Reupholster or Buy New? Reupholster or Buy New?

Q: It's time for a living room redesign. My first step in attempting this facelift was to buy new curtains, paint the walls, and put down a new rug, but now I see that my sofa looks old and dirty. I've already had it professionally cleaned, and it still looks bad.

I've started looking at new sofas, but I can't find one I like as much as this one; plus, I feel bad just throwing it out. How do I decide if my living room redesign project should include buying a new sofa or getting this one reupholstered?

A: The only drawback to getting bright, new things as part of a living room redesign, is that they emphasize the tired old dogs you've got lying around the room - and the old furniture doesn't look so good, either. There is a good argument to be made for redesigning the whole room at once, so that you don't have pieces here and there that drag the whole room down.

And let's just take a moment to acknowledge the difficulty of finding a good sofa. You are looking for style, comfort, and quality - in addition to color, texture, and type of fabric. Do you like the more casual look of a sofa with separate back cushions, or a more sleek and formal look? What kind of feet will work with your other furniture? Do you want big, rounded armrests? Will it fit with the whole living room redesign scheme you may have planned?

That's a lot to consider, and if you already have a sofa you love, it can be tempting to just have the thing updated.

Of course, if the sofa is a piece with some sentimental value, or an antique, we'd err on the side of keeping it. You can have a lot of fun with choosing fabrics - from old-fashioned chintz to a mod pattern - for something that has an old-fashioned frame, and you want to think long and hard before getting rid of something with sentimental value.

The first thing to find out is how well-made the sofa is. If the frame is hardwood and "glued and screwed," there's a good chance there are still many years left in the frame, providing we're talking about your first re-upholstery of the piece.

While you're looking into the workmanship of the piece, find out also if about the springs. If they are the high-quality 8-way, hand-tied, again, the piece may be worth keeping.

And consider where and when you bought it. If you got the piece at a discount furniture barn and paid $150 for it ten years ago, well, it's probably time to buckle down and go shopping for a new sofa.

Much of the cost of reupholstering is in the labor, and the place where you can save is in the fabric. To get the best price, first go to the high-end shops and browse, browse, browse. Get samples if you can. Then hit the discount stores, keeping in mind the level of durability you'll want. You may be surprised to find something very close to the pricier fabrics, which you can then bring to the upholsterer.

Be sure to show a swatch to the upholsterer before you buy, and have him or her order the fabric; only a professional will be able to correctly order the right yardage, taking the pattern into consideration.

In terms of the labor, it pays to shop around there, too. Have a couple of people come in to give you estimates. Don't rely on phone estimates, especially for older pieces, which may need additional work.

Finally, when reupholstering, you'll be able to also update the cushions. Now is the time to go for some down filling on the seat cushions, which will give the sofa a whole new comfy feel as well as a whole new look.

If you do decide to buy a new sofa as part of your living room redesign, the best way to get rid of the old sofa is to donate it to charity, unless you're really hard up for the money. You probably won't get much for it if you try to sell it, and there is the hassle of showing it to picky customers, and arranging for them to pick it up. If you donate it, you can find a charity to pick it up, and the organization will write you a receipt so you can write off the estimated value on next year's tax return.

Reprinted with permission from the Sheffield School of Interior Design.

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