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Everything you need to know about reupholstering vintage pieces

I’m addicted to it.  I see a great shape for cheap and all i can picture is its potential and how good i’ll feel styling it in a home.  I don’t know the last time that i bought a new piece of upholstered furniture. My thought is why when you can have a more unique piece, faster and often cheaper if not the same price.

Right now i’m gearing up for my ONE KINGS LANE sale in SEPTEMBER where i’m reupholstering 19 amazing vintage items and counting…  There will be a ton of teasers because i need to sell this stuff so i want everyone prepped and ready for the three day flash sale.

There are two things that i don’t do myself – upholster furniture and wallpaper walls.  You need experts to do this or else you could potentially waste the material, as well as your money and time. I know that upholstering can be daunting, even terrifying. There is a lot of effort and money at stake.

So here is EVERYTHING you need to know to help you through the process.   I have a ton of tips, nay secrets, to make sure that you get a timeless piece that won’t cost you a fortune, will make your house WAY more interesting and will last for years and years.


1. HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT PIECE.  Here’s the best rule of thumb, you have to love the shape and style then don’t worry about the finish. You can almost always change the finish of things but you can rarely change the shape. So if you find something that has a great shape and good bones, then that is what you invest it.  But its more complicated then just that.

Second rule is either go for something super cheap that is a no-brainer, or splurge on something that is a standout piece that will make a room.

For instance this weekend i found this chair for $45:

It’s hideous. But in a charcoal gray linen its going to be gorgeous. I picked this piece because a. i like the 70’s style, b. it was $45 and c. you only need 4 yards to recover it.  It’s a very sellable chair because the style is very ‘in’ and the comfort level is extreme, yet i don’t have to invest in it too much to get what i want.

If it were $500 originally i wouldn’t have chosen it because its not a make or break chair, its just really good.

BUT, then there are times when the shape and style of a piece is soooo good that you have to splurge on it.  It will command a whole room, it will scream ‘i’m interesting’ and it will be 100% worth it.

Like this sofa i just bought at the rose bowl:


This is my instagram pic where i saturated the color, but its actually a pretty bad faded pink and needs new upholstery. The piece was originally $750 but after four hours of not selling at the flea market i offered $500 cash and got it.

But thats a decent amount of dough to start, right? Way more than i would spend on just any sofa.  But it will be worth it because its a show-stopper and will be eventually worth $2500 at least.  Stay tuned for after pictures in about a month.

So, love the shape and style and go for either really cheap (or a piece you already have) and easy or really interesting and a splurge.  Reupholstering a $300 standard mid-century chair in a simple fabric just isn’t worth it (unless you already have the chair).


HOW TO FIND THE RIGHT UPHOLSTERER.  A recomendation from a designer is best, but designers guard these secrets as if it were an apocalypse and their upholsterer had the last ten cans of beans.

Annoying, i know.

But here’s why:  Once a good name/price gets out they get busy and then you don’t get things that you want fast enough and the prices go up. It takes time and effort to find the right guy, and once you find them your life gets really easy, unless they get super busy. Don’t get me wrong, i tell my friends who want one piece, but if i were to announce it on the blog then myself, as well as all the other designers that go to them, would suffer.   We get the best prices because we give them a massive amount of business so don’t expect the prices that I quote. Bummer, i know.

I told my upholsterer that he he promises to hire help and expand i’ll give his name away, but until he does i just can’t because i need him in my life.

So what do you do? Walk in and ask for pictures, prices and how many years of experience.  In LA the best cheapest guys are in the smallest darkest stores, and the more you go out of the way (to cheaper commercial spaces in the valley for instance) the cheaper it gets.  Right now i found a new guy that is around 45 minutes a way and its worth it because his prices are soooo good and his quality is high, plus he picks up and delivers for the cost of gas.

That being said, i’ve made mistakes before and definitely gotten what i’ve paid for – cheap work for a cheap price, so mistakes can be made.


The best tip i can say is that the little hole-in-the-wall upholsterers are usually doing all the designers fancy pieces and have the most experience. Its the fancier places (like the design centers) that are frankly much more pleasant to be in that charge a lot more. Don’t be scared of the hole in the wall, you’d be shocked at who hires them.  But if you have the money go to the nicer places, too, we don’t want them going out of business (although sometimes i’m convinced that they actually are just farming out to the hole in the wall places anyway….regardless everyone’s gotta make a buck so i get it)

Speaking of a buck…..



Here’s a rough guide to how much things should cost, the lower number is what you can get at a VERY cheap place where you are taking risks (or its around what designers pay when we upholster in bulk). The higher number is what an established, high quality place would be:

Simple dining chair – $80-$200, 1 1/2 – 2 yards each.  (dining chair seats are really the only things you can do yourself, especially when you have six of them the cost adds up).

A simple mid-century chair, $150-$500 – 4-5 yards

A wingback, $300-$500, 6 – 7 yards:

a loveseat – $600-$1000, 10 yards.

a Sofa – $700-$1800 , 12 – 18 yards.  I know, that is a massive gap. I usually budget around $1000 for a large sofa, but my guys do it for around $700.

That being said if you work with a designer EXPECT it to be upcharged, that’s how we/they make our VERY hard earned money and cover costs of delivery/labor, etc.   I know that must be frustrating to not have a better guide, but it really does vary on location, experience, type of establishment, experience and amount of business you do with them.  If you bring in three pieces you are likely to get a way better deal than just one.


WHATS THE BEST FABRIC?  My go-to’s are linen, linen-blend and cotton velvet, or cotton blend.

