I found a couple of dope sofas at a vintage store for a great price, snagged them with the intention to reupholster, and then spent a lot of time researching how to do that—when in fact expertise had been right in front of me all along. Here’s my journey. —Mercedes
Sofa king original
We curbed a very comfortable, NYC apartment-perfect Ikea Ektorp loveseat the day we left Brooklyn. So when we moved into our first Los Angeles home with only the Milo Baughman armchair I’d snagged for $75 (haggled down from $125!), I immediately began the hunt for a couch—used and unique, of course. (FYI l adhere to using ”sofa” and “couch” interchangeably.)
I’d been given the tip to follow @vangsgarcia—without a storefront, its prices tend to be lower than local vintage stores—and had begun scouting estate sales, but quickly realized I needed to just hit the pavement. My Highland Park-based bff Carrie Cook took me around the hip neighborhood, guiding me first to the east side’s biggest vintage and vintage-refurbished shop, Sunbeam. But it was at the Luxelust Life, a lesser-known, smaller shop, where I spotted two deep-seated, boxy sofas—one full-sized, one a loveseat—with wooden bases. The fabric felt very 1970s California in a way that I loved, even though it was well-worn and starting to deteriorate. I bought both for $872 (including tax—and delivery, I think) knowing I’d eventually reupholster them.
Baby days, a furniture consideration
Ten months later, I was five months pregnant and preparing our house for a season of home sequestration with a newborn (and future toddler, child, etc.), mulling the question of what to do with the sofas—whose upholstery, at this point, was actively thinning to the point that I could see the cushions. I consulted our news editor, Megan Barber, whom I knew to be deeply practical about cultivating and organizing her home with two small kids.
She’d purchased a new sofa over a year before and had some fresh intel. “I actually went with this sofa from West Elm in performance velvet, which sounds really counterintuitive, but it’s held up great,” she said. “Spot cleaning comes out really well—stains in my old couch just seemed to accumulate, whereas on this one they disappear. We’ve gotten wine and kid vomit and everything out of it.”
“Performance velvet” was a revelation that later set off a research journey into performance fabrics (more in a sec), but first I had to ask her about timing. Should I reupholster before baby arrived? Megan said yes. “You’re home a lot with a new baby, so it’s nice to have your space be what you want.”
Let me say here that in my fervor I had completely forgotten that, a few months earlier, for this very newsletter, Kelsey had pulled out expert tips for reupholstering from interior designer Keren Richter. Review these!! They ring more true now that I’ve been through the process, and my own story reveals why and how.
Making choices and stretching dollars
Ryan got a few estimates for the cost (labor and parts, minus fabric) through Yelp, though Houzz or Angie’s List should also give you some good options. One shop that an interiors person told us about estimated $3,000, sight unseen. Two shops on Yelp didn’t respond at all. Another one saw photos and estimated $2,500. Scott Hazarian from Sofa Interiors in nearby Glendale asked for photos and lots of measurement details, said he had performance fabric options in his showroom (we noted we were looking), and estimated $1,500. We made an appointment with him.
When we arrived, two men were reupholstering chairs on large workstations in the back. Up front in the showroom, Scott showed us various fabric books to review, talked about his ethos, and, after I pressed (he seemed happy to have an audience to talk to about the bigger-picture aspects of his work), walked through more specifics around cushions. He said our existing foam cushion was high-quality even though it was definitely aged, and we sat on a few sofas in the showroom to better understand our options for cushion firmness. The tl;dr he gave us was that the firmer the foam, the more expensive they’ll be, but the longer they’ll likely last. They might be very firm at first, though. Out of three firmness options, I chose medium.
Before we even got to Scott, I had spent countless hours researching performance fabrics, and fabrics generally (velvet, suede, wool, and on and on), trying to understand how to both meet our various needs and to find a happy medium between Ryan’s and my aesthetic preferences.
