Friday, January 20, 2012

Furniture Upholstery 101: how to select an upholsterer

If you don't live in the San Francisco Bay Area (where Michael's Custom Built Upholstery is located), here are some tips in selecting a furniture upholsterer.
When looking for a shop to reupholster your furniture, you want to find a business that you feel comfortable working with. Reupholstering your furniture can be a costly project and for most people, one that they're going to be living with for some time. 
First, I'd ask around. See if you can find a family member, neighbor or friend that has had upholstery work done locally. Ask at local fabric stores or a carpet and furniture cleaner to see if they have a shop they can refer you to. If you are still in the dark about what shop to use, here is what you should expect from a good reliable upholsterer:
• Ask for a quote in writing. Ask how long the job will take. Most pieces are in our shop for less then 3 weeks. I don't want to store furniture so we try to schedule our jobs carefully and get the pieces in and out as quickly as possible. Furniture that requires frame or spring repairs, all new filling or wood work may take a about a month.
• Ask to see some of their work. We have a large photo portfolio but we don't keep many pieces here in our shop on display. What we do have is ongoing projects in the shop. If you were to stop in, I could show you pieces that we haven't started, pieces that are being worked on as well as finished pieces waiting for delivery. We welcome our clients into our work area (not wandering freely because we have lots of sharp edges and all) but I take people back regularly and show them what we do. You should be able to really look closely at a piece of furniture to check out the craftsmanship.
• When you look at the finished furniture, you want to look for smooth seams, no unnecessary puckers, bumps or bulges. If there is a pattern (a stripe or a floral etc), the pattern should match on the front seam of the cushions, stripes should line up.
• Ask the shop if they remove all of the old fabric. Our shop removes the old fabric (sometimes multiple layers) and then we repad the frame with a layer of Dacron. If needed, we can entirely repad a piece, stripping all the way down to the frame. This is not usually necessary but if a piece has been damaged by water/mildew or pets then we strip away all of the old padding and start new from the frame. We also include wrapping the cushions with a layer of Dacron in our labor price
• Ask about spring reties and rewebbing. We reweb with jute webbing, going over the existing webbing. The springs are then hand tied from above. This involves peeling back the burlap and other padding on the seat deck area. This padding then has to be put back into place before the new fabric is put onto the furniture.
• There should be evidence in the shop of new filling (foam/Dacron/down). Some shops cut their own foam and make their own down inserts, other shops order their new fillers from an off site company. You should be able to see some new cushions. Ask to see samples of different types of fill. We have samples for our customers to test sit on. If they don't have samples handy, you should be allowed to try out different fillings on your sofa before you commit to one type.
Our shop is a bit unusual because we have an office staff with training in interior design. We help our clients select fabric, make style changes etc. Most upholstery shops are run by the owner/upholsterer and while they may be very good at what they do with your furniture, customer service may not be their strength. 
We do our work on site so that our clients can visit their furniture while it's being reupholstered. If we are repairing the springs on a chair of sofa, I will have the client come in to test sit cushion samples after the repair is finished.  Avoid businesses that are sending your furniture somewhere where you can't check in on it. You want to make sure that you can either talk directly to the person who will be working on your furniture or talk with someone who is managing the shop (most of my upholsterers were not born in the US) but if you speak Spanish or Mandarin, then you are welcome to speak directly with my upholsterers!


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