If you are considering having a piece of antique furniture reupholstered, there are several factors you should take into consideration and discuss with your upholstery expert first. For many people, breathing life back into a piece of furniture is simply a case of putting on a new cover. But this could just be disguising underlying problems – particularly if the furniture is a piece with a long history.
Firstly, you need to decide what is most important to you. Are you just looking to make the piece usable, or are you preserving the frame and restoring it to its original state?
A family heirloom
Quite often a piece of furniture has been in the family for a number of years and the owner isn’t aware of what state the piece is in under the cover. By the time that the furniture is brought to us it may already have been recovered several times, with varying degrees of quality. The padding and fabric tend to hide the true condition of the springs and padding. Over the years, the fabric, padding, support linings, springs, and webbing have been slowly ageing. In short, your antique furniture might look fine, but the support structure – webbing and burlap – could be quite deteriorated.
Just putting a new cover on the chair or sofa is only an option if the frame is solid and the springs and padding are in excellent shape. If the frame is even a little wobbly or the springs are weak, then a full reupholstery option is the best route to preserve your piece of furniture.
A costly business
We are very aware that employing the services of an upholsterer can get expensive. Preserving antiques is a profession that employs highly skilled and knowledgeable craftspeople and their expertise comes at a price. You must decide to what level you would like to restore the antique – back to its original state or simply usable in the home?
Factors that might affect that decision include: the rarity of the antique; the age of the piece; its historical context – does this piece have specific historical value; the cost of restoration versus its value; what the antique means to you; it’s saleability in the future.
If it is a common antique, would the cost of restoration ever be recoverable? Conversely, if you choose a cheap option, does this lessen the value of the antique? At this point, if you are unsure of the antique’s value, it is worth speaking to an expert in the field.
No wiggling please
To discover what condition your piece of furniture is in, it needs a thorough inspection. Have you tried to move all the joints of the legs, arms and backrest? Do any of the joints wiggle? When you sit on the furniture, does the seat give solid support. As you press on the surface is it all firm, flat and level? Are there any uneven spots? Take a look underneath, is the webbing tight or does it bulge down? To get a full idea of the state of repair your piece is in, it would need its padding to be opened up, only then can you see the true condition of your sofa or chair.
We are often asked why upholstery costs so much, particularly when it comes to antique pieces of furniture as opposed to modern pieces. In a nutshell, it is all about the time and care it takes to restore a piece of antique furniture.
A matter of skill
Usually, antiques have wood around the edges and bottom of the furniture. The means an upholsterer has to work very slowly to avoid any damage when removing the old cover and fixing a new cover. Also, attaching fabric around the decorative wood involves extra work, firstly when attaching the fabric and then when applying the trim over the fabric edges.
Antique furniture has been around a long time and has usually had a lot more wear and tear than modern pieces, your decision is whether your sofa and chair is still worth giving a future.