I think I need an upholsterer…

Do you have a three-piece suite in need of sprucing up, a sofa in a sorry state or an antique armchair at odds with a newly decorated room? Before ridding your home of its frayed furnishings, consider giving them a new lease of life with the help of an upholsterer.

Upholsterers specialise in fitting furniture, typically seats, with springs, filling, cushions and covering fabric.

Although reupholstering often works out more expensive that buying ready-made furniture, the cost involved is usually offset by the sentimental gratification of restoring your favourite sofa or chair to its former glory.

The price of renovating a piece of furniture varies a great deal from job to job and depends on the condition of the piece and the quality of the materials used. New coverings might be enough to give dining chairs a facelift, but a saggy settee, whose stuffing has sprung a leak, will require a more complex operation.

No matter how big or small your job is, it is in your interest to be familiar with the different stages of the renovation process and the various products on offer.

How do I choose one?

The services offered by an upholsterer centre on making new upholstered furniture and repairing old ones. Some make soft furnishings, such as curtains and blinds, while others specialise in antique restoration and French polishing. However, all upholsterers renovate and recover domestic furniture and many will also make original pieces according to your specifications.

Where to start looking

Most upholsterers advertise in the Yellow Pages, but word of mouth can be the best advertisement of all, so a recommendation from someone you know is a great place to start.

Otherwise, a list of upholsterers in your area can be found on the Association of Master Upholsterers and Soft Furnishers’ website.

Regardless of how you choose an upholsterer, it is a good idea to visit their showrooms or workshop to see if you are keen on their work.

A few things worth considering

Dealing with a local business is convenient in terms of visiting showrooms and viewing sample materials. However, many upholsterers offer a free collection and delivery service, so don’t worry about lugging your furniture half way across the country to be mended.

When choosing where to take your business, it is always worthwhile to take costs into account. The most expensive elements of the job are fabric and labour. The fabric prices should remain constant across the industry, but labour costs may vary.

Any good upholsterer will offer a free quotation, so doing your homework and comparing prices can pay off.

Finally, the busiest times of year for upholsterers are before and after Christmas, followed by springtime. If you want to be guaranteed that a piece will be completed for Christmas, it is advisable to beat the rush and visit the upholsterer as early as September. Summer is the quietest period of the year.

What happens next?

Once you’ve selected an upholsterer to work on your furniture, the next step is to bring the two together. Larger companies will often offer free home consultations, bringing sample materials with them.

However, the advent of the digital camera has prompted a new method of consultation. In recent years, it has become increasingly common for customers to take a photograph of the piece in question and e-mail it to the upholsterer along with the dimensions of the piece. This practice is especially popular with smaller companies.

Whether the upholsterer visits your home or sees a photo, it is at this point that materials are discussed. In order to make an informed decision about what type of spring, filling or fabric you want, it’s a good idea to be as clued-up on the subject as possible.

Know your furniture inside out

1.Supporting every good piece of furniture is a frame - if the frame is beyond repair, then the chair or sofa is also beyond repair. A quality frame is made from a hardwood, such as oak, alder or beech, is solid and sturdy, and does not wobble in the slightest.

2.The springs in a piece of furniture provide support and affect the firmness of the seat. In a firm seat the springs are tied tightly in place, whereas the springs in a more yielding seat are free to move about.

3.Likewise, your choice of filling will have a bearing on the firmness. An armchair stuffed with a hair-blend or fibre filling will be solid and sturdy, while a chair filled with down will be soft and plump.

There are also a number of modern foam materials available which provide varying degrees of firmness.

4.Choosing a fabric gives you the perfect opportunity to flex your creative muscles and create a truly unique piece. Your upholsterer will have hundreds of sample fabrics for you to pore over, all varying in style and price. The fabric usually accounts for 50% of the total cost and ranges in price from £20/m to £200/m.

It is possible for you to provide your own fabric, but expect to pay a premium rate for doing so. Also, the upholsterer cannot be held accountable for any problems that may arise regarding colour or durability.

Cost

When your upholsterer has determined the precise nature of the work needed and you have decided on the materials you would like to use, your upholsterer will draw up a written estimation.

Provided you agree with this price, you will be expected to pay a deposit, which is 30-50% of the total price. Upon payment of the deposit, your furniture will be collected and taken to the upholsterer’s workshop for revamping.

It can take from 2 to 8 weeks to complete the job, depending on how busy the upholsterer is and the amount of work required. You will be charged per job, not per hour or per day.

Once the work is completed, your furniture will be delivered and the outstanding amount, paid.

As mentioned above, prices vary dramatically between jobs. The price of recovering an armchair (replacing only the fabric) ranges from £400 to £1200, depending on the fabric.

A more labour-intensive job, such as a three piece suite reupholster (replacing the fabric, filling and springs) will set you back from £1,200 to £4,000, once again, depending on style, fabric and filling.

These prices may seem unattractive when compared to manufactured furniture, but the high standards of workmanship involved and the original nature of the finished piece must be taken into account.

Questions to ask you upholsterer

  • How much will you charge me?
  • Can I e-mail you a photo of my furniture for an estimation?
  • Does this include collection/ delivery?
  • When will the job be completed?
  • Is the work guaranteed?

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