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Should I Reupholster My Vintage Chair?

An upholstery expert shares her secrets for discovering if your heirloom furniture is worth saving.

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You’ve inherited your grandmother’s vintage chair, one that has a lot of sentimental value for you—but it’s looking a little tired and the fabric is threadbare. Reupholstering the piece might just bring it back to life… the only question is: how do you know if the piece is worth saving?

 

upholsterTo reupholster or not?

Look at the bottom of the frame to make sure it is made of hardwood. Solid wood frames are made to last, while those constructed with thin plywood or particleboard are not. “Furniture made at least a decade ago or older was handcrafted using superior products,” explains Francesca Dappen, principal at Vancouver’s Modern Done Upholstery. “Pieces were constructed with hard or fruit woods.”

If you’re not sure whether the frame is hardwood, Dappen suggests you remove all the cushions and try to lift the sofa. If it feels heavy, it’s more likely to be high quality.

Shake the furniture to see if it wobbles or rocks. If it feels unsteady it might not be worth the financial outlay

Check the springs to see if any have come unsprung or need replacing. If so, your upholsterer will need to replace the broken or bent ones and/or retie those that have become unsprung. Traditionally, furniture was constructed using coiled, hand tied springs, which offered superior support and comfort that was made to last. “Today, the internal working of vintage pieces cannot be replicated for the same value,” adds Dappen.

upholster-3Okay, so you’re ready to upholster… now what?

Whether you DIY or hire a pro, choose upholstery-grade fabrics—these will last 15-plus years. Dappen explains that in the industry, a rub-test machine rubs fabric back and forth until it wears out; while regular fabric has a double-rub rate of a 2,500, an upholstery-grade fabric has between 100,000 to 250,000 double-rubs.

Remember: natural fabrics, although beautiful, are more fragile than synthetics, and will wear much faster. “If you are reupholstering a chair that won’t get used very often, then a natural fabric, such as cotton, wool, silk or linen, will be fine,” says Dappen. “For furniture you use daily, upholstery-grade fabrics are the best because they are made of long-lasting synthetic fabrics … however, today’s manmade fabrics are gorgeous; they aren’t the polyesters of decades ago.”

Ask to take a few fabric samples home with you because colours can look different in natural and artificial lighting. And make sure to have fun with it: a vintage chair in a bold modern print can be a one-of-a-kind piece that can work for non-traditional spaces.

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