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  • Fred Wakefield

Do I buy a new sofa or reupholster my old one?

I get regular enquiries from potential clients unsure about whether to replace or renew an existing sofa, armchair or three piece suite. The old Adage “ You get what you pay for” applies to both options but how do you know if you are getting a quality product and

spending your money wisely? Both routes have pitfalls and benefits which I will attempt to cover here.


I wager most people will primarily search for a new sofa based on the look of it and price, possibly followed by the size/fit and then durability of the fabric, whilst never really giving much thought to what lies beneath. Unfortunately, we now live in a throwaway society and much of what is produced in the retail world is “disposable” furniture constructed cheaply, and unable to withstand the test of time and use. If you are buying from the high street or online, especially from companies that seem to have year round sales then you should expect the items will have a short lifespan and end up in landfill before too long. Although they may be covered in a vibrant, expensive looking fabric, the frames will be made from cheap substandard materials like plywood or MDF instead of solid hardwood with glued and doweled joints. Good quality furniture is not cheaply built, with that being said you don’t necessarily need to go down the bespoke route, brands such as Duresta or Tetrad are perfectly fine and will last, they could also be recovered/reupholstered if and when the need arises.

A few tips for buying new that may be useful –

If they are not endlessly going on about the quality frame (hardwood, dowelled joints, glued and screwed, etc) and superior cushion fillings then you can bet your bottom dollar it’s not going to last a lifetime. The frame is more than likely Pine, MDF or another substandard timber that will bend, creak and possibly break or joints may fail. The springs attached into these timbers are more likely to get pulled away from the frame with heavy use which can be a pain and costly to fix.

Read the descriptions carefully, these can be misleading - “leather effect” for example is not leather. When buying a leather couch, keep away from a plastic type film on top (finished split leather for example) as although it may look great to begin with, it is likely to crack and peel. Full grain leather or Aniline is the way to go, Aniline will smell like leather and is more natural. Real leather, just like David Dickinson’s face will need moisturising in time.

Lift up the sofa at one end… if it’s surprisingly light given its size, then walk away.

Look at the quality of the finish (stitching and joins). With a button back look at how well the pleats/creases have been done – it should be tight and fixed.

Are the cushions fixed or removable? (I refer here to cushions that look like they should be removable). If fixed, it means you can’t turn them extending the life of the fabric and it also means any repair work or changing of the inserts is made near impossible.

There are many types of cushion fillings (foam, feather, fibre or a mix of foam and feather, etc) – none are wrong and it’s a personal choice as to what you might prefer. Usually when designing a sofa the choice of cushion inserts will be made based on how they look in the overall design. Foam for example will be flatter/squarer and give a more modern look.

If it’s a long sofa (3 seater) does it have more than a leg in each corner to support it? Without a quality hardwood frame this is going to sag and bend over time with weight and use. When Uncle Harry, who loves his food comes to stay and throws himself down on it after Christmas dinner… is it going to survive!!

Budget allowing, buying a good quality sofa with “good bones” will last longer and be better value for money than buying cheaper and replacing every 5-10 years. It will also be worth recovering/reupholstering should the fabric get past it’s best or need updating, which leads me nicely onto…


Reupholstering furniture is a great, environmentally friendly way to keep old furniture out of landfill but it needs to meet certain criteria to warrant it. If done correctly it is not cheap so if your main reason to reupholster is to save money you should be aware that may not end up being the case. The structural qualities I have mentioned in buying new also apply to renewing your existing sofa or armchair, however you should be aware that the quality of furniture on the market today just isn’t as good as it was, a moderately priced item 15, 20 or 30 years ago is by today’s standards of construction and materials, a good quality piece of furniture. Therefore the older the sofa you have, the more likelihood there is that it is going to be a potential candidate for renewing the upholstery.

Reasons you may be considering reupholstery –

I like the shape and it’s a good fit for the space I have, I can’t find anything out there that fits the bill.

It’s sooooo comfy, I can’t get rid of it.

It’s a family piece/heirloom. (Uncle Harry gave it to me because he broke my sofa at Christmas).

I don’t like throwing things away, there’s nothing wrong with it apart from the fabric is faded/worn.

We’ve just moved and want to change the fabric so it fits into our new house.

Reupholstering an existing item can be a rewarding experience and the benefits of getting an item reupholstered are many, firstly by choosing your own fabric and discussing options with the upholsterer relating to updating/modernising you will be creating a unique piece to suit your needs and there will be no other like it out there! Shocking pink velvet or a more subtle charcoal wool, it’s entirely up to you. You will not be compromising on comfort as you already know it is comfortable and fits the environment. You will also have flexibility to make any tweaks such as changing the cushion insert density or filling type to suit. As a by-product of this you will be supporting a local business as well as recycling by not sending a perfectly useful piece of furniture to landfill.

If you are interested in discussing a potential project and live in the Exeter / Devon area then please feel free to contact Parkhouse Restorers on 01392 275338 or email

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