Reupholstering vs Buying New: A Need To Know Guide

Well another week is upon us, and with it came the snow! Well, for some of you lucky people there was snow. Here in Northern Ireland it was just cold. No Beast From The East here! I actually miss it… is that a stupid thing to say? But life is continuing, and I actually wanted to incorporate some of my work life into the blog today! So with that, here’s what you need to know when it comes to deciding on reupholstering vs buying new.

You might not know this, but I currently work for a fabric wholesalers here in Northern Ireland. This means our ranges are put forward for contract jobs such as cruise ships, cinema chains, hotels, car upholstery, hospitality and healthcare. Therefore, with the current lockdown rules, we are able to stay open and keep supplying to the trade meaning I get to keep going to work for now! What this means is over the last 3 years I have learnt a lot about an industry I never thought much about before – the reupholstering side of things.

At home, we’ve had the same furniture for years. It’s moved with Mum and Dad all their married lives, and every now and again gets reupholstered. Now that I’m more aware of what we’re looking for when reupholstering, it’s become a “let’s take Katie with us” when they go looking for new furniture. So I thought why not share this inside knowledge with you?

Why Choose Reupholstering vs Buying New?

This may sound like a daft question. However a lot of people don’t think of reupholstering when they’re looking to redecorate. Instead, they head to their local shops and buy whatever matches the colour scheme. Except, reupholstering means you know exactly what you’re getting. You don’t have to worry about whether or not it will fit. Or if it will be too big or small for the room in question. Reupholsterers will often be able to take the suite away and deliver it back, all of which would be included in their service.

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As well as that, they can re-stuff or re-spring the furniture, making as good as new. If you choose reupholstering over buying new, you’re saving yourself quite a bit of money these days. Never mind the fact you’re helping the environment by not adding yet more furniture to landfill. Upcycling has been growing more and more popular in the UK over the last decade, and reupholstering means family heirlooms can be passed down through generations without worrying whether it matches the room.

Unseen person flicking through fabric swatches for reupholstering

But that still leaves a few questions…

What to Know when Reupholstering vs Buying New

First up, you’re going to want to find yourself a reliable upholstery business. Word of mouth is great for this, or even just search online for upholstery services in your local area. Find a couple of them that you can speak to. Many have Facebook or Instagram for their businesses, or even just a simple website that allows you to email or phone to discuss what you’re looking done. On their sites they’ll often have examples of their work, testimonials, and possibly even some of their catalogues to allow you to look at what they can offer. These are the fabric samples that they can offer you.

As I was saying, this is where my work comes in. While the majority of our work is contract jobs, we do sell to some domestic upholsterers. We send out sample cards and sample cuttings of what we sell, and they show this to their customers. I never thought I would say this, but the first lockdown had me missing cutting samples. The one aspect of my job I really was happy to miss on busy days! But that brings me, quite nicely, back to the what to know side of things.

Now that you’ve found an upholsterer, you’re going to want to look at samples. This is where the real “what you should know” comes into play. Now please bear in mind, I’m just saying what I have learnt. Your upholsterer knows their business and their trade better than I do, however this is the stuff I look for when advising my parents on their fabric choices.

1. Learn the different reupholstering fabrics

I quickly learnt the difference between a crushed velvet and a smooth one. Back when I started in my job, we had two well established velvet ranges and were bringing in a third. Now? On my last count we had eight. And each of them come with their own unique qualities that make them stand out from each other. So before you go to pick a fabric, have a rough idea of the type of upholstery fabric you’re looking for.

If you want a leather or faux leather (our biggest sellers are the faux leathers), what grain are you looking for? Do you want a faux leather that looks like a real leather? Maybe you want a vintage look instead of a fine leather look? Or maybe you want a linen instead of a woollen? Then you often have the option of herringbone or other styles. This is where I suggest browsing the upholsterer’s website and seeing what they offer.

Woman of colour looking at a fabric card and deciding on which fabric for reupholstering a wingback chair

2. Ask about the rub test or Martindale Abrasion

Now this is where I’m a little bit of a numbers nerd. In simple terms, the Martindale Abrasion (rub test) tests the durability of a fabric. The higher the rubs, the longer this fabric is likely to last. An example would be – our woven herringbone design has an Abrasion of 50,000 while one of our velvets is 125,000 rubs. Note, both of these ranges are contract fabrics, and therefore meant for areas with heavy footfall such as hotels, restaurants and more. However, I still would recommend a higher Martindale Abrasion.

