Some sofas are worth reupholstering, and some are not.

How to Know If a Sofa Is Worth Reupholstering

by Linda Erlam

With children and pets, food and toys, and just general wear and tear, your once-wonderful sofa at some point starts to look tired and in need of a new cover. Suitability for reupholstery is more than just the condition of the frame and its construction: It has to do with how you and your family live, and what you want from your furniture -- now and in the future -- that helps you determine if the sofa is worth reupholstering.


Ask yourself if you like the style and shape of the sofa. Some changes to shape can be made during reupholstering. For example, arms can be over-padded; attached cushions can be remade into loose cushions; a single seat cushion can be split into two; or two cushions can be replaced by one. A skirt can be removed or added, and legs can be replaced. These are cosmetic changes and add to the price of the remake, but they may make the sofa fit your new room style better. Some changes require major reconstructive surgery and may not be cost effective for you -- such as changing the shape of the arms, reducing the length of the sofa, or changing the shape of the back. Start with the basic shape of the sofa; if you don’t think you want to look at it for the next 15-plus years, perhaps the sofa is not worth reupholstering


The size of the sofa should be one that suits your families needs and fits into the room for which it is intended. If the sofa is 2 inches too long to fit against the wall without sticking out into the doorway, it is not functional for you. Think about where the sofa must reside, and decide if the size is correct for the space. No matter how beautiful the covering, if the sofa blocks traffic or is too small to sit on comfortably, it is not worth reupholstering.


Grab one arm of the sofa and shake it -- really shake it. A good reupholstering candidate does not squeak, and the arm will not feel loose from the body. The overall weight of the sofa should feel substantial; if it takes two of you to move it, it probably is of a high enough quality to last through another covering. Remove the cushions and sit on the deck. If you sink so far you can almost feel the floor, the springs may have to be retied or replaced, which can add significantly to the cost of the reupholstering.


Decide what your budget can handle. Typical upholstery fabric of medium quality costs about $60 per yard. A three-seater sofa can use 12 to 14 yards of fabric. A rule of thumb is to plan on twice the fabric cost for upholstering, which may not include new springs, padding or new cushion foam, bringing the cost of the remake to more than $2,500. The upside to this is that a well-built sofa reupholstered in a good-quality fabric should last you 15 years. The downside is that the sofa may last 15 years; consider if you want to have the same sofa for 15 years. If the answer is no, then the sofa is not worth reupholstering.

Slipcover or Do-it-yourself

If the sofa is a classic shape and in good condition, perhaps a slipcover is a solution for you. Currently, the slipcover industry produces covers that fit like upholstery but are removable for cleaning. Custom made to each sofa, the price of a good slipcover typically is about half the cost of reupholstering. If you have some DIY skills, consider reupholstering the sofa yourself. Online and DVD courses are available for the beginner upholsterer; the cost of doing the job yourself is the price of the fabric and supplies only.

About the Author

Linda Erlam started writing educational manuals in 1979. She also writes a biweekly newspaper column, "Design Dilemmas," in the "Lakeshore News" and has been published in "Design and Drapery Pro" magazine. Erlam is a graduate of the Sheffield School of Interior Design and is a practicing interior decorator and drapery workroom operator.

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