Slipcover VS. Reupholstery, the Battle for Salvaging Your Furniture

lHeart reupholster

In my first post college apartment, I didn’t have a sofa and didn’t have access to a good thrift store, so I sewed my own. I found a McCalls pattern that called for three huge slabs of 6″ thick foam rubber pieces with two long flat-topped triangular shapes on the side for the arms. The pattern was for the slipcover over those pieces as well as huge pillows for the back and a quilted matt for the seat area. While this sounds awful, it actually turned out great and was a breeze to move. Literally, I picked the whole thing up and walked it downstairs to the moving truck. I could also take the cover off and wash and dry it at the laundromat. At 22, this was the best sofa in the world. I think I had it for 5 years.

My love affair with the ease and versatility of slipcovers started with that project. Seventeen years later after Elyse was born, I started a custom slipcover and window treatment business so that I could spend more time with my her. Fortunately, in those 17 years, I had gained a lot of knowledge about slipcovers and for updating upholstery.  So, this blog is about updating your furniture with fabric.

When your upholstered furniture gets worn down, stained or shredded (that means you, kitty parents!), it may be a candidate for a renewal. Ask yourself these questions:

1) Do you know the history of this piece of furniture? Is it important from a design perspective or is it a piece that has importance to your family? Do you know where has it been? If you buy it from a consignment or thrift shop, take the cushions off and examine the frame. Does it have an unpleasant odor that cannot be taken out? If so, pitch it. Even Goodwill won’t take the piece.

2) Is it structurally sound? Are the cushions firm and not sagging? Is the frame strong and not bent or broken? Is is solid? No squeaks? Do you like the basic shape of the piece? If the cushions sag, but the rest of the piece is in good shape, you may have to have them rebuilt by a professional upholsterer. This will be about $50 per cushion, so be prepared to spend that. 

If its a good piece that has fabric with irreparable damage, like this lovely chair with kitty shredded arms (note the tape):


there are basically three options for you:

Option 1) Purchase a loose slipcover online or at a store like Pottery Barn.

Potterybarn lose fit

These are not fitted to your furniture but rather draped over them and usually held on with side ties. These are in expensive and easy to take off and wash.

Loose Slipcovers

Pro: Inexpensive. Easy to purchase. Easy to wash

Con: Loose fitting. Inexpensive looking. Best suited for very casual rooms.

Recommendation: If you have choose to go this route, get some T-pins from JoAnne’s Fabric. You’ll find these in the home decoration section and are call upholstery pins.

Secure the slipcover with these pins by tucking in the sides of slipcover between the cushion and back/sides and pinning it it place to look neat and minimize bunching. Try not to pin these in obvious places where they will be seen.

Option 2): Slipcovers made specifically for your chair or sofa. If you have to do slipcovers and can’t afford reupholstery or want to change your look frequently, this is the best option of you. Some manufacturers, like Crate and Barrel, sell slipcovers for their furniture. These can be pricey, but look terrific. If you have to make them yourself or have someone make them for you, a custom slipcover will require about 12 yards of fabric for a sofa and about 6- 7 yards for an arm chair. If you have a distinctive pattern on the fabric, buy a few more yards so the pattern can be run properly on the piece. This includes “naps” such as on corduroy where the fabric has to go a certain way. Best choices for fabrics are cotton, linen/cotton blends, faux suede, etc. Be sure the fabric is soft to the touch. I purchased a gorgeous linen online but when I got it, it was scratchy. They call this “hand”. If it has a good “hand” it is nice to touch and sit on in shorts :). Avoid heavy or stiff fabrics like tapestry, heavy corduroy, heavy velvet. These will be stiff and will not adhere to the shape of the piece. The fabric should be easy to clean either in the washing machine or by dry cleaning.

You can sew them yourself or hire a professional seamstress. If you have them professionally sewn, be prepared to pay about $800+ for a sofa for labor + the cost of your fabric. Don’t skimp on the quality of the fabric. Buy the best quality you can afford since it will wear better over the long haul.

tight slipcover piped slipcover Fancy slipcover sack cover

Pro: Looks neat, like they were made for the piece (which they were). Can be easily removed and cleaned. Can change the look of a piece according to your taste or mood. Its fun to have a summer and winter look with slipcovers. You can have piping on the cushions and other trims to make the piece uniquely yours. You can even slipcover a sleeper sofa. Ive done it before and its not hard if you know basically how to make a slipcover.

Con: Good slipcovers can/should be expensive when made by others. Its like buying a well-made, well-tailored suit for your sofa made out of quality fabric. If you have never sewn one before, but have intermediate sewing skills, look online for a class on how to make them. This is an expensive project to undertake without the right skill set. Expect to spend at least $400 on your fabric alone for a sofa. Never slipcover these types of pieces: leather sofas, chairs or sectionals, wood trimmed Victorian style furniture, highly stuffed or channeled chairs/sofas, highly scalloped or detailed back furniture.

Basic How To’s: Start with making the cushions and be sure to put zippers in the cushion covers. Don’t attempt piping if this is your first slipcover. When making a slipcover, lay the fabric upside down on the sofa/chair and cut/pin accordingly. Whenever I make a slipcover, I feel like I am creating a couture dress for the sofa. Its that meticulously laid out and cut.

Option 3): Reupholstery. This is a great option if:

A. You plan on having the piece for a long time and know your fabric choice wont change for a while.

B. You have a highly styled piece, such as this Victorian chair, that doesn’t have the simple lines that a slipcover is suited for.Victorian reupholster

C. You have very contemporary furnishings, such as a mid-century modern piece, that would lose it’s essence with a slipcover.

orange mid-century

Pros: Looks the neatest of all of the options. It can transform the look of the piece and extend the life of the piece by many years. This is particularly suited to “important” pieces that are either handed down in your family or purchased as an authentic period piece that you wish to maintain its integrity. A professional reupholstery job can also reconstruct the cushions and repair any frame damage.

Con: This is usually not a “do it yourself” project unless it is just for dining chair seats. Therefore, it is the most expensive option for renewing tired or damaged furniture.  An easy chair starts at $800 and goes up from there. If the piece has a strong odor, I do not recommend trying to mask it with reupholstery since the smell is probably embedded in the cushions and deep within the piece. Its best to throw those pieces out, unfortunately. Some things just can’t be renewed, as hard as we try.

Thats it for renewing your furniture. I hope this was helpful! Id love to see your projects or your before and afters.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s