3. Consider the Manufacturer’s Cleaning Recommendations

One thing we get asked all the time in work is how to clean certain fabrics without invalidating your warranty. There was once an instance of a restaurant phoning us on opening day. They’d just installed our lovely white herringbone fabric on their bench seating, and on opening day a new waiter had spilt red wine over it. The restaurant owner had the upholsterer call us immediately for the manufacturer’s cleaning recommendations so as not to ruin the fabric

For our ranges, the manufacturer’s cleaning recommendations are on the back of our sample cards, and are also available to view online. Ask your upholsterer what you can use to clean certain fabrics, and they should be able to help with this. If the fabric has to be ordered in, they might be able to order it with a stain repellent finish to it. We, in our ranges, have certain fabrics that are able to be dry cleaned or even put through the washing machine providing certain conditions are met! Please note, stain repellent finishes are not necessary for faux leathers, and often cannot be done on them. If you’re worried about jean transfer or other stains, ask you upholsterer what ranges he can suggest to avoid these concerns. However this brings us to point 4.

4. Know the fire retardency

Here in the UK, we have multiple fire retardancy treatments and requirements for fabric for furniture. The majority of our ranges in work are inherently Crib 5, however there are some that require treatment. This, again, is something that your upholsterer will know and sort with their supplier. However I have decided to share it with you so you know what’s legally required. Upholstery for domestic furniture must use fire retardant or flame retardant fabric, unless the furniture or fabric falls into one of the excepted groups.

It’s permissible to use a non-fire-retardant fabric with a flame retardant interlining material underneath the upholstery itself if the fabric has a high percentage of natural fibres. Following this, loose dining chair cushions and small to medium sized scatter cushions (less than 60cm x 60cm) do not have to be made out of fire retardant fabric. Similarly, antique furniture (pre-1950s) is also excluded from the regulations as long as they do not include foam stuffing.

Selection of fabrics appropriate for reupholstering furniture with.

There are three main ways that a fabric may become fire retardant (FR).

  1. The fabric itself may consist of, and be woven from, yarns which are inherently fire retardant e.g. wool. This is the best solution as the drape and natural feel of the fabric is unaffected.
  2. Most commonly for upholstery fabric, the material can be treated by the application of a fire retardant back-coating. This stiffens the fabric somewhat and actually makes it better for many upholstery applications. It does, however, make it less suitable for curtain use, as the drape of the material is somewhat affected.
  3. Chemical dipping, which is more often used for fabrics made from natural fibres or which have a high proportion of natural fibres.

So if you followed all that, well done! Basically, your home upholstery should meet domestic upholstery regulations of BS 5852: 1979 part 1 ignition 0, 1 BS 5651 30 minute soak test. BS EN 1021.1, 1021.2 1994 ignition source 0, 1. But you don’t need to worry about that. Just look for the below label on any furniture you’re purchasing new from a shop and make sure you keep it. Alternatively, ask your upholsterer for a copy of the fire certificate if you’re concerned.

5. Consider your Colourings

Okay so you’re always going to have a rough idea of what colour you’re looking for. And while we touched on it briefly earlier, some fabrics may leave you wanting to think about stain repellent treatments. In work, when I’m ordering fabrics in from the mill, some will automatically be ordered with a stain repellent finish. While many suppliers will charge an upholsterer a small fee per metre, you will most likely have this charge passed on to you. Another factor to consider when looking at your colours is to think about fading over time. An example of this is Mum and Dad looking at a new sofa for the conservatory. I encouraged them to think about the light-fastness of whichever fabric they’re considering. Another thing you can ask your upholsterer to check with their supplier!

Reupholstered sofa sitting in front of a grey wall.

Alternatively, Buy New instead of Reupholstering

I know the point of this post was what to know when deciding between reupholstering vs buying new. Except, not everyone will want to just reupholster. Maybe you’re changing the way your room feels. Or having downsized house, you’re looking to downsize your furniture. That’s okay! Just take what I’ve covered in this post with you when researching your furniture. While a sales assistant on a shop floor might not be able to answer all your questions, there should be information available online to help you out.

Summary

Overall, I would definitely say there’s a lot I still have to learn when it comes to my day-job. However, if I’ve helped teach you anything today then I would love to hear from you! I thoroughly enjoy my work, and I can’t wait until it’s safe for us all to be back in the office together again full time. Yes, it’s fine being furloughed and having time to work on my blog, but I miss the chat and structure. As I said at the start of this post – I almost miss cutting and labelling samples on a daily basis!

One thought on “Reupholstering vs Buying New: A Need To Know Guide

  1. Pingback: 2021 So Far: Part 1 | Diary Post | Life With Ktkinnes

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