Upholstery 101

Don’t let uncertainty force you to lose furniture that you can save

FORT WAYNE NEWSPAPERS Wing chairs are the pieces most often reupholstered at The Recovery Room.
FORT WAYNE NEWSPAPERS In the workshop at The Recovery Room, experienced craftspeople reassemble old furniture and give the pieces new life with new upholstery, padding, fittings and accessories.
FORT WAYNE NEWSPAPERS Newcomers to reupholstering furniture can feel overwhelmed by all the options of fabric, finishes and detailing that are possible.
FORT WAYNE NEWSPAPERS No matter how battered a vintage piece might be, it may be financially sensible to renew it rather than buy a new piece of equal quality.
FORT WAYNE NEWSPAPERS Glamorous old dining chairs become trendy pieces with the right new upholstery.

Chances are, there’s at least one piece of furniture in every home that could be refreshed and revived with updated upholstery.

Many possible situations make a piece of furniture a candidate for new upholstery:

• Newly inherited family heirloom

• Vintage finds in rough shape

• Simply out of date

• Beloved pieces ruined by kids or pets.

Always consider a makeover before chucking the item.

While upholstery can be intimidating, perhaps due to cost or fear of commitment to a new look, the process can be demystified with some basic information. Arm yourself with expert tips and tricks and learn the lingo before making any big changes, either on your own or with the help of professionals.

Measured science
Larry Brooks, founder and owner of The Recovery Room, started his business in his garage at the age of 20 in 1990. He says when it comes to upholstery, many customers can be overwhelmed by the choices and often don’t understand how it all works.

“To them, it is a big mystery how we can take things apart and put it all back together,” he said. “They view it as some mystic, dark art when the reality is that it is in every sense a measured science and trade.”

When trying to determine whether a piece is worth saving, Brooks says not to focus on the manufacturer, per se and adds, “the plain truth is that if the piece is 20, 30 or more years old and still solid, it’s worth re-doing. It can last It’s important to fully consider the piece in question, its sentimental value and if it fits into your current decor or lifestyle.

You also need to know that a range of different projects can all be called reupholstering. There’s quite a difference, for example, between reupholstering and rebuilding, which can take pieces down to the very frame, sometimes replacing everything from springs to the padding and all the finishes, driving the cost of the work higher. Be sure to ask about what your furniture piece might need and what it might not need as you are considering renewing it.

When considering the cost of re-upholstering, Brooks says he bases his pricing on what it costs to do business and what each individual piece needs. While there are many variations in furniture and the choices available to clients, Brooks firmly believes it is always less expensive to re-upholster than the cost of buying new, quality pieces. The Recovery Room prides itself on providing great skill plus reliable customer service.

“We use firm standards for pricing,” he said. “We never size up any customer and try to charge them what we think they will pay. We get it done right, in the time frame we promise and we do it all with honesty and integrity.”

The most common pieces The Recovery Room works on are wingback chairs, dining and kitchen chairs and cushions, but the company also works on cars, watercraft and outdoor furniture.

THE DIY option
For interested DIY types, Brooks says the class he teaches at the Community Center is a good idea, but he advises “before doing any damage, take lots of pictures. Label what and where each and every part goes. And don’t forget to pray, because it just might take a miracle!”

If tackling upholstery as a beginner, enlist a friend for the process, since four hands are better than two. It’s wise to be flexible and patient, since the process can be tricky, with challenges popping up along the way. It’s a skill that can take years to perfect, especially for a hobbyist.

Brooks’ 10 class series at the Community Center is tremendously popular.

Before embarking on your first major upholstery project, you’ll need the basic tools of the trade. Upholstery hammers, shears and mallets are all made specifically for the very detailed and precise work needed when giving new life to upholstered pieces. Experts advise using the correct tools because of their special features, such as magnetized tips, covered heads and specially sharpened blades.

JoAnn Fabrics offers an online how-to for a basic ottoman recovery project which details the necessary tools, available for ordering from The Recovery Room, as well as a picture by picture guide of the process (search Upholstery 101 on their website).

While JoAnn Fabrics does not currently offer an upholstery class on their schedule, the craft and hobby retailer has a Create-A-Class option for individuals and groups alike. Contact the store to inquire about setting up your custom class.

Choosing a fabric and the finishing touches should be considered carefully.

Decorative finishes such as diamond tufts, coordinated and covered button tufts as well as currently very trendy studs or nail head trims can add more to the final costs but can make all the difference when giving new life to treasured pieces, especially when preserving the original style of the furniture.

Though much thought is given to the color, pattern or print of fabrics, it’s vital to choose fabric weighty enough for upholstery. While there might be a short-term savings, lesser fabrics simply won’t stand up to the daily wear, and the piece will likely need to be recovered sooner, resulting in more expense in the long term. Knowledgeable and trusted professionals, either at an upholstery company or a fabric store, will help guide you through all the options and decisions.


Whether you’re working with a professional or embarking on a DIY project, it helps to know some basic terms:

Webbing: Straps attached to the frame of the piece, which provide support. Occasionally, a sagging piece only needs its webbing replaced to restore firmness.
Springs: Coils which add support and bounce to a piece. Over time, springs may lose their bounce or become detached from the frame. Occasionally, springs can simply be reattached or replaced, rather than reworking the entire piece.
Decking: This finishing technique provides polish, though hidden from view, under cushions. Decking is often done with neutral cotton fabric rather than matching fabric, which saves money.
Welt Cord: Also called piping, welt cord provides a finished edge for upholstered items, including pillows. Welt cord can be done in the same fabric as the rest of the piece or in a contrasting fabric or color for extra style or to help coordinate with the decor of the room where the newly refinished piece will reside.
Knife Edge: Instead of using welt cord, a knife edge on pillows offers a modern look with sleek and sharp edges.
Cambric: Material used to cover the raw edges so the entire piece looks polished from any angle.

The Recovery Room www.recoverit.org
JoAnn Fabrics www.joann.com/classes
Fort Wayne Community Center Classes www.fortwayneparks.org


Find more here...

Latest Articles