Hacking (or just hacking up) my couch, vs. just replacing it already
February 19, 2012 10:50 PM   Subscribe

Can I hack my (Ikea Varnamo) couch? SHOULD I?

I am becoming increasingly unhappy with my couch -- an Ikea Varnamo (which is a discontinued model) purchased about seven years ago. Picture here for folks unfamiliar with this particular sofa.

It's in fine structural condition, and I don't care about the rips and scratches in the upholstery as it's wearing a microfiber slipcover 24-7 these days, but the curved arm-rests are really beginning to bug me as they make the whole thing take up way more room than anything reasonably should along the wall I have it up against (which is really the only logical place for a couch in my house).

Moreover, the thing has terrible back support. It always has, and honestly the only reason I got it in the first place was because it was cheap and (at the time) I was too poor to afford anything else (we got it on super-discount as they were discontinuing the color). I am just not a fan of the "large floppy pillow backrest" configuration. Both my partner and I would really like a firmer backrest, and I would also really like a seat length that allows my knees to bend in the right place. Right now they dangle uncomfortably unless I curl them up to the side and put them ON the couch, which has its own issues (mainly of the "ow, my foot's asleep" variety).

....but all that aside, while I've been testing out some new couches lately, it occurred to me today that I might be able to use the basic structure of this couch and do essentially a strip-and-reshape / reupholster. I have never reupholstered anything before, unless you count going at my dining chairs with a bolt of tweed and a staple gun, but I have a fair bit of experience building simple wooden things like shelving units ("from scratch") and plenty of carpentry-related tools.

What I'd like to do if I go the modification route is remove the existing fabric cover, "square off" the armrests so that they're rectangular and not round, and build up the backrest into a single, much firmer unit to replace the three squishy cushions that are making my back muscles writhe in pain as I sit here typing this. Obviously I wouldn't be doing this to save money (though I'd prefer to keep things under $500ish if possible) -- it would be more of a creative endeavor coupled with a desire to perhaps save a good bunch of basic materials from the landfill.

...but all that said, my question to the denizens of mefi is: can you please share your recommendations / links / other online resources regarding projects such as the one I am considering? I am especially fond of personal blog posts with LOTS of step by step photos and before-and-afters, bonus if it shows a couch starting out looking like my existing Varnamo and ending up a fair bit more modern/streamlined (my house is a 1954 MCM ranch and smallish at just over 1000 sq. ft., which has me thinking in space-efficient geometric terms).

I haven't found much in my search so far, aside from a lot of instances where people just changed out the fabric and padding. I am hoping this is just due to inferior search skills and not because Extreme Couch Modding is in fact a ridiculous impossible thing no reasonable person actually does, but I am prepared for the truth, no matter what it may be.

Alternately, if anyone has recommendations for couches in the $300 - $800 range that offer good back support, reasonable seat length for both a 5'3" person (me) and a 5'10" person (my partner), and fabric options that could survive a household that includes 4 rowdy but generally well-behaved cats (as in, they run and leap all over the furniture but mostly prefer to scratch their scratching posts as opposed to my couch), please feel free to offer those as well. Basically I want something durable, more firm than squishy, and more modern / industrial than traditional or floofy in design.

Thanks in advance!
posted by aecorwin to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My Mom has done far more radical things than that to furniture in cooperation with various craftspeople (she is not a carpenter). Like taken a couch and made them into chairs or taken chairs and completely remade them to the point that you would never, ever know there were made from the same materials. So it's certainly possible.
posted by fshgrl at 10:54 PM on February 19, 2012

Best answer: I REALLY support your initiative!

All of your ideas are sound. You would need to get proper density foam professionally cut for the backrest problem.

The issue with ALL of this is that the cost of the foam (effing pricey!) and the cost of the new fabric might be as much as a new couch, with heaps more effort.

Check on Craigslist and Recycle.com. I live in LA, where fancy people are constantly trying to unload their nice near-new furniture because they are re-locating back to NYC or overseas. If you do not live in a city like this, foam may be cheaper, fabric also, and you could maybe bring this prject in for under $200.

To shave existing foam, an electric meat knife, the type you carve turkey with, is your friend. Spray adhesive to get the new foam to stick (about $8 a can.)

Good luck!
posted by jbenben at 11:00 PM on February 19, 2012

Best answer: Apartment Therapy - How To: Totally Rebuild A Love Seat

"Step Three: Re-frame the couch. I didn't like the shape of the original couch so I cut the arm rests straight to square them. (I used a hand saw, but having access or space to be able to use a power saw would have saved a lot of time.)..."
posted by flex at 12:27 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

For your upholstery fabric needs, fabricguru.com has amazing fabrics very cheap for what they are.
posted by newpotato at 4:51 AM on February 20, 2012

thefoamfactory.net is a good source for foam
posted by ennui.bz at 5:03 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

To answer your second question, I got a Bauhaus sofa that sounds like it meets all of your requirements: clean lines, firm back, not too expensive, good depth for short people, etc. It has survived almost 7 years with 2 small children, 2 dogs, & multiple cats. It's starting to get a bit work, but I'm not surprised. I *think* I got it at Macy's & I'm sure I paid less than $700 back then.

It looks like the white one here, though mine is tan microfiber: http://www.bauhaususa.com/pics/image8.jpg
posted by belladonna at 7:32 AM on February 20, 2012

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