The Girly Modern Guide to Re-Upholstery


I love vintage.  There’s nothing like it.  Sure, there are modern knock-offs but you can’t fake a vintage vibe. The real appeal for me is that no one else will have this item. Besides exclusivity, vintage furniture has a tendency to be well constructed with the ability to withstand the test of time. But the truth is that not all the components of vintage furniture are built for longevity, that’s why we have the art of re-upholstery. Since we love taking something mundane or unnoticed and transforming it into a vibrant, beautiful piece, re-upholstering has become one of our specialties at Coddington Design. Here are a few tips, inspirations and examples on how to re-upholster great furniture finds.

The most important part of upholstery projects is finding that perfect piece of furniture. Discovering a gem amongst the masses takes a keen eye, some technical know-how and an active imagination. Rest assured, you don’t have to dumpster dive or troll the street corners Portlandia-style to uncover unique, affordable furniture. But if you do spot the perfect curbside loveseat while you circle for parking remember the golden rule: if it’s wet or stinks, keep walking. Rain sodden or cat claimed cushions almost always mean the glory days are over.

I found this loveseat in one of my top secret thrift stores.  While the color was a bit hideous, I loved the size, clean lines and wood frame.

The potential was there so I grabbed it and promptly sent it off to the refinisher for a bright coat of decorator’s white.  After the leg work was complete, it then went to the upholsterer for a brand new down filled cushion and Holland & Sherry striped fabric.

When you do find a piece of furniture whose framework has been well cared for and is still somewhat sturdy, you want to ignore the current fabric.  This is the part where imagination is critical.  Textiles are such a powerful part of the design process that they may camouflage the potential of the perfect piece.  If you already have your new fabric picked out, envision the pattern on the new find.  If you haven’t yet chosen your fabric yet, look solely at the shape and structure of the furniture piece you have discovered.  Does it fit the overall design style and size scale of the room where it will eventually live?  If you’ve found something you love that has exposed wood, remember you can always paint or refinish it but it’s a more affordable and easier process if the wood is in good condition.

Here’s a great example of fabric distraction.  I stumbled upon a pair of wing chairs with beautiful lines and high backs.  They were upholstered in naugahyde, a unfortunate byproduct of the 70s.

Looking past that covering and concentrating on the bones of the furniture, I had the legs refinished in a cream white and chose a silk mohair for the new fabric.  I then added spaced chrome nail heads for a deeper level of detail and craftsmanship.


You may stumble across the perfect find during your search but then you actually sit on it.  If it feels more like a sack of old soup cans than the comfy chair you look forward to curling up in, don’t abandon ship just yet.  The upholstery process is more than just fabric.  When working with a professional upholster, they will also examine and replace any needed cushioning.

I thought I had discovered the gem of the year when I spotted this vintage tufted chair.  I wasn’t even going to veto the purple velvet fabric but then I sat in it.  The padding on this chair left around the same time Reagan left office.

I decided to work with it anyway.  I painted the legs myself and then had a professional replace the cushioning and upholster it in neoprene fabric.  Neoprene is the same fabric used for wetsuits and it is so functional it wipes clean with a sponge!

More for professionals than DIYers, here are a few upholstery details that can transform an average piece of furniture into a real showstopper.
⁃    Button Tufting
⁃    Contrast Welt
⁃    Adding down fell to seat backs
⁃    Spaced chrome nail heads: This technique looks best when the nails are not head-to-head or touching.

Re-upholstering is a creative process that can give new life to old furniture making it a truly custom addition to a home.  Here are a few of my favorite before & after examples of re-upholstering magic.

From CasaSugar:

From Apartment Therapy:

From CasaSugar:


  1. Love your choice in fabrics and befores and afters. I am always trolling for those perfect pieces to carry away in the back of my SUV!

  2. Thanks very much for this great post! It’s something I really want to start doing since I have a love for old pieces and transforming them into something modern. Can you give me any advice about costs involved to do projects like this?

  3. upholstering sofas and armchairs in your own choice of fabric really is amazing. That item becomes totally unique to you, and even if you don’t manage to reupholster it yourself, you have still had a hand in creating something new.
    That Missoni Footstool is really lovely.

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