Interiors: Second skin... revive your favourite couch
Bring your favourite couch back to life with some modern re-upholstery
Last week one of my sofa cushions burst. You couldn't sit down on it without raising a cloud of feathers. We investigated the split and stapled it together, but it's clear to all of us this is a short-term solution.
The sofa is a three-seater that sags in the middle (although it's still very comfortable once you're snuggled at the corners). The balding corduroy cover has aged gracefully enough and there are a few rips, but nothing we can't live with. But the combination of ailments means it might just be coming to the end of the line.
The trouble is that I'm really fond of that sofa. I don't want a new one. I want the old one back just the way it was. This led me to wonder if re-upholstery would be an option.
"Re-upholstery has always been around but it's come to the fore with the upcycling movement," says the interior designer Hayley Curran. "It's about realising the possibilities within old pieces of furniture. People like the idea of re-upholstery because it isn't wasteful."
Curran's shop, Ebony Rose, has just moved to larger premises in Navan. Situated in Ireland's erstwhile furniture capital, she admits they're spoilt for choice when it comes to re-upholstering workshops. But, before I get excited at the idea of a new lease of life for my old sofa, she asks some difficult questions.
"The first question that we always ask - is it worth it? There's no point in re-upholstering an old sofa with a battered frame. You'd take it apart and find that it needs new springs and new foam, and that the frame needs mending. The only reason people want to do that kind of work on a sofa is when it's a family heirloom. It would be cheaper to buy a new one, but it's not always about the money," she explains.
I confess that we bought our sofa in Habitat for around €1,000 in 2003 and that the frame is broken. Any upholsterer worth their salt would gently advise us against trying to resurrect it.
Re-upholstery has a huge price range, according to the price of the fabric, but Curran says it's quite possible to have a three-seater sofa re-upholstered in an entry level fabric for €600, including labour. This treatment would suit a sofa that was being demoted from the living room to the children's playroom.
Most of her clients go a little more upmarket on the fabric and spend around €1,000 in total. "The durability of the fabric doesn't reflect the price. You can get a hard-wearing fabric for €35 a metre. But if you want the high end designs you have to pay for them," she says. To re-upholster a sofa in Zoffany velvet could easily set you back €2,500.
If you like fancy fabric but have a limited budget, a clever designer can help you work your way around it. "We've just finished a sofa for a client who wanted a very expensive embroidered fabric but she couldn't afford to re-upholster the whole sofa in it so we used it for the cushions and did the rest of the sofa in a plain linen mix. We backed the cushions in a plain fabric to make the money go further."
Dining chairs with pop-out seats are also a likely candidate for re-upholstery and could cost anything between €50 and €500 per chair, depending on the fabric. "We have all the high end fabrics - and we love to use them," says Curran. "But we're also happy to work with families where the dog sleeps on the sofa." No comment.
Tracy Elliot is an interior designer and creative director of Kevin Kelly Interiors, a company that specialises in soft furnishings at the higher end of the market. To re-upholster a Queen Anne armchair would typically cost €700 in labour and would require around seven metres of fabric.
Prices for a metre of fabric range from €30 to €130, with the average spend around €70 per metre. That's a total of €490 on fabric and a grand total spend of €1,190.
"People tend to look at re-upholstery when they're moving house and taking a few much-loved pieces of furniture with them. We'd start off by asking if the chair or sofa is in a style that they'd like to stay with going forward?" Elliot says.
"If you are going to the trouble of re-upholstering, you want to make it fit in with the future, not the past."
One common pitfall is when people don't consider the environment at home. "If you've got three children and your furniture sees heavy traffic you wouldn't want to look at a fine cotton or silk, and you might want to consider contract fabric," she adds.
"Another mistake is choosing a fabric that doesn't fit the frame. The original might have been upholstered in a flat smooth fabric that showed every pleat and set off the lovely lines of the frame. If you get that redone in a heavy pile you will lose that definition."
If you really know what you're doing, it will always be cheaper to go straight to the upholsterer with the fabric already measured and purchased.
But there's a big advantage in going through a shop that offers guidance from an experienced designer as part of the package.
Re-upholstery isn't a cheap game and good advice could save you money in the long run.