Basic Reupholstering Tips From Designers

Dining table styled with an upholstered Pink Chinoiserie Tiger custom booth in front of a white granite table and framed pictures on black wallpaper

Design by Chris Bravo Interiors featuring Frida Pink fabric.

Designers are major proponents of reupholstering furniture. “The beauty of upholstery is you can breathe new life into almost anything with just the addition of new fabric,” explains Whitney McNell of McNell Interiors. New to the reupholstery world and are wondering what exactly you’ll need to keep top of mind as you take on a project? Below, McNell and other designers share their go-to tips for newbies. 


Find Your Upholsterer

Ask your friends and family members if they have an upholster that they love. “Find a good upholstery workroom that is local to you and comes highly recommended,” instructs Jessie Sheehan of Jessie Sheehan Interiors. “I like working with local workrooms so that you can visit the shop,” she adds. “I like to be able to discuss any design details directly with the upholsterer in person.” 

Nursery room corner styled with two Pink Chinoiserie Tiger Custom Pillows on wooden bench with white mattress matching with a Pink Chinoiserie Tiger Printed Ottoman with Pink Graphic Printed Curtains

Design by Susanna Harbin Interiors featuring Frida Pink fabric on the ottoman, Frida Pink pillows, and Hockney Pink curtains.


Start Small

If you’re new to the reupholstery world, it never hurts to start with a piece that’s smaller in size, McNell says. That said, have fun with color in the process. “Don't be afraid to go bold,” McNell instructs. “Is it a fabric you just keep coming back to? It's meant to be. Go for the gold and commit!” And note that it’s more than ok to pair a more contemporary print with an older piece. As Sheehan says, “Don’t be afraid to use color or a fun pattern to bring new life to a traditional style of furniture.” 

Art Deco Palm Pattern Custom Curtains on corner with white sofa chair styled with Pink Chinoiserie Tiger Custom Pillow matching the upholstered circular bench

Pictured here: Frida Pink fabric on the ottoman, Frida Pink pillow, and Thatcher Apricot curtains.


Be Direct

You’ll also want to speak with your upholsterer regarding exactly how you’d like your piece to appear. “Think about the project as a whole,” McNell says. “Will you do self welt or maybe a fun contrast piping? Confirm the way you want the direction of the fabric to run. Ask all the questions because investing in a piece is worth doing right!” Sheehan says she is a fan of using a solid fabric and adding tape trim as well as adding a self welt to a cushion or a contrast welt to a simple furniture piece. 

Bed with an upholstered Sky Blue Botanical Stripe Custom Headboard styled with two blue pillows and one Red and Blue custom lumbar pillow

Pictured here: Emma Sky fabric on the headboard and Eden Blue lumbar piped in Petal.

Your upholsterer can help you determine the amount of yardage you’ll need depending on these factors, explains Claudia Kalur of CFK Interiors. “Almost any fabric can be used,” she adds. “Whether it's too thin or it has an open weave will determine if it needs backing—reinforcement with another fabric)—which adds to the cost,” she adds. 

Design by Kim Armstrong Design featuring Fern Velvet fabric on the headboard and Ginger Navy wallpaper.


Inspect Your Furniture's Bones

If a piece doesn’t have great bones, it may not be a strong candidate for reupholstery. “You never want to throw good money at bad,” McNell says. “Is it a quality piece? Oftentimes, I look for name brand bespoke pieces I know were initially made well.” Not sure what to prioritize? “Look for real wood and ensure it passes a seat test before putting any money into it,” McNell shares. “Nobody wants to spend all this money and effort creating a new piece that is ultimately wobbly!” If you’re buying a secondhand furniture piece online, make sure you review all images of the time before placing your order, she adds. Note that it’s possible to greatly refurbish a piece so that it fits your aesthetic. “When it comes to chairs, benches and sofas, you can pretty much strip them to the frame if you have to and change the way the arms are upholstered, or if you want cushions or a tight back,” Kalur shares. 

Close-up of upholstered Art Deco Palm Pattern custom chair

Design by LeCroy Interiors featuring Thatcher Midnight fabric.


Be Patient

Upholstery may require a bit of patience, so don’t expect to receive your completed item in a matter of days. “A good workroom typically comes with a lead time,” McNell says. “Don't rush the process, as I can assure you the end result will always be worth the wait!” 


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