Upholstery Seattle Tips, Tricks and FAQ

 

New Life For 1967 La-Z-Boy

The venerable La-Z-Boy has long been considered the "Cadillac" of recliners. Original La-Z-Boys carried lifetime warranties. This one manufactured in 1967 is still in great shape; the frame is sturdy and the reclining mechanism works fine. Unfortunately, the chair's warranty doesn't cover things like padding and fabric. Every few years it needs a makeover.

A faded paper tag affixed to the frame indicates this recliner was last upholstered in rural Iowa more than 35 years ago. New upholstery is long overdue.

In addition to the frame and reclining mechanism, the no-sag spring bed remains in excellent condition, so we're able to reuse the original parts. While the structural components are fine, the foam, fabric and padding are shot. After removing and recycling the worn out materials, we cover the spring bed with a layer of fresh cotton batting. New polyurethane foam cushions wrapped in Dacron go on top, but before installing the cushions we get to work on the upholstery fabric.

no sag spring
New Life For An Old "Boy"
sturdy frame
Fastening Custom Buttons
old la-z-boy
Polyurethane Wrapped In Dacron
old la-z-boy
1967 La-Z-Boy

The fabric is a "Meadow" green, heavy-duty, nylon micro-suede. We select a dark green fabric for contrasting welt and buttons. The manufacturer, Charlotte Fabrics, describes the fibers as "non-directional", but we detect a slight nap in the fabric. As always, we're careful to align the nap "up and down" for maximum comfort and durability.

The Dacron wrap adds a couple of unwanted centimeters to the padding. After trimming the excess foam and attaching the buttons, the new cushions fit like a glove. The new upholstery energizes an old recliner.


 

Art Deco Sofa Bed

Furniture makers commonly use color and pattern to distinguish their work, but some styles demand a different approach. This art deco hide-a-bed is a great example of a functional component -- the tufted sofa back -- doubling as a design element.

Reupholstering this hide-a-bed is time-consuming because each of its fifteen cushions are tightly sewn into separate pockets. Reusing the old foam would speed things up, but the pads are badly deteriorated. Before recycling the old foam, we measure and cut new cushions from the old ones.

Measuring and fabricating new foam pockets to mimic the old design is where things get tricky. Everything has to line-up just right or the sofa back won't fit the frame. Under normal circumstances, we'd lay everything out -- tack and tuck all the cushions in place -- before building the pockets. Positioning all the foam at once makes alignment easier. Unfortunately, our spray adhesive stains the porous fabric selected for this project, so we have to do it one cushion at a time.

deep tufting
Deep Tufting
setting foam sections
New Foam Blocks
old foam sections
Damaged Foam Components

To insure proper alignment, we start at the middle. We center and sew the first cushion, then stack cushions above and below the centerpiece. This forms the first of five columns. We then repeat the process, building two additional columns to complete the design.

With the cushions in place, the rest of the project goes fast. It'll make a nice addition to most any guest room, den or family room.


 

When Good Foam Goes Bad

deteriorated foam 2
Foam Dust & Debris
swivel chair
Damaged Swivel Recliner
deteriorated foam
Old Polyurethane Foam
finished chair
Firmer Foam For Seat Cushion
new foam
New Ultracell™ HR-33
finished chair
Upholstered Recliner With New Foam

Hostess Twinkies® and Volkswagen Beetles may last forever, but the foam found in chairs, settes and sofas eventually goes bad. In fact, natural latex foam, made from raw materials found in tropical rubber trees, deteriorates so rapidly that we discourage customers from using it.

Petroleum-based foam lasts a lot longer than latex, but as this swivel recliner illustrates even polyurethane foam eventually stiffens and turns to dust. Today's furniture manufacturers often settle for the cheapest foam they can find. With the exception of upscale furniture, you should expect the foam in a new chair to go bad in about five years, especially if conditions inside the house are warm and dry.

The foam we use is specially manufactured to balance surface softness with deep-down firmness. It's called Ultracell™. Ultracell™ comes in a range of densities for various applications. We select two inch HR-33 for this chair -- a standard density foam with medium resiliency.

The cushion is a different story. The customer wants a slightly firmer feel in the seat so we go with HR-43, a polyfoam with medium-firm density.

When we're finished upholstering, the chair not only looks great, it feels great. And since we only use the finest quality Ultracell™, the new foam should last between ten and fifteen years.


 

Do-It-Yourself Wizards

no cotton batting
No Deck Padding Or Edge Roll
no edge roll
Inadequate Padding
new deck face
Fitting Deck Face & Cover
new dacron and fabric
New Fabric & Dacron Padding
matching patterns
Aligning Fabric Patterns
finished chair
Finished

Some find it tempting to purchase a few yards of fabric on the Internet and upholster their own furniture. Not a good idea.

