Thinking about reupholstering? There’s something you should know*

Reupholstering is expensive.

blue velvet sofa upholstery
There. I’ve said it.

Being bossy color is not always a fun job, but someone has to tell you the dirty truth. I’d rather you hear it from me than on the street somewhere.

blue fabric samples crewel work
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t re-upholster that eccentric little chair; it just means you need to consider a few questions before you get too excited.

Ask yourself…
– Is this piece really well-made?
– Does it have sentimental value?
– Is it an interesting shape or a quirky style? Or a hard-to-find size?
– Was it free or super cheap AND you love it, so you think it would be worth the investment to funkify it?

If the answer to any of these is a resounding yes, then by all means call in the professionals.

– Do you feel obligated to keep this piece just because it belonged to a relative? (Especially if that relative is, ah, no longer with us?)
– Do you hope to save money by reupholstering rather than replacing?

If the answer to either of THESE questions is yes, please don’t do it. You will be disappointed, I promise you. And you’ll be poorer.

Here are some cold hard facts. (These are metropolitan Washington, D.C. labor prices, so adjust for your geographic area.)

Case Study #1:

2 chairs with chrome legs that need to be upholstered
Each of the above chairs will cost $500 to reupholster. Each will require 5 yards of fabric. The fabric we like is $110/yard retail (I’m not factoring in a designer discount for this post, since it varies.) That’s a cool $2,000 to re-do these chairs.

Robert Allen fabric For the Birds
WHY IT’S WORTH IT. These chairs are 50s-fantastic – check out the polished chrome legs! They’re also a lovely smaller scale, which makes them versatile. Bonus reason: the client has chosen a terrific whimsical fabric, Robert Allen‘s For the Birds (above).

Case Study #2:

chair and ottoman that need to be reupholstered burgundy fabric samples
This chair and ottoman cost $845 to upholster and re-build the seat cushion. It required 6-1/2 yards of fabric, which was $112/yard retail. Grand total: $1573.

WHY IT WAS WORTH IT. The chair and ottoman belonged to the client’s grandmother, OF WHOM HE WAS VERY FOND. That last part is critical. The chair is well-made and comfortable, especially with the new seat cushion.

Case Study #3:

red contemporary living room with black and white artwork Swedish safari chair white Flokati rug
This is my husband’s old sofa. It probably cost about $800 to reupholster, and it likely required 20 yards of fabric.

WHY IT WAS WORTH REUPHOLSTERING THE FIRST TIME. The sofa was free. The fabric cost only a few dollars a yard, even though it’s high quality and was once quite beautiful (his mother brought it back from India). I think she also paid the upholsterer’s bill.

WHY UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES IT WOULD BE WORTH REUPHOLSTERING AGAIN. Our cats love this sofa in ways both natural (scratching, rubbing) and unnatural (use your imagination). The cushions are shot and would need to be replaced. It’s too low to the ground for the room it now occupies. And, finally, I’m plum sick of it.

Any other questions about reupholstering? Please ask. I’m here to help.

Schumacher dragon fabric orange fabric samples
* This article first appeared on 9.29.08; while I’m on vacation, you don’t mind if I occasionally direct your attention to some of bossy color blog’s popular past posts, do you? As I find myself upholstery-obsessed these days, I hoped this article might be of renewed relevance to you, too. Please be sure and check out the comments on that original post if upholstery is a subject near and dear to your heart.Annie Elliott – aka bossy color – is an interior decorator and design blogger in Washington, D.C. She has been quoted in publications from The Washington Post to The Seattle Times and is considered an expert on color, residential space planning, and telling people what to do in the nicest way possible.


  1. Maria Killam says

    Hi Annie,
    Good advice, so many people don't know that it basically costs the same to buy new! Love your examples, great post!

  2. Mary says

    Thanks for re-posting this! I have found that it costs the same to design and fabricate custom upholstery as it would to reupholster an existing piece of furniture. People don't generally look at it in this sense so it's good there are some 'bossy' people out there to tell it how it is! Loved this post!

  3. ohslowburn says

    Thanks for the repost! Understandable that you have, ya know, a life and don't want to blog on vacation. And I'm so glad you close to repost this particular one because lo and behold, I am considering redoing a piece of furniture and your breakdown, especially of the dollars, really really helps.

    So no, I will not be reupholstering. Thank you! :)

  4. Sally@DivineDistractions says

    Someone had to say it! There are times that we can save some money for our clients by reupholstering, mostly because the price of a custom sofa or chair has escalated so much. I new custom sofa can run upwards of $3,500, so if you can redo a GOOD piece for less, then I say go ahead. I always ask my clients similar questions as the ones you posed. I don't wnat them coming back to me if I've steered them in the wrong direction. Great information to share.

  5. chair up says

    This post makes me truly thankful I did that upholstery class and even though it is still just a hobby I have done enough projects to have learnt a lot along the way. When I do a piece for someone else I charge a minimal amount as I get so much out of the process and love to see their relieved faces when I say how much it cost.

  6. aneyefordetail says

    I'm interested in this post…as you don't mention slip covers as an alternative. I certainly understand that reupholstering gives a totally new "life" to a piece of furniture, but sometimes all it needs is a slipcover!

    Also, one has to keep in mind that costs vary depending where you live. Where I am now, which is NOT an expensive metro/suburban neighborhood, I can have a chair reupholstered for about $500. Slip covers cost more.

    Also, what about the price of the fabric? hmmmm. If one has the time, or inclination, you can easily find fabric for less than $50/yard. I don't think I've ever paid more!

    Well, just thought I'd give another perspective to this!

  7. kerry gillich says

    What about the green couch with the fringe at the bottom of the article? Is that worth reupholstering? I have a similar-looking couch that was grandmother’s from the 30s and it needs a lot of work.

  8. Sylvia says

    I have 6 upholstered parsons dining chairs, the springs in the seats need to be replaced. I thought by repairing them and reupholstering them it would save money rather than buying new ones, this post is making me think twice….

  9. Erva says

    Where are the places in the DC Metro Area that you went to for your price quotes? I know it’s like 3 years later, but I’m in DC and looking to get some chairs reupholstered. Thanks.

  10. Vanessa says

    You are misleading people, fabric price range from $10 and up why I know I’am a fabric junkie I’am always in the fabric store. I wanted to buy a certain sofa in the store it cost $2,998,I fond an old one similar to it at a garage sale cost $200.00 that day they offer half price off wow my luck $100, went to the fabric store cost $356, got it reupholstered for $600. Do the math I save a ton of money and love how my sofa looks.

  11. Michelle says

    Hello. I am debating reupholstering two club chairs in a plaid fabric. These chairs have a great a simple shape. The have a removable seat cushion and back cushion with a skirt that covers the legs. I would love to take this on but I am debating if iI have the skill. I have read blogs that talk about taking the chair apart one piece at a time and then cutting out the pieces and reapplling them. I have never reupholstered. I have made pillows. Would you shy anyone away from trying this for themselves?

    Thank you,


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