Giving a professional makeover to furniture is a sustainable practice and is also an opportunity to explore pattern and colour
A year of bums on seats and bodies prone on the sofa has had a wearing effect on fabric, as we’re now discovering.
But rather than slinging furniture out, have you considered recovering a worn and wrinkly but well-loved piece that has good bone structure underneath?
The result can be transformative as I discovered over a year ago when I had a set of dining chairs revamped. The result has left me evangelical about reupholstering, not just for the virtuous eco-friendly factor, but the fun bit of picking the exact fabric and colour I covet.
Interior designer Sinéad Cassidy is not only responsible for my initiation into the world of upholstery but has a keen eye for colour and textiles.
When designing a new room scheme, she says she, “likes to see if there is a chance to breathe new life into an old stalwart and avail of a second chance.”
And she considers things newbies like me would not have thought to project upholstery ambitions upon, including, she says, “the usual suspects such as chairs and sofas but also blanket boxes, ottomans, piano stools, headboards, kitchen stools, fireside boxes and wall panels.
“I have seen old handmade dishevelled dining chairs,” she says, “which were destined for a skip rescued and altered beyond recognition by selecting a truly special fabric. The fabric updates can be selected and tailored to your scheme which you will never be able to achieve or source from the mainstream stores.”
If you’re anything like me, you’re now looking around your room at what might be revived with new fabric, but before getting carried away at the thought of something which will break your heart maintaining it, Sinéad adds, “When choosing upholstery fabric you should be aware of its durability, clean-ability and resistance to soil and fading. Scotch guarding fabric can add another layer of protection.”
Once the practicalities are out of the way it’s onto the fun bit.
Sinéad says, “If upholstering a one-off piece, it’s an opportunity to use a patterned fabric as an accent. If you are using a plain fabric, you could add deep buttoning, piping or baroque studding.
“Often there can be a history to the item such as it being in the family for a generation or maybe a special sentimental purchase from years ago. Another great reason to reupholster is when a piece of furniture fits perfectly in your space. Avoiding landfill and thinking sustainability goes without saying too. It’s very fulfilling to see a previously loved item undergoing a makeover and defying that skip.”
Suzanne O’Keeffe, interior designer with Ken Jackson Interiors, says, “You might have a piece with a fantastic frame and inner workings and want to change the fabric. Some clients might have specific pieces to fit an alcove and bring it in to refresh it, or sometimes people have gone to auctions and then come to us for upholstery.
“Invest well on day one,” she adds. “Something like a sofa will need 14-16m of fabric so you’re paying for labour and fabric and you’re saving on the frame. But be careful with patterns and the shape of, say, a wingback chair so the pattern lines up on the chair and cushion. Deep buttoning can lose lines on a pattern; large pattern detail can be lost on a small piece of furniture.”
She also stresses the importance of guiding people in their choices. “The first thing we do is check the frame to make sure it will last another 10-15 years. We’ll strip away fabric and look at foam. One thing we can’t alter is the frame and shape of the arms, but if you have six scatter cushions we can change it to two, for example. Also, think about who’s sitting on it and where it’s going. Will it get sun exposure? Are there children, grandchildren and pets or will it be used infrequently?”
Suzanne also warns us off being seduced by a beautiful but impractical fabric and cites the value of fabrics that are pre-treated for stain resistance or, as she puts it, “bomb proof”.
Luckily, fabric makers are bringing out more stain-resistant fabrics and washable ones, and good fabric retailers will advise on how a fabric will wear,” she adds.
“The darker the colour, the faster it will fade, but we have sofas coming in faded by the sun and they go back out looking amazing.”