- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Patricia Hollis took her old furniture and made it new again.

As a girl, she watched as the dining room set she now uses was made from cherry wood on her family’s farm in West Virginia. When the fabric on the chairs started to deteriorate, she couldn’t imagine discarding the set.

Instead, she decided to reupholster the chairs and, eventually, much of the furniture in the rest of her three-story home in Northwest.

“You reach a point where you have to throw it away or reupholster,” Mrs. Hollis says. “I would prefer to breathe new life into old pieces that have sentimental value than buy new pieces.”

Reupholstering can save many treasures from the trash heap. Although some pieces may not be worth fixing, many items can be salvaged with a little work.

When reupholstering is done right, it’s more than simply changing the fabric, says Sam Kim, manager at Trust Upholstery in Rockville. Mrs. Hollis has been a regular customer of the company.

“It’s an artwork,” Mr. Kim says. “There are so many different types of fabrics, textures and designs.”

Depending on the piece of furniture, reupholstery can cost more than buying something new.

The quality of the workmanship in old furniture often is better than in pieces produced today, Mr. Kim says. Therefore, it is often worth saving.

The most common items for reupholstering are chairs, sofas, benches, love seats, recliners, ottomans and headboards, but sometimes old pillows or sections of walls are re-covered with new fabric.

Fabric on the wall is most often found in the bedroom, Mr. Kim says. If it were on the wall in the kitchen or the bathroom, the moisture probably would destroy it, he says. Because wallpaper usually is cheaper than fabric, upholstered walls are rare, he says.

Choosing a fabric that will look good on the furniture is essential, says George Spicer, owner of Spicer’s Upholstery Shop in Alexandria. Though one type of fabric might look great on a recliner, it might look horrible on a bench, he says. The material should be examined in the daytime and nighttime, with large swatches of fabric.

“We have 27-inch squares that are big enough so that you can’t make a mistake,” Mr. Spicer says. “If it doesn’t satisfy you, you come back and pick one until you find what you like.”

Comparing the fabric to paint chips, carpet or wallpaper also can be helpful when designing a color scheme for a room, he says.

Covering over the old fabric isn’t an efficient way to reupholster an object, says John Rowllins, owner of Woodridge Upholsterers in Northeast.

Tightening the frame, fixing the springs and putting in new cushions all are part of the process, he says. Otherwise, dust and mold can remain in the object.

“It’s not just taking off a cover and putting on a cover,” he says. “The old stuff has to go. You shouldn’t cover over the old materials. You have to remove it. It has to be done properly. The most important parts of upholstering are the parts you don’t see.”

Depending on the item, the cost for reupholstering changes. However, the average wing chair would cost from $450 to $800 to re-cover, he says.

Often customers make requests, such as making the arms higher or the legs longer or adding skirts around the bottom of a piece. Kick pleats, box pleats or ruffled skirts are options. The end of arms can be adjusted to square or rounded shapes.

When reupholstering an object, it’s best to go to a professional, says Barry Taylor, owner of Creations by Taylor in Edgewater, Md.

Although anyone can attempt the task, the finished product likely will turn out better if a specialist in the field is hired, he says.

“Most people can’t do it themselves,” Mr. Taylor says. “They could do dining room seats themselves, but the quality wouldn’t be there.”

If someone doesn’t want to reupholster an object, creating a slipcover is an option. Some people favor this solution when the frame of the furniture may not be worth re-covering permanently. It also is cheaper than reupholstery.

The covers can be used for a temporary change of design or protection during a party. For instance, a snow-white chair might be concealed with a slipcover during a reception to prevent stains.

Sometimes, interior designers and decorating services can give pointers as to whether the best choice is reupholstery or slipcovers. They also can help pick a suitable fabric, Mr. Taylor says.

Factors such as the type of fabric, how thick it is, how the backing is constructed, how substantial the material is and where it will be used are all important to consider, he says.

If the item will be used mainly for show, a material such as silk could be used. However, it would not be a good idea to reupholster heavily used chairs in silk, he says.

Scotchguarding fabric with a protective finish is recommended for highly used furniture, says Tom Fulop, owner of Rockville Interiors and Fabrics in Rockville.

“You have to analyze your lifestyle for a minute,” Mr. Fulop says. “You have to ask yourself, ‘How often do I sit in this chair? How much time do I spend in this room?’ ”

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