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Is there a difference between re-covering and re-upholstery?

As upholsterers, we are always in the thick of it, living and breathing our trade. So what appears obvious to us – well, probably isn’t that obvious at all!

So, I spent a few minutes thinking about how best to explain a question we get asked a lot: “Is there a difference between re-covering and re-upholstery?”

The answer is yes! Here’s what we know:


What is involved in the re-covering of furniture?


When upholsterers use the term ‘re-cover’ usually they are referring to taking off the top cover of fabric.

This decision will be because the stuffing and padding are in excellent condition, but the cover is a tad grubby, torn (or maybe just doesn’t match your new curtains!). The cover is taken off piece by piece by carefully removing the staples or tacks to expose the paddings underneath.

Most upholsterers will then apply a layer of white felt (a white cotton padding) and polyester – soft fluffy padding similar to what you would find inside a duvet or sleeping bag. If the original padding has a foam covering, it’s not usually necessary to use the felt layer also.

There are also fire-retardant barrier cloths that can be used – you can discover more about those in next month’s blog.

Watch out for less scrupulous firms who will, to save time, cover over the existing fabric on your piece of furniture. If they suggest this to you, my best advice is to walk away. Because all this process achieves is to save a lazy upholsterer time.

It’s extremely bad practice and can only make for a poorly finished job. By covering what’s there – going over the old cover – you are creating more bulk. The lines of the furniture can (usually will) become badly distorted. Also, if there are any problems under the cover, like a broken frame or perished foam, you won’t see them.

What’s involved in the re-upholstery of your furniture?


This refers to stripping everything off your piece of furniture—fabric, stuffing and springs. What you’re left with is the frame. You can then start to rebuild using new materials: and with the love, and care, it deserves.


Re-upholstering antique furniture


If I’m honest (and I am!) when you re-upholster traditional furniture, you’re usually looking at a pretty dirty job. Sometimes you can find yourself removing padding that’s been there 100 years or more. It’s covered in the grime and dust that’s collected over the years.

But, in my opinion, working on furniture that’s over a century old is one of the most rewarding elements of this craft. To uncover a piece of furniture, to unravel its history, to imagine the story it can tell – it really is magical. You can genuinely get lost in moments in time.

Take a look at my blog about a First World War letter I found hidden inside a sofa to give you an idea of the secrets a sofa can reveal. Darren see comments at the end

“Stripping out” a piece of antique furniture needs to be done carefully as it is not uncommon for the frame to be rickety and in need of repair. Once that’s been done, the process of rebuilding begins.

That involves applying new webbing, sewing in the springs (if it is a sprung seat) and then re-stuffing with horsehair: and a lot of stitching to create the lines and details of your furniture.


Re-upholstering modern furniture


It’s less common to strip a modern piece of furniture down to its frame as the cost implication can be significant. Sadly, a lot of contemporary furniture is not built to become an heirloom – more a throwaway item.

And furniture produced pre-1988 (before strict fire regulations came into place) meant a lot of cheaper furniture was made using foams and filling that were extremely volatile and emitted poisonous gasses if they caught fire.

This whole subject is very complicated, but it’s important to know what your furniture is made from and how safe it is as this can sometimes be overlooked. As upholsterers, we must advise that these foams and filling be removed and replaced with new: but ultimately that decision is left to the client.

Safety notice aside (!) a piece of modern furniture will be taken through the same re-upholstery process as a more traditional item. Each layer is carefully removed to expose the frame. The next step depends on the style of seating, but mostly the rebuilding process is: springs, then stuffing/padding; then a layer of polyester and then the fabric you’ve chosen.


So, what is the difference between re-covering and re-upholstering furniture? In the simplest terms:

If you re-cover your furniture, you’re replacing the old fabric cover with a new one. Similar to having new carpet laid, or repainting your walls.

If you re-upholster your furniture all the fabric, stuffing and springs will be removed, and your furniture then rebuilt from the frame up. This would be more like renovating your home’s walls with new brickwork, plaster and paint.

I hope this helps. But if you have more questions or want to book in either a re-cover or a re-upholstery project, contact us now.