Is It Worth It: Reupholstering Furniture
Some of the biggest decisions about homeownership come after you’ve closed the deal. Should you renovate that dated kitchen? Will adding an additional bathroom increase the value of your home? But also: How many place settings do you actually need? Should you ever buy anything at full price? And what’s the deal with renting furniture? Is It Worth It addresses your questions big and small.
These days, it’s easy to browse online, order up a couch, and have it delivered to your door in just a few days. On the other hand, giving a well-loved vintage find a new life by reupholstering it can land you a one-of-a-kind piece of considerable quality. Still, unless you’re an avid DIY-er, it won’t come cheap. That $75 chair you snagged at the Goodwill could end up costing you $750 when all is said and done.
So, is it worth it to reupholster furniture? We talked to people who frequently level up furniture to find out.
Pro: It’s (by far) the more sustainable choice.
“Reupholstering is extremely eco-friendly. There’s so much furniture out there already; we should reuse it,” says Amy McMeeken, owner of Vintage Junkies in Lansing, Michigan. She cites the environmental impact of producing and shipping new furniture as well as potential concerns about factory working conditions as reasons to rehab.
Pro: Older furniture is typically higher quality.
It’s probably not a surprise that a $700 couch made today is not as solid as a sofa made in the 1960s, but this is another significant difference. “[New furniture] is not built to last,” says McMeeken. “It’s a better value investing up front,” she adds.
Molly Burke, owner of Chairloom, which sells textiles and reupholstered vintage pieces, agrees. “If you reupholster something it should last 15 years if not more,” she says.
Pro: You can create the piece of your dreams.
When you choose to reupholster, you aren’t limited to a standard ring of swatches. It’s true that many to-die-for prints and fabrics can be staggeringly pricey, but you really can design a one-of-a-kind piece of furniture.
Con: It can get (very) expensive.
“If you’re trying to pay nothing for furniture then reupholstery is not for you,” Burke says. But if you’re shopping at what Burke refers to as “the Big Five”—West Elm, Pottery Barn, Anthropologie, Crate & Barrel, and Restoration Hardware—the price is comparable.
How much you pay for a piece to be reupholstered will be affected by your choice of fabric and who does the labor, but both Burke and McMeeken estimate the cost of reupholstering a chair to be $500-$700 and $1,500-$2,500 for a couch.
Expect to pay even more if a piece has nailhead trim, curved arms, intricate woodwork, etc.) And the reupholstering business is not immune to inflation and supply chain issues. The price of foam used for stuffing has gone up considerably, and that cost will likely be passed on to you.
Con: You might have to wait.
Fewer people are going into the reupholstering business these days, which means the people who are doing it can get backed up. McMeeken has waited a couple of months for a project to be completed, while Burke says something like a chair could be turned around in two to three weeks.
Con: It can be overwhelming.
If it’s not something you’re used to doing, the reupholstering process can be tough to navigate, especially when it comes to picking the right color, pattern, and texture of fabric for your piece. This is, in fact, why Burke created her company: to serve as the “middle man” with a design eye between the customers and the skilled tradespeople. (Tip: if you’ve got pets or kids, steer clear of velvet, which shows everything, and opt for a more forgiving chenille tweed.)
Con: The furniture is used.
Some people just don’t like the idea of having used furniture, while others may be worried about lingering odors or allergens. Nothing can be done about the feeling of heebie-jeebies, but smells and allergens are not a legitimate concern, says Burke.
The bottom line:
If you’re not operating on a shoestring budget and are shopping at major furniture retailers, reupholstering is a comparably priced option that offers customization and longevity you can’t get from big brands. If you’re strapped for cash and/or need some furniture in a hurry, save your pennies and wait to invest when you have some lead time.
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