To reupholster or buy new: a short guide

August 23, 2017



My job is helping people make that decision. It’s not always an easy one as there are many things to consider. I’ve talked before about memories as furniture can be full of them. This is such a big part of the decision process. (Have a look at my last post and video on facebook)

I get many quotes, with clients wanting a comparison to buying new. Well, I’m here to tell you that’s not a great starting point. I completely understand it; I get the thinking, but frankly, there is no comparison. It is a question of what you're comparing and how you know you are comparing like for like and that is bloody hard.With any sofa or chair, there are some very basic things to look for. None of them are big pointers to a decision but can be very helpful with an overview.

                 Before skilled hands and love.........

Every piece of furniture any reputable upholsterer makes is lovingly carried out from start to finish by one person



. Trust me, the good ones really care. Compare that to a factory where there are many people working on one piece using the cheapest components with the least of cares. 

This is where it gets very difficult to be clear on a comparison. As a craftsman working on one-off pieces I will inevitably, at first sight, seem expensive. But seriously dig a little deeper and have a look at what I or any of my fellow upholsterers are offering.

  .....................And after being loved

There are some very basic things to look for. An old sofa in a shocking state: is that worth doing? The answer is always yes. The way frames were made and the construction of the older frames has no comparison to today’s market. Buying a sofa or chair which would stand the test of time today could cost a lot of money £10 or £12,000, I kid you not.

However, if your sofa is three years old and falling apart at the seams and didn’t cost a fortune, I would be advising you to buy new because my labour would be costly.

I will come to a very serious point for you to consider now. This is the environmental issue which is completely overlooked and deeply troubling. All the information I’m sharing here is two years out of date as it was a BBC article from 11th December 2015. Yet, I don’t see any reason for it to have changed greatly in that time. Just look at all the endless adverts on T.V.

With the advent of cheap knock down sofas in the last 3 years, 28% of Britons are buying a new one each year, meaning on average we are replacing every 11 years.

"£3.6bn increase spent on new sofas and upholstered furniture in the last year (2014) a rise of 14% since 2010." I find this fact very interesting and in some ways, it might seem really good. But of course, there is an environmental consequence to this behaviour. With the forecast predicting another 25% growth in the next five years (from 2015), it does start to get troubling. 



"Each year in the UK we throw out some 1.6 million tonnes of so-called bulky waste and 42% of it is furniture." The sad part of this is that half of this waste could be re-used. Currently, only 17% of sofas are re-used, according to the Royal Society for the Encouragements of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.

                                    Do you really want to do this? when.........



We are missing the opportunity to re-use and recycle for one simple reason and that is Fire Labels. All newly manufactured furniture needs one and consumers can very easily tear them out. You will know that if you try to take your old sofa to a charity shop without a fire label, they can't accept it. This is the reason why recycling furniture is such a huge problem. It would be so easy to stop by simply sewing them down somewhere discretely and not leave them flapping.

This is a part of the old for new that does need to be considered. It obviously has a major effect on C02 emissions and landfill. I’m not wishing to preach here, only to make you aware of an issue that is not greatly known.

As to your own furniture your main consideration is comfort and whether it works in your room. As stated at the beginning, does it have a cherished memory, something you hold close to your heart?

..... when you could do this?


What you should be looking for: I have seen many newer sofas that the client sees as a little past its best. On a visit to their home, I can see it's mostly superficial with covers looking a bit shabby and worn. In fact, the actual sofa is in really good condition underneath the shabby cover.

A really old sofa or chair which is creaking, and falling apart and bloody uncomfortable, well this is the challenge that I love. Remember the like for like comparison here too. When restored back to its former glory you have a sofa fit for another 100 years


How do you know if your sofa is really old? Well, a good place to start is the weight of your sofa. A genuinely old sofa will have a hardwood frame, horsehair and springs and will therefore be quite heavy, by comparison to a newer one. This can be a reasonable indication of its quality and worth. More recent sofas can be made with softwood and  chipboard or even cardboard and so very light weight. 


Just to recap
•    How old is your sofa?

•    What is its story to you?

.  Does it work in your room?


•    How heavy is your sofa?

•    Does it deserve to be landfill?

There are many things to consider when making decisions on whether to buy new or reupholster. None of them are easy and ultimately it is all about your comfort and aesthetics.

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