How to Decide: Reupholstering Old vs. Buying New Couch?
July 29, 2016 12:09 PM   Subscribe

I am in the market for a new couch, and I am having a very hard time deciding whether to reupholster my existing couch or to just buy new. Do you have any experience making a similar decision? How did you decide, what did you decide, and are you happy with what you picked?

Our total budget is probably $1000. From looking online and in IKEA, it looks like we could get a decently comfortable and aesthetically pleasing new sofa for that price, including sectionals, which are very appealing to me. However, I'm still really in love with the mid-century modern lines of my existing couch, which is an eight foot 1960s Lane sofa. It's huge and I think it will cost a lot to reupholster it, plus I'm not even sure that reupholstering will make it that much more comfortable--it's very low, and kind of lumpy. We live in the boonies so getting someone to come take a look at it and provide an estimate to help with the decision is unlikely; I'm just assuming reupholstering will cost at least 1K. Any personal experiences, anecdotes, or recommended resources are much appreciated!
posted by stellaluna to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Totally reupholster. 10x better bones on that Lane than anything you'll get for that price now. The stuffing can (and probably should) be part of the reupholster too, which will help with the lumps. Modern foam is a lot better.

Or look for vintage furniture, but upholstered vintage often needs a reupholster anyway.
posted by supercres at 12:17 PM on July 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm a fan of reupholstering, but if prices in my area (Pittsburgh, PA) are at all representative, then you won't be able to do it for $1k.
posted by jon1270 at 12:21 PM on July 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I reupholstered my sofa and was glad I did. It was well made frame-wise but the fabric was really tired and the cushions squashed. Plus I liked the shape and size in the room. It was $2400 to recover with the fabric, labor, retightening the hand-tied springs, and new cushions. A lot of that was the fabric I picked. But to buy the same sofa again new would have been $4200. It was worth it to me and kept it from a landfill.
posted by cecic at 12:23 PM on July 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

On the other hand, a $1k IKEA sofa will be in a landfill in a lot fewer than 50 years...
posted by jon1270 at 12:23 PM on July 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Save those pennies and reupholster when you can afford it. You'll get a better product in the end.

Your current budget for a couch is going to get you a kind of shitty couch compared to what you're rolling now, and you're not going to be able to reupholster it easily. IKEA couches are effectively disposable and constantly, slowly decaying without a path towards long lasting repair.
posted by furnace.heart at 12:26 PM on July 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also, every reupholster I've talked to will give rough estimates of you provide a ton of pictures. No need to get it to them, or get them to you.
posted by furnace.heart at 12:30 PM on July 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

I couldn't decide until after I looked at fabrics and found a couple I liked. I was shocked at how expensive they were and how it added up. You need more yardage if you want a pattern with a big repeat -- that is, if there are large elements in the print that need to be matched, or need to be centered on each cushion.

That said, I have a big couch that's well made and beautiful, and I'm going to do everything I can to make the reupholstering happen, even if I have to wait.
posted by wryly at 1:25 PM on July 29, 2016

When we reupholstered our inherited 1950s couch for a thousand dollars (combination of fabric and labor), our upholsterer said that you can't buy good solid wood frames like it has anywhere now. We are happy with having decided to reupholster.

Unfortunately we believed the people that said that microfiber is ideal because it's sturdy and pets don't scratch it. Our cats have never intentionally scratched it, but it seems like every time a cat launches herself from it, it gets another tiny hole. We are going to have to get it recovered again in just a few years. Still the right decision to reupholster, though.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 2:06 PM on July 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Wait wait wait -- it's not even particularly comfortable?

I would not throw money at a less-than-comfy sofa no matter how nice its construction.

I have a ratty old sofa I put under a slipcover; turns out it's not hard to find all-cotton ones that look quite nice and fitted. I plan to keep buying more slipcovers and maybe eventually getting new cushions but otherwise the sofa will stay with me until I die, because it is the most comfortable sofa ever made. If I am sick I sleep on it for the extra comfort of this sofa. I am also now a big slipcover fan because I can spill stuff and hey presto, it comes right off for washing. I am never ever going back to looks over comfort or permanently attached vs slipcovered.

If you decide you do want to stick with the old one, I'd keep saving and have it de-lumpified and otherwise see what could be done to make it more comfortable. I suspect you might feel a bit annoyed at dropping a lot on reupholstering only to keep relaxing on lumps.

(The higher-end IKEA sofas are really not as deserving of all the snark they're getting here. The cheapies are cheap, yes, but the better ones are really rather nice.)
posted by kmennie at 2:39 PM on July 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you love your sofa, re-upholster it. If you don't really like it and would like to upgrade, but just haven't found something you like better yet, then do nothing now. Keep looking at sofas (when you make it in from the boonies to sit on them) and maybe email an upholsterer with photos to get a rough quote (which will likely be shockingly large). Also talk with them about to what extent the re-do will improve the lumpiness and make it a more comfortable sofa. I mean, if it's too low and hard to stand up off of, and has arms that will never be cozy without a bolster, let it go - but if it used to be a fantastic comfy sofa and has now gone lumpy or thin enough to feel the support bars, that can be fixed.

Personally, I'd do the sectional, if you've found one you like well enough, over an only semi-comfortable sofa that would cost a ton to update. In any case, getting a quote from the upholstery place may set a new upper end for how much is comparable new, if not how much you can afford. I wish sofas weren't so freaking expensive.
posted by aimedwander at 3:00 PM on July 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Upholstery work is ass-expensive, at least here in my metro area, plus appropriate upholstery fabric is also quite expensive. If you go that route, don't skimp on the quality of the fabric or the work, though. That's the biggest mistake - to spend the money on the labor and then be unhappy because you used cheap wrong fabric.
posted by vunder at 3:11 PM on July 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'd be very surprised if you can get quality reupholstering for under $2000.
posted by littlewater at 4:21 PM on July 29, 2016

Best answer: I think you should at least get a quote on the upholstery. Upholsterers are quite familiar with people not wanting to bring their giant sofa in for an estimate, so most of them will give you a quote if you have a bunch of photos and the measurements. You could probably do this by email. Take some photos of the sofa with the cushions off too, and the back.

If you get the cushions and possibly the webbing redone as part of the upholstery process, this will add to the cost but the couch will no longer be lumpy, although it will still be low.

Choosing a solid fabric will keep the cost down (it takes more yardage and more effort/skill to match patterns) as will avoiding things like skirts, fancy piping, etc. The nice thing about the clean lines of MCM furniture is that often the cushions were fairly simple in construction.

When I had my two midcentury chairs reupholstered I bought the fabric at a significant discount from Modern Fabrics, which sells factory offcuts and remnants. Their selection will be somewhat limited given the amount of yardage you're likely to need, but they have lots of very high quality fabrics that go really well with midcentury furniture like Knoll and Maharam. Plus they're having a sale right now.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 7:29 PM on July 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was in a similar place a year ago, except that I had a shitty $200 couch instead of a vintage couch. We upped our budget to $1200 and bought a Jonathan Louis sectional (smallest configuration, just a corner square + middle square + chaise lounge) which was then custom-made in their Los Angeles factory. I LOVE my couch, it's amazingly comfortable and the design--I specifically chose a tightback style with high arms--means that you can sit or lie on it in all sorts of configurations. (I highly recommend a tightback if you don't want to deal with back cushions getting squashed down. High arms equal to the back in height are more difficult to find but awesome if you like to sit sideways like I do.)

Btw, we went with high-quality microfiber and I am SO glad because our cat throws up a lot of hairballs and it cleans up really easily. Haven't noticed any pinholes yet.

My original choice was going to be an $800 Ikea sectional. Our friends have that couch and it's very sturdy and doesn't look cheap, but it's definitely on the ultra-firm side of couches. I feel like we got a definite quality upgrade from the extra $400, and the "next level up" in quality is $2000 which we weren't prepared to spend.
posted by serelliya at 9:38 PM on July 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Good advice--and thanks for the reality check about the actual price of good quality reupholstery. I think my new plan is to wait and save, and get an actual quote to reevaluate what would be our best option. Thanks all!
posted by stellaluna at 3:22 PM on August 1, 2016

« Older Wanted: Seasoning hacks, vegetable edition   |   How can I make my dating profile more reflective... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.