We see these do-it-yourself wizards every once in a while. Midway through a project they'll toss their arms in frustration and bring us their half-finished chair. It usually ends up costing more to fix their mistakes and finish the project than it would've cost in the first place. Furniture upholstery is one place you don't want to cut corners.

This sturdy, hardwood wingback chair was upholstered in somebody's garage several years ago. It's a great example of what not to do. The fabric is wrinkled many places because it wasn't properly stretched and stapled to the frame. The arms are not correctly padded.

There's little more than a thin layer of Dacron separating the seat from the zig-zag springs. The cotton batting and edge roll are gone. In short, this wingback chair is a mess. The owner decided to get it done the right way this time.

With the padding restored, it's time to measure and cut the upholstery fabric. The fabric is a bright linen print. Aligning the fabric pattern so it matches in every direction is not for the inexperienced or faint-hearted. Notice how the large bird in the print is centered on the chairback, the seat cushion and the wing. Also notice how the chairback picks up the pattern on the seat cushion.

By the time we're finished, the wingback is correctly rebuilt and upholstered. It's not only a lot more comfortable and durable, it looks better than new!

The frame is in good shape and most of the foam is still usable. Everything else goes.

After stripping the chair, the first thing we do is repair the deck. A fresh sheet of cotton batting and edge roll does the trick. Each arm is then tightly wrapped in Dacron batting.

It's important to pad the deck and arms so they retain some stiffness. You don't want a traditional wingback with mushy arms or a soft deck. This is the sort of judgement call that only comes with experience.


 

1960s Diner Chairs

Silvertex, Vista
Carbon, Dijon
by Boltaflex
$49, $40 YardSilvertex & Vista Fabric
finished chair
With New Upholstery
new seat
Additional Padding
original chair
Original Chair

A soft, charcoal vinyl upholstery with chartreuse piping will do the trick. The original padding was little more than a thin layer of cotton batting, so we rebuild the seat cushions with two inches of polyurethane foam wrapped in dacron.

Except for the steel frames, they're entirely new chairs. Unlike the originals, these chairs work well with contemporary furniture. Don and Betty Draper would hardly recognize them!

Certain types of chairs, sofas and tables instantly evoke a time and place. These diner chairs are straight from an early episode of "Mad Men". Sadly, what's left of the marbled plastic skin is a mess. Tattered upholstery isn't the only problem; the chrome frame is starting to rust in places. Because these distinctive chairs are so iconic, they don't "play well" with other furniture styles. The only practical solution is to drag 'em into the 21st Century.


 

Upholstering With Plaid Fabric

Plaid fabric is a great way to add pizazz to your den or family room. But, upholstering furniture in plaid is so difficult that some shops won't even do it. As you might image, matching and aligning a multi-colored jacquard with crossed horizontal and vertical bands is not for the faint-hearted.

plaid pattern
Plaid Pattern
plaid over seat deck
Aligning Skirt & Chair Deck
plaid over corner
Aligning Corners

The plaid selected for this project (above left) presents an additional challenge because each woven pear needs to be displayed in full and aligned right side up whenever possible.

With this in mind, we begin at the bottom. After centering the first row of pears on the skirt, we stack a second row directly above it. The seat cushion isn't high enough to accommodate a third row, so instead of pears, we extend the burgundy and green banding pattern. The "pear rows" then reappear on the cushion face. They continue up the chair back (above center), around the sides and down the back -- everything lined-up just right. Notice the near perfect alignment of the corners (above right). Matching the fabric pattern from two separate skirt panels and a flap takes extra time and plenty of skill, but this sort of attention to detail makes all the difference in a demanding project like this.


 

A Great Grandfather's Legacy

children's chairs before new upholstery
Homemade Chairs For Children
children's chairs before new upholstery
Children's Chairs After New Upholstery

There's usually a story behind an antique chair, especially when it's been in the family for generations. These adorable little chairs (below left) were handmade by our client's grandfather when he lived on the Washington coast. Originally built for his two daughters (they're different sizes because the girls were different ages), the tiny chairs have bounced from one side of the family tree to the other.

With a new generation on the way, it was time for a facelift.

The smaller chair was made for our client's mother. She always liked the plush, burgundy upholstery fabric, so we found something similar. The bigger chair was done in a complimentary color. Blue for a boy. Red for a girl. Soon, another generation will treasure these antiques, lovingly built by their great grandfather more than a century ago.


