The ABCs of reupholstery: attachment, bones and cost

by Neal Kielar, Tastemaker in Residence

Whether it's been handed down or you found it at a sale, acquiring a
vintage chair or sofa can be a score if you understand the
fundamentals of refurbishing it. At my store, MidModMen+friends, we
have the opportunity to buy dozens of sofas and possibly hundreds of
chairs that need new upholstery and other restoration work. Upholstery
is a big investment and we can't take them all, and not all of them
are worth the effort. We're choosy about what we invest in and you
should be, too. Here are some criteria for deciding whether a piece
that needs TLC is worth it for you.

ATTACHMENT. Is it special? For some that can mean that the sofa or
chair has a history in your life. Maybe it's a family heirloom or a
piece that captures a positive time or place in your life. The
decision also can be driven by your strong affinity for the design, a
commitment to a particular style that you believe will last. Many of
our customers choose furniture that fits the architectural style of
their homes to create a cohesive aesthetic.

BONES. Even if you love the piece, it has to be economically worth the
investment. That's where the "bones" of the sofa or chair matter, and
for us the focus is on the quality of the frame. Chair and sofa frames
aren't sexy by any means. In a fully upholstered piece you never see
them. But a well-made frame is fundamental to the longevity – and
comfort – of a chair or sofa. If it's not well made to begin with,
investing in upholstery might not be a wise choice.

COST. Upholstery is a labor-intensive service. It takes hours to strip
away old fabric, reinforce and refill, then pattern and cut new
fabric. Then comes hours of putting it all back together. For a
quality upholstery job, you'll pay for labor, materials and the fabric
itself. Get one or more estimates from well-regarded pros in your
area. Some upholsterers make you purchase fabric through them. Others
will let you bring your own (with guidance from them). You can save on
fabric if you shop savvy (we like the online fabric selection at

Here are three mid-century modern pieces that we felt were worth the
investment and that we restored for our showroom:

Kroehler Smartset Design three-piece sectional sofa with walnut
accented base. Newly upholstered in Designtex Hashtag fabric/oak

Danish modern swivel chair circa 1960s with a restored teak base. We
upholstered it in a saturated orange flat weave fabric.

Jens Risom Design U430 lounge chair circa 1949 with a restored solid
walnut frame. We chose a flat weave navy fabric for upholstery.

Neal Kielar

Owner and Creative Director


For decor makeover tips and inspiration, follow Neal on Instagram and visit