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So You’ve Moved, and Need to Decorate: What to Look For in a Great Upholsterer

One of the most exciting parts of purchasing a new home is the prospect of decorating it. Unfortunately, finding a great upholsterer is harder than you might think. Some pieces you can upholster yourself, but for the most part, your furniture will require a professional. So many things can go wrong. When you hand over your pieces, you’d be surprised exactly how specific you need to be with them. You can’t just say that you want a zipper on the pillow. They could put the zipper straight across the middle of the pillow. Everyone upholsters differently, so you must describe in detail what it is that you want the final product to look like.

Frame repair. Until your upholsterer thoroughly examines the piece of furniture, it’s probably not obvious what needs to be glued, clamped and tightened up. Most upholsterers make small repairs as a courtesy, but it’s a good idea to inquire about the cost of more significant frame repairs.

Spring tying or replacement. Your chair might have springs that have come unsprung or need replacing. Good upholsterers will automatically retie springs and replace bent springs before they get started. It’s best to know up front if you’ll be charged extra for spring repair. A little look under the front of this chair seat reveals threadbare burlap and untied springs. Springs come in a variety of shapes and sizes; they form the best foundation for chair seats. Some frame tightening and repair may be required before the upholstery work, too.

Fabric. Have a thorough discussion about your fabric. If your fabric will be shipped, ask your upholsterer to call when it arrives, so you can go over each of your fabric directives. Write everything down for your upholsterer to keep with any other notes.

Pattern. Whether you want a fully upholstered chair or a simple dining chair, the fabric pattern needs to match up when you look at the finished piece from the front. Be clear if you want a specific fabric motif on the back, too. If you’re mixing fabrics, draw a picture to show where each part of the fabric pattern should go. If your pattern is misaligned, it will drive you crazy. Vertical or horizontal, just make sure the designs line up.

Cushions. Specifically state what kind of cushion you want. Do you want a foam insert, or a down filled? You must let them know exactly how thick or thin you want the foam to be. Keep in mind that standard seat height is 18-20″ from the ground to the top of the seat. You don’t want your guests to be seated so high up that their legs touch the bottom of the table. Discuss the foam density you need. Seats should be a higher density than the back cushions. And ask for a breakdown of the cushion costs; this is a cost that often gets lost in the total project, but it can really add to the bottom line.

Style. There is more than one way to finish the front arm panels on chairs, love seats and sofas. Explain how you want the arm panels to look; bring photos or sketches so you understand each other. Don’t leave it up to your upholsterer to choose the style for the arm fronts.

Skirts. If your sofa has a traditional fabric skirt around the bottom and you’re ready to see more of the legs, specify no skirt. The bottom edge may now need some cording, so you should specify that. The legs will also need to look good now that the skirt’s been removed.

Cording. Do you want fabric covered welt cording around certain areas of your furniture? Let your upholsterer know where you want it. If you have a piece that has fabric stapled or tacked right up against exposed wood, you’ll probably want a fabric-covered double welt cord made and attached instead of using premade braid trim. If you want cording, you’ll need to provide more fabric. Ask your upholsterer how much more you’ll need. 

Sides and backs. Chair, love seat and sofa sides and backs should have fabric and padding underneath the outside fabric panels.

10. Detailed instructions. Finally, make sure there are photos, sketches, fabric swatches, written instructions and anything else you can think of so that you and your upholsterer have an understanding of how your piece will look when it’s finished.

Good upholsterers will always do the job right, but if you’re looking for bargain prices, you may be surprised by the shortcuts you’ll notice when you get your furniture back. It never hurts to specify exactly what you want.

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