How to Reupholster Your Well-Worn Furniture

Reupholster your favorite pieces of furniture when they get worn, and they'll look wonderful for decades to come. We offer the full 101—from hiring a professional to picking fabrics—and share the simple DIY ideas you can absolutely do.

gray chaise with modern decor and floral pillow
Photo: Stephen Kent Johnson

Next to the place we call home, furniture is one of the biggest investments we make. Yet we're surprisingly quick to throw it away: A staggering 20 percent of our garbage consists of durable goods, such as furnishings and appliances. And according to a 2018 customer survey in Furniture Today, we replace those items every seven to 15 years. Rather than tossing an old bed frame or armchair, consider reupholstering it. You can do certain simple jobs yourself, but anything more complicated than a dining chair, footstool, or headboard is best left to a pro. A refresh can extend your piece's life span indefinitely. "Unless you have people jumping up and down on it, a well-made sofa can last a couple of decades," says New York City interiors and furniture designer Mark Cunningham.

Start with a solid item.

Inspect a candidate carefully, whether it's one you already own or a gem you spot in an antique mart or your parents' attic. T0 ensure it's well-constructed and worth the investment, check for these four criteria, says Martha's go-to expert, Luther Quintana, Jr., of Luther Quintana Upholstery in New York City: a hardwood frame that feels heavy and is put together with mortise-and-tenon, dowel, or tongue-in-groove joinery (no staples); spring coils; natural filling, such as down or horsehair; and fully removable cushions, or a padded seat and back with no cushions. Sofas with floppy, partially attached ones need not apply. (Pictured above: A chaise with a 19th-century silhouette done in a modern fabric is timeless. This piece by John Derian for Cisco Brothers is covered in a durable cotton-linen blend.)

Find a reputable expert.

Poll friends, check Angie's List, and take Cunningham's advice: Ask local interior designers whom they trust for consistent quality. You can also gauge a company by inquiring about filling, says Newton, Massachusetts-based interior designer Erin Gates. Any foam should be eco-friendly (e.g., soy-and-petroleum based) and give when you sit down (some are quite hard and take ages to break in). Finally, stop by and see the workmanship firsthand.

Get a few quotes.

Ideally, three. To calculate them, upholsterers will ask for detailed measurements and photos (or come over and take some themselves). The total cost breaks down into labor, pickup/delivery, and fabric. Labor should be about a third of what your piece (or a current one of similar design and quality, if it's an antique) would cost new, says Quintana. If the padding or frame needs work, that number will go up. Pickup and delivery rates vary by region.

various colored types of fabric rolls
Kirsten Francis

Choose textiles wisely.

Before you settle on a pretty print or perfect shade, consider the best kind of fabric for your life. A sturdy linen is a reliable all-around choice; performance textiles or leather are wise if you have kids or pets. Save wool and silk for less-trafficked living- or dining-room seating.

Confirm the yardage with your upholsterer; then, rather than flipping through their swatches, source your own from a fabric retailer or discounter. (Material can cost as much as—or more than!—labor.) Two ways to economize: Choose a solid, or buck the tradition of precisely matching up a pattern; either means less fabric to buy. Factor in rub count, an industry measure of durability. Look for 20,000 minimum; performance fabrics can be 100,000 or higher. Before you commit, test your finalists at home. "Get the largest samples you can or buy a yard, and put them where the piece will go, to see the color in the light," says Gates, who also spills on them, scratches them with a fork, and crumples them, to ensure they'll stand up to her kid and pets.

Shop Now: Pictured above, from left to right: Wool: Rogers & Goffigon Bechamel, in Araucana, price upon request, Performance—Perennials Fabric Very Terry, in Paper Bag, from $77 a yd., Linen: Gray Lines Linen Home Furnishing Linen HF-0020, in Soft Emerald, $17 a yd., Leather: Edelman Leather Luv-a-Bull, in Rawhide, starting from $32.50 a sq. ft., Silk: Calico Francesca, in Duckling, $63 a yd., Velvet: Schumacher Rocky Performance Velvet, in Cadet, $87 a yd.,

Time it right.

Allow six to 16 weeks for the job, depending on your item's size and condition, and how busy your upholsterer is. Our advice: Send something major before a move or remodeling project—less heavy lifting for you, and the piece will be out of the way.

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