This is linen:


This is cotton velvet:

cotton-velvet-vintage cotton-velvet-wingback

I know i need to branch out, but i just love these two types of fabrics a lot.  They are soft and sophisticated and always in style.  Within those fabrics make sure that you get them thick enough, they must be upholstery weight.  If you want something that has more stain resistance and durabiltiy get a linen or cotton blend has a lot of polyester in it.  If you want it to be completely stain resistant you can opt for micro-suede or ultra-suede but they look cheaper and leave butt marks. They are EXTREMELY durable. I just don’t like the look.

Cotton Velvets range from $12 – $30 and i usually stay in the $25 – $18 range unless i need to find the perfect color that is more expensive.  Linens range from $10 – $1 million, but i usually stay in the $10-$30 range.  There are a ton of beautiful belgium linens out there that are $50 a yard that look very similar to the ones that are $15 a yard and the difference is when they were dyed. The belgium linen yarn was dyed before it was woven and the cheaper linens were dyed after they were woven into fabric, therefore the color of the belgium is often more beautiful (and textural) and probably stays true longer. But its a huge price difference if you are talking a whole sofa.  Plus belgiium linen is exported from Europe whereas most other linen comes from the middle-east which is way cheaper.

Most darker colors will fade in time if they are made from natural fibers (like linen or cotton), its pretty hard to avoid unless you get that kind of fabric. You can treat it afterwards or treat your windows to block the uv rays, but its hard to guarantee that a dark navy fabric won’t fade. Again, the more poly or rayon the better for that.  A lot of stores (like Room and Board, Crate and Barrel) have fade resistant fabrics but they can’t guarantee it either.

MAN THIS IS A LOT OF INFORMATION I HOPE THAT YOU AREN’T ASLEEP AT YOUR DESK.  Please tell me you are still reading this….



Easier said than done, but here are my tips for making the pieces even more unique, or not making style mistakes:

1. Use larger scale patterns only on larger pieces of furniture.  Smaller scale can be on any size, but a large scale looks weird on a small chair.

It just looks crammed on there, right? i’ve seen it work, but as a general rule, be careful.

2. When in doubt, keep it classic on larger pieces of furniture.  It’s a splurge so maybe don’t do an ikat pattern on main living room sofa unless you have a lot of money to reupholster in a few years.  Pillows are a lot easier to customize a space and play with trends than a huge pattern on your biggest pieces. I feel so boring saying that but you could easily regret it.  I love polka dots right now, but i’m not going to do a sofa in it, maybe a side chair or a bench for the guest room, but be wary of pattern trends dating your furniture.

3. The style of the piece should work well with the style of the pattern.  There are obviously exceptions and there are times when i really like mixing up the styles, BUT this can go super trendy and make the piece dated really fast.  So if you don’t like taking risks, then keep the styles similar.  For instance don’t put a retro pattern on a more classic wing-back.

It looks forced and will get dated really fast.  Update a classic pattern with a fresh color palette, but don’t put a batik on a french settee unless you want to reupholster it when you are sick of it.  Just a suggestion, i know it can work at times, but its a good rule of thumb.  I experiment a lot with colors, less with patterns on large pieces of furniture.

4. Add piping, tufting and nailheads.  This will cost more, but it is such an easy way to customize and upgrade a simple chair and in general it doesn’t cost too much more.

This is diamond tufting:


This is regular button tufting:

In general diamond tufting looks better on more classic/traditional/english/french kinda furniture and button tufting on mid-century or modern furniture.

Piping and welting.  I still don’t know what the difference is, but ‘self-welting’ means that instead of just a seam, its that piping look (above) in the same fabric.  ‘Alternate piping (or welting)’ means using a different color for the piping. like so:

You can do high contrast (like black and white) or just a slight contrast like the sofa above where i did a navy piping/tufting on the medium blue sofa.  It makes it look more tailored but also busier.  When i feel like the lines are getting lost i definitely add welting and when i want to make it more formal i enhance the lines with a different color of piping.

Other things of note:

foam/batting/feathers, etc.

The sofa above is a two-twin sofa bed which are normally VERY hard and uncomfortable, but this was for a family room so comfort was key. So i had my guy use a ton of down feathers instead of foam and that’s why its kinda poufy… its crazy comfortable but i did have to sacrifice the look of the sofa for it. I don’t regret it, because once you sit on it you are VERY happy, but the lines got compromised.

Most upholsterers will add all new batting and foam, but if this is the first time that you are getting something upholstered make sure you specify that – they have been known to cheat and you can’t really tell unless you are sensitive to it.  New foam will be less comfortable that’s why most big box stores do ‘foam wrapped in feathers’ so it has the structure of foam but the comfort of feathers.  Don’t do that on like a tight back setee, and seriously listen to the upholsterers recomendation as what you choose can change the look, but at the same time really hard foam is a bummer.

Lastly lead time can be anywhere from a week to a month.  If you need it fast, just ask, because if you don’t then they’ll obviously not rush it.

Meanwhile check out all the beauties i’m getting reupholstered right now:

vintage chair piping

Sofa (sofa bed actually, all new mattress being made too) and two chairs. Still deciding on fabric. I got the threesome for $35 (but i had to deliver from the valley for $60). i’m thinking light grey with charcoal piping, but i’m open to suggestions.

Two of these guys, $4 each.

Make sure to follow me on twitter and instagram to watch all my finds and in-process upholstery shots.  I have 15 more items being restored, refinished and reupholstered for my sale.  And they are all pieces that i totally love and want to hoard.

Any other questions?  Did i cover all the basics of upholstering?  If you like this post retweet it please, ’cause if i’m going to relenquish the secrets then i may as well have them actually read, right?



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