 

Removing Odors From Furniture

It's impossible to tell by looking at pictures of this antique couch (below) but, damaged upholstery is the least of its problems. The couch had been dumped in the corner of an old garage where it accumulated a range of "distinctive" odors over the years. To put it bluntly, it smelled bad. Really bad. In fact, it smelled so bad our upholsterers had to wear air filtration masks for this project. Before even thinking about replacing the padding and fabric on this sofa, we had to exorcise the rotten smell.

old couch
Damaged Antique Couch
torn upholstery
Torn Upholstery
old couch
Stained Bottom
stripped to frame
Stripped To The Frame
damaged springs
Damaged Springs
old couch
Finished Product

We start by removing the damaged upholstery and padding. But, even stripping the sofa down to its frame and spring box doesn't get rid of the smell.

This smell is literally alive. Killing it takes time and special chemicals.

The first chemical is formulated to kill bacteria the same way hydrogen peroxide cleans a wound. After half a dozen applications of the first chemical, we spray the sofa with a second chemical designed to kill mold and mildew. This two step process finally does the trick. With the sofa odor free, restoring it is a walk in the park.


 

Cruise Ship Dining Chairs

cruise chairs
Worn Rattan Cruise Chairs
cruise chairs
Stripping Seat

Holland America, one of the world's top cruise lines, chose us to renovate a warehouse full of dining room chairs in preparation for its busy summer cruise season. They turned to Upholstery Seattle because reupholstering these rattan chairs is not a job for amateurs. The final step in the process is especially tricky; it requires special tooling and an artist's eye.

The first step is straightforward. Each chair has to be stripped to the frame. This takes a little longer than normal because the fabric is stapled directly to the rattan chairback without the aid of a standard lip or channel. That "missing lip" is what makes the job of reupholstering these chairs so difficult; how do you attach the new fabric without making a mess of things?

cruise chairs
Fabric Cut For Seat Covers
cruise chairs
Finished Cruise Chairs

As the chairs are being stripped, we cut and stack fabric to fit the padded seats and chairbacks. We also prepare strands of "double-welting" for later use.

The polyurethane padding is in good shape, so in most cases we simply reuse the foam after adding a thin layer of dacron. Stapling the new upholstery fabric to an individual chairback is routine. Covering the seam caused by the row of staples is the hard part.

This is where the double-welting comes in. The bead needs to be "double wide" to cover both the row of staples and the damage caused by another upholstery shop. We could glue the double-welt in place, but there's a better way. Using a special pneumatic gun, we tack the double-welt in place using 18 gauge, quarter inch staples. The staple heads are painted the same color as the fabric so everything blends together. By the time we're done, each of these ratan dining room chairs looks brand new.


 

Restoring A Spring Edge

antique chair
Preparing Chair Deck
deck level
Original Deck Level
chair deck level
Restored Spring Edge With Welt
double welt
Double Welt On Deck Face
finishing touches
Upholstering Back & Arms
finished chair
Finished

Ever wonder why your favorite chair is more comfortable than a nearly identical one? The difference may be thicker padding or better fabric, but often times it comes down to something a lot of upholstery shops ignore; "deck angle".

A chair's deck is the surface that supports the seat cushion. You see flat chair decks on cheap furniture because they're inexpensive to build and upholster. Decks also tend to be flat on Scandanavian style furniture.

Without the reinforcement of a solid "spring edge" or edge roll, the front edge of a flat deck will collapse over time. If that happens, you slide forward when sitting.

When reupholstering an antique chair such as this, we're careful to restore the spring edge first. A properly restored spring edge cants the cushion to create a more comfortable seating angle. It also covers any gap between the cushion and the chair deck. Little things like this make a big difference.


 

Tapestry Slipcover

ottoman before
Slip Cover With Kick Pleats
ottoman before
Top View
ottoman before
Original Ottoman

Here's a great example of how a simple thing like switching fabric can dramatically transform a piece of furniture. This basic, snow white ottoman was designed to blend into a room. Using the customer's tapestry fabric, we created a snug-fitting slipcover with lavender lining and double kick pleats. By choosing a slipcover instead of new upholstery, the customer can easily go back and forth between the original look and the new one.


 

Hardwood Chair "Tune-Up"

When a favorite chair is coming apart at the seams, it's time for a furniture "tune-up". These distinctive, early 20th Century sidechairs look great from a distance, but the upholstery is worn, the joints wobble, and the frame is cracked. Refurbishing old chairs like this can be more difficult than you think.

refurbished
Refurbished Chair
two side chairs
Damaged Springs & Frame
two side chairs
Repairing Cracks
two side chairs
Original Chairs

We