If you’re a mid-century modern fan, you probably have a vintage sofa similar to this one. Perhaps something with a long and low profile, walnut finish and gondola base? It’s a mid-century dream.
We MCM fans do love our vintage couches. They just don’t make ‘em like this anymore!
But chances are, it’s about time to reupholster your sofa. No offense to that old beauty, but it’s approaching 60 or even 70 years old.
The fabric has faded, stretched and pilled. The foam cushions are crumbling to pieces. Maybe the cushion cover zippers are broken and leaking the foam crumbs onto the rest of your sofa (at least that was my experience).
Does this all sound familiar? Strategically placed pillows and blankets can only get you so far when your sofa is in this condition.
But don’t give up on your time capsule sofa. It can be rescued with a new upholstery job. Today I’m sharing what to expect if you get your sofa reupholstered, how the upholstery process went for me, and a Q&A with a Portland upholster. Ready to nerd out over sofas?!
Note: This article contains affiliate links. See my disclosures for details.
Mid-Century Sofa Reupholstery
This January, Eric and I got quotes and began the sofa reupholstery process. This isn’t something we wanted to DIY because it’s a very large, impactful piece of furniture. We turned this one over to the pros.
And I’m glad we did. I always loved this orange couch, and now it’s been restored to a condition that should last in our home for many more years.
Our upholster helped us find era-appropriate fabric in a similar color and texture as the original. Even though the couch is definitely transformed, I think this makeover still honors the original design, and that was important to me.
What to Expect From Sofa Reupholstery
Sofa reupholstery is a months-long process. You’ll need to search for local upholstery companies and get quotes. The company you choose will then help you select and order fabric and make other decisions like type of stitching or number of cushions.
The fabric can take several weeks to arrive, and then it’s time to drop off your couch for the big transformation. The upholster will probably have to add new cushions and padding, basically rebuilding your couch from the frame up. It’s an art, you can’t rush it.
Getting a sofa reupholstered, especially an extra long mid-century sofa, is an investment. You can probably get a new IKEA couch for cheaper, and IKEA definitely has its place in my house (in some of these photos, in fact). But if you’re interested in restoring a high-quality, vintage piece of furniture that will last a long time, I recommend the upholstery route.
Our upholster, Michael, did a beautiful job. And I had tons of questions for him. Here’s what the expert had to say about the upholstery process and what you need to know if you’re considering a sofa reupholstery job.
Interview With Michael Frey of Multnomah Upholstery
How did you get started in the upholstery business?
Hi, my name is Michael Frey and I am the owner of MULTNOMAH UPHOLSTERY. I got started in the upholstery business through my other business FREY WOODWORKING, which specialized in furniture restoration, reﬁnishing, and custom woodworking. Clients would constantly ask if we knew an upholstery shop or if we oﬀered that service. So being a young entrepreneur, I decided to start oﬀering upholstery services. The next thing I knew we became your one stop shop for all your furniture needs. Customers could have furniture completely restored by us.
How can people decide when it’s better to reupholster an old sofa or buy a new one?
The most repeated question in the upholstery biz is, should I buy old or buy new. It all depends on the quality of the furniture piece and how the client values the piece. Older pieces were built to last and the materials used were a lot better than today. If you have a newer high end piece, 99% of the time you should reupholster. If you own an IKEA piece, don’t bother reupholstering.
What should people look for in an upholstery company?
When looking for an upholster, don’t base your decision on reviews, but base it on the quality of the shop’s work. Most shops will have photos of pieces they have reupholstered. I always recommend the client go down to the upholstery shop and talk with them about your project. If their shop is full of work, that tells you something. They do good work! Plus you can see their current projects up close, so you get an idea of what you will be receiving on your project.
What should people expect when they have a sofa reupholstered?
When having a sofa reupholstered, you should expect a brand new, comfy feeling sofa. Most shops, like ourselves, do a complete tear down to the frame, install new padding and always repair anything that needs it.
What are some of the different options people should know about when reupholstering sofas?
If you use your sofa every day, keep the upholstery simple. Tufted pieces or buttons can become uncomfortable when binge watching The Walking Dead on Netﬂix. Square simple lined welted cushions are always the best choice. We oﬀer a wide range of diﬀerent foams from semi ﬁrm seat foam, to super squishy back foam.
What should people look for in quality upholstery fabric?
Most fabrics these days are 100% polyester which means they are more durable and stain resistant than the older cotton mix fabrics. We recommend always selecting a good quality thick upholstery fabric. Fabrics with Crypton coating and which are stain resistant are always good.
Is there a good middle-of-the-road option for fabric that is affordable but still lasts a long time, or is it better to invest in the higher-end fabric?
As far as fabrics go, there are many out there that are mid priced $45.00- $60.00 a yard that will last as long as a $100.00 plus fabric. The price all depends on the style, texture, and material used. Today’s fabrics are 100% polyester so are very durable. I always recommend to my clients, choose a thick fabric which is what we oﬀer at our upholstery shop.
About how often do sofas need to be reupholstered?
Furniture reupholstery is usually needed every 10-15 years. That only applies to high quality made USA furniture. Your big box store furniture made in China, Vietnam, Indonesia tends to deteriorate a lot sooner.
Is there anything unique about reupholstering mid-century modern sofas?
Mid-century sofas are always fun because, there was a lot of experimenting going on with furniture design and construction during the mid-century period. Most typical is what I call the SEW TO FRAME technique, which is where the fabric is sewn together in a way to produce the contour of the furniture. This eliminated the common method of stapling the fabric to shape the piece.
What should buyers look for if they’re shopping for a vintage sofa that they will have reupholstered? What do “good bones” look like in a sofa?
If you are shopping for a vintage sofa, mid-century, Victorian, etc., always look under the sofa. See how it’s built. If it has coil springs, no sag springs, webbing etc. The most important thing is to see what the frame is made out of. Most vintage pieces are built out of maple, oak, alder, or poplar. If you see particle board, stay away.
Are there certain eras when sofas were generally higher quality or lower quality? Any decades/eras you would avoid when shopping for a vintage/used sofa?
Sofas built during the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century to the late 1980s were built to last and to be reupholstered many times. With the introduction of computer controlled equipment in the 1990s and with overseas manufacturing, plywood and other inferior materials were starting to be used which reduced the frame quality of furniture. Remember the most important part of the sofa, is its frame. It’s like the engine in your car, it needs to be reliable.
Are there new high-quality sofas worth buying on the market today, or is older construction usually more durable and a better investment?
You can still buy good quality custom sofas today. If it has a MADE IN USA sticker on it, it’s higher end and will last a long time.
I want to say thanks to Michael for answering all of my upholstery questions! And for rescuing my mid-century couch! You can follow him on Instagram to see more of his work.