Jen’s Sofa

This is the story of Jen’s “new” sofa.

About a year ago, I reupholstered a chair and a settee for my good friend Jen. They were both Craig’s list finds that needed considerable work (frame repair, spring tying, new cushions.) We met to discuss fabric, costs, and style changes. The chair was a great size and shape for her kids to curl up in. The settee was an exceptional piece, well-built and comfortably designed. It would be perfect for Jen to relax into with a good book and a glass of wine.
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And there was a sofa.

On first glance, we hoped it would be THE sofa. However, when it comes to Craig’s List, the bottom line is, “Buyer Beware.” Once I saw the sofa in person, my heart sank. The frame was offensively flimsy, as were the springs. There was no way this piece would hold up in Jen’s busy home. I told her, regretfully, that I couldn’t encourage her to spend money on it. The cost of materials alone would likely exceed its value. I assured her that there was a good sofa out there, this just wasn’t it.  . . .

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Over the next few months, Jen and I messaged back and forth about a number of sofas – Sofas that were sturdy, but not really Jen’s taste. Sofas that were attractive, but overpriced for the quality of their frames.
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Jen’s ideal candidate was something clean and simple, a mid-century design that would feel appropriate in her 1950’s home. It would have low arms and a deep deck, well-suited for afternoon naps without making the modest living room feel crowded.

My ideal candidate would be at least 40 years old with a hardwood frame and a coil-sprung deck – Jen’s sofa needed to be a workhorse in her busy living room. And I told her that our max budget was $50 –  we were looking for a sturdy older frame, which would likely be covered in ugly, dated fabric and priced accordingly.

We wanted a diamond in the rough, and eventually, we got lucky.

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Walking through Saver’s one evening, I spotted a sofa that was everything we’d discussed. Boy howdy, was it dated and ugly. But it had a huge deck and a lean frame. It had coil springs and a $20 price tag. I sat down and furiously texted Jen, doing my best to look scary and possessive in order to ward off other would-be treasure hunters. She responded enthusiastically, and I claimed our prize with a twenty dollar bill.

NOW the fun could begin!
We’d already selected fabric, a beautiful gray polyester from Greenhouse Fabrics in North Carolina. While this fabric looked like wool and felt like flannel, it would clean and wear like a sturdy synthetic. The deep shade of gray would perfectly match her first two pieces and still be neutral enough to offer design versatility.
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After tearing back the fabric and getting a good look at the foundation, we made minor repairs and improvements. I’m disappointed to say that the webbing was stapled instead of nailed, and had sagged considerably. However, since the hand-tying was in good shape, we reinforced with a second layer of webbing and the appropriate nails. I also did some minor work to the frame burlap and padding. All it all, it was in excellent shape.

Reupholstering the frame was a straightforward case of duplicating the original style. Jen’s only request was to eliminate the skirt. This is a common update for older pieces. It does quite a bit to modernize a traditional design, AND it saves on fabric and labor. Just be warned, parents – with no skirt, you can see all the toys and books that have been kicked underneath!
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Once we got to the cushions, Jen and I had several conversations about potential changes. No matter what, we planned to replace the inserts – not only were they grungy and sad, one cushion had been hilariously repaired with packing peanuts. So it was no problem to change the number or style of cushions at the same time.

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Here is where the internet is an upholstery client’s best friend. We googled pictures like crazy. We decided that two seat cushions would be better than three. Three cushions is perfect if you anticipate three people actually sitting. However, when you anticipate two people lounging or one person sprawling, two cushions might be a better solution.

We also looked at options for the back cushions. With the simple fabric, we thought it would be nice to add some detail. Jen wanted buttons, and I suggested the addition of stitched seams.
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At last, at last, Jen’s sofa was ready to go home!

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When I stopped by to visit, her kids were happily breaking it in.

In most homes, the sofa is the most used piece of furniture we own. This goes double in a not-so-big home. A poorly made sofa will almost always disappoint in a hurry. Jen’s sofa needs to WORK.

In the end, this sofa was a $2,000 investment (prices vary greatly from project to project, shop to shop, and region to region.) That may seem like a lot, but most design blogs will tell you that a good quality NEW sofa costs between $4,000 and $10,000.  I’m all about a good value, and this sofa gets two thumbs up. It is a great example of WHEN and WHAT to reupholster.

While nothing is indestructible, I have confidence that this piece will age exceptionally well in Jen’s comfortably functional home.  🙂

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