Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"Should I re-upholster a sofa or buy a new one?"

I got this question today: 
"Should I re-upholster a sofa or buy a new one?"

Undoubtedly millions of discarded and unwanted sofas end up in landfills. There is the option of donating, but centers such as Goodwill and Salvation Army will only accept items that are in generally good, sell-able condition. In other words, if your sofa has stains or tears, they will not accept it. So you are only left with two options--toss or repair.

Don't be surprised: Unless what you have is a high end sofa upwards of about $2,000, the cost of reupholstering will always be higher than what you had originally paid for the sofa in the first place. If you are not planning to upgrade, you will most certainly find a replacement that costs a lot less than reupholstering. Why? Fabric is not cheap. Remember that the cost of the original fabric on your sofa cost a lot less coming from the factory. This is the same way that a custom-made dress costs more then an off-the-rack creation. Then there's the cost of filling, repairs, and the labor. 

Choosing to reupholster though gives you more choices as to the quality of covering material you want, texture and pattern and filling. This options are all available at most showrooms, though it will also increase the price of your sofa. 

Check if your sofa is worth saving and how you use it. The true value and lifespan of a sofa lies beyond the attractiveness of its shape or covering. It's the bones that matter! A good quality sofa is worth the expense of re-upholstering.
Above, left: 4-way hand-tied springs, above, right: 8-way hand-tied springs

  • Weight: Lift your sofa. Heavier (note that sofa beds will be heavier because of the bed frame inside) generally means better. The sturdiness of a sofa has to do with the frame--the type of wood and the construction. Sofas made of hardwoods such as oak and mahogany last longer. You can easily reupholster these sofas and keep using it for as long as the life of the new upholstery.
  • Springs: The best kinds of sofas are crafted using a method called "8-way hand-tied." This is a labor-intensive process that produces the best quality springs. The cheaper ones use clips or 4-way ties. Ask your re-upholsterer about the quality of your sofa's springs and if it can be re-tied to relieve the sagging.

Below, right: Inexpensive cushion with inner polyurethane foam and Dacron batting. Below, left: Better cushion with inner springs, foam, and outer layer of feathers (Note: Ikea now also carries lines that are feather-filled!)

  • Cushions: A super-quick way to determine the quality is by opening the zipper. If you open it and the polyurethane foam is right under the fabric--you've got yourself a cheap cushion. Better cushions have layers consisting of an inner core of springs or foam, surrounded by batting (quilting material) and covered with a liner fabric. Again, re-upholstering allows lets you upgrade on this.

  • Level of use: If the sofa is in a high-use area such as the family room, it needs to stand up to the wear and tear. In this case, re-upholster if you have a good sofa in your hands, and just buy a new one if you really don't (unless you're hard-core on the eco-factor). The cost per use of a new and better quality sofa will be less than salvaging a sofa with poor bones. If the sofa is in a formal living room where hardly anybody sits, it does not matter so much. Recover it in a pretty, new material and you're good to go.
  • If you're worried about the eco-factor: Consider that if your sofa is on the lower end of the price spectrum, re-upholstering it also puts the old  foam, the batting and the fabric in the landfill. Toss in the light woods used in it and it's not that big of a difference. Chances are, you will end up having to re-upholster again. On the other hand, upgrading to a better quality sofa gets you one that will last longer. The better quality also means you may not have to re-upholster for a long time, so it really is more eco-friendly.
Calico Corners--offer material and re-upholstering services.

In South OC:
Five-Star Upholstery and Drapery
23854 Vía Fabricante
Mission Viejo, CA 92691-3153
(949) 770-6504

We-R-Fabrics, Inc.
25782 Obrero Drive
Mission Viejo, CA 92691-3103
(949) 770-4662

Mid-range stores--such as Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel and Ethan Allen all offer sofas with good-quality woods and eight-way hand-tied construction. When buying for a high-use area, consider spending a little more--again, think cost/use. For a formal living room, you can just go for the looks and shop at the lower-end of Ikea or the likes of Pier 1, Living Spaces and Easylife.
Homegoods--will sometimes have good-quality furniture if you're willing to work with the limited selection.
Consignment--stores always have better quality furniture on stock. The price point will almost always tell you about the quality of the furniture. The store should also have information about the brand and origin.