-$500 (depending on size, where you live, etc)
Smaller Chairs $150-$350 (depending on size, style, etc.)
Sette/Love Seat $500-$800 (depending on size, style, etc.)
Re-upholstery costs are always quoted without the cost of fabric, new cushions or additional add-ons. With any quote you receive, you should assume this. When in doubt, ask your reupholsterer what the quote includes.
Most average sized sofas should cost between $800 – $1200 to reupholster (labor only.) This does not include new cushions or re-finishing if needed.
To give you a concrete example – I live in San Francisco. My upholsterer is actually in a neighboring city but has been in business since the 1920s. They charged me about $1,000 to rebuild/re-upholster my sofa, which is a fair price.
My sofa is about 7.5 feet long and was so dilapidated that it wasn’t just re-upholstering it – they had to take it apart to replace all of the springs and build it back up from the inside. Cushions were separate and fabric on top of that.
$1,000 To Re-build and Reupholster Sofa
$200 To Refinish the wood frame
$210 For Cushions
$1410 The above without fabric.
If the fabric is not upholstery grade or weight, do not use the fabric. You don’t want to spend the money to reupholster a piece of furniture, use the wrong fabric and have it wear out on you. If in doubt, your upholsterer should be able to tell you whether a fabric is appropriate or not if you have a sample of it.
How can you tell if a piece is worth reupholstering?
1.) Is the construction of the piece decent? If there is damage to the piece, is it easily repairable by an upholsterer? For example, you probably don’t want to re-do a piece that has major chips to the wood that aren’t really repairable. Better to also find a piece that looks really worn but has good bones.
If the chair is wobbly, is it simply because the joints are lose which can be easily fixed or is it because a piece somewhere broke off that needs to be re-constructed? Bottom line is to stay away from furniture that has fatal flaws in it or flaws that are not easily fixed.
2.) If you are reupholstering for yourself and you want to keep your budget down, find a decent piece of furniture that will not cost you an arm and a leg. In the end, what you pay to reupholster a piece will be equivalent to buying a new, mass produced piece of furniture or even more depending.
It is not less money to re-do a piece unless you do the labor yourself. If you have someone professional do it, spend as little money as you can on the actual piece of furniture. Case and point: Use Craig’s list, Ebay, flea markets, thrift stores.
You can find a very nice vintage chair for as little as $50 and have it re-done. In the end, it will not be less money than buying a new piece, mass produced – but you will have a unique and customized piece that you will love and likely no one else you know will have.
3.) If the piece has good bones, and you can get it for a reasonable price, the last rule is to go with what you love and have fun with it!
Thinking about doing it on your own?
There was a time when I considered doing the reupholstery myself and I bought books on the subject and learned as much as I could about it. I have a fatal flaw in that I cannot sew for the life of me and do not have a desire to learn.
Some people love DIY projects while others prefer to have a pro do it for them. Make no mistake that the reason why re-upholstering/finishing costs are not cheap are because it takes a lot of work to re-do a piece. Feasible to do it on your own? Definitely. Is it easy? Absolutely not.
The exception is if you have a small seat bench or dining chair that has no backing or tufting and you are simply tacking on a square piece of fabric – other than those types of scenarios – reupholstery is not easy. You need the proper tools, know how to sew well, a proper work space and practice to make it look good. If you do any re-finishing, you should do it outdoors or in a well ventilated space.
All photos from Alkemie.com.