At the end of my exhaustive research on fabric technology—having learned about everything from Sunbrella to spray-on protection treatments—I decided that I definitely wanted a Crypton fabric. To be clear, Crypton is a fabric treatment technology; its website says its fabrics resist moisture, stains, and odors, and are earth-friendly and choice abundant. Tbh, my research has validated those claims.
“Yes, nothing is as good as Crypton—it’s what hospitals use!” said Laura Fenton, writer, home editor, and close friend of Curbed. Laura knows a thing or two about reupholstery, and she skipped it, in fact. “When I looked into getting a chair reupholstered, it was $400 for the labor and I would have needed six yards of fabric,” she said. “At that point I just said, ‘Hey, I will give this chair away and buy a new (used) one.’” In New York City, Laura has used Oscar Deco in Corona, Queens, for furniture repair, and noted they’re listed as upholsterers too. Laura also said local decorator Emily Butler recommends Master Craftsman Decorators in Long Island City for reupholstery.
Once I’d committed to going with Crypton, I looked at options at JoAnn (we default to our safe spaces) and a few other stores that I found on the Crypton retailer list. I even ordered a couple of swatches from the Crypton site, which in retrospect was probably a waste—I should’ve just gone into a store.
I finally saw a few options I liked at Calico—and found a stripe called Motola in crimson/tan on sale for $38.49/yard, down from $54.99. I was trying to keep us under $30/yard, and since Scott had said we’d need 33 yards, that would’ve capped fabric at $1,000. Upon seeing it in person at a local Calico, we decided the extra cost was worth it, ordered it then and there, and had it sent to our house; Ryan later dropped it off at Sofa Interiors.
We actually ordered 34 yards and ended up with extra, but I’m not mad: I see it as an opportunity for when things go wrong. And as Keren Richter told Kelsey, you’ll likely need to order more fabric when you’re doing a pattern so that the upholsterers can match everything up. We have stripes, so it made sense to order more.
Reupholstering was in line with our values, and I had roughly calculated that the financial investment would be worthwhile. That was after seeing that, for instance, a new 87-inch sofa at West Elm is in the $2,000 range (pray you don’t get a Peggy) and other sofas of that size often go for closer to $4,000—not including delivery fees that range from $250 to $400.
In total, my two one-of-a-kind sofas cost me $3,825:
- $872 for the sofa (87 inches long) and loveseat (62 inches long)
- $1,440 for fabric
- $1,473 for upholstery labor, new foam, spring reinforcement, and delivery ($120)
- $40 cash tip for delivery ($20 per person)
After all the upfront work, we finally had the sofas picked up on April 10th; baby Judd was due on April 20th (!). But Scott knew that and gave us all assurances; he had our couches back home about a week later. Depending on how busy your shop is, it can take about two to six weeks for a turnaround.
The look of love
When we first got the sofas, I loved everything about them—the fabric and the way all the pillows aligned to make the stripes consistent and connected. Anything spilled just sort of pooled but didn’t soak in.
After I spent some time with them (time plods along so slowly when you’re waiting on a baby), a feeling of disenchantment crept in. Had I made the right choices? Were these the right cushions for the seats? Why aren’t these lines more perfectly aligned? It was my friend Eric Uhlir who pointed out that it was cool that they were handmade, that the lines weren’t perfect.
I had forgotten about the luxury of handmade things. Humans had shaped this upholstery. And no, I didn’t pay a million dollars for them, and they weren’t machine made, and not only was that okay—it was great. Duh, that’s why I love the Japanese concept of wabi sabi, an aesthetic ethos of impermanence that centers imperfection.
The sofa cushions have gotten slightly dirty (we have a dog! Also, LA is dusty), and we should probably vacuum them more than we have. But they can be washed with soap and water, or removed and gently cleaned. I still wonder if I made the right decision on the foam firmness, but thankfully those foams can be changed out eventually—just as everything must change, like my growing little family.