Monday, January 14, 2013

Re-use, Replace or Reupholster

When working with clients on interior projects, one of my first tasks is to inventory their existing furnishings and artwork. I am often asked by my clients the benefits of reupholstering versus buying new furniture. Here there are a number of questions I ask to establish the viability of recycling a piece of upholstery.

A well loved family sofa re-invented as a fun focal point

A well loved family sofa re-invented as a fun focal point

Does the piece have sentimental value? Was this your father’s chair that was reserved solely for him when you were a child? Does it evoke visceral memories of pipe smoke, single malts and newspapers?

Is it beautiful? Ignore the thread-bear arms that are held together with duct tape. Does it have sensual lines or unusual massing. Think about it as if it were a person. Would you be interested in knowing it’s story if you met it on the street?

Is it exceptionally comfortable? Does it have the perfect seat depth for your extra-long legs or the ideal angle of repose for napping?

If you cannot answer one of these questions with a resounding “yes”, it may be time to reassess your relationship with this house-mate of yours. And while jettisoning an old couch and finding a fresh new shape might be OK in the world of furnishings, I don’t recommend taking this approach with spouses prior to serious soul-searching and intense counseling!

The truth of the matter is that, depending on the condition of your frame and internal support system, it may be cost effective to buy a new piece altogether. Some things to look for in an older piece might include:

A well made antique wing chair midway through restoration

A well made antique wing chair midway through restoration

  • Solid hardwood frame construction with mortised and pegged connections
  • Hand-carved details (And not those that are “hand-carved” by women and children on a production linein an emerging country)
  • Horse-hair stuffing and edge-roll
  • Down filled cushions
  • Hand-tied springs

One of my closest friends, Isaiah McCauliffe, is an exceptional upholsterer. And I am often intrigued by seeing his patients lined up in the waiting room, ready to go under the knife of this skilled cosmetic surgeon. Each has a story. Some are nostalgic, like sofa that was laden with presents every Christmas morning for as long as memory serves. While others are tragic, like the chair with three broken legs that was the collateral damage from a dormitory brawl, or the couch who’s back panel was chewed by a teething puppy.

This chair is NOT too far gone and worth the investment of reupholstery!

This chair is NOT too far gone and worth the investment of reupholstery!

My friend, Isaiah, was quick to remind me not to give up hope when you think a piece is too far gone. Even with internal organs trailing across your living room floor, that beloved ottoman may be salvageable. “It’s what I do!” said Isaiah, referring to the reconstructive surgery of his trade.

If, once you have weighed the pros and cons of the decision of rehabilitating versus replacing a piece of furniture, you still cannot decide, flip a coin. If you’re not happy with the outcome of the coin toss, you had already made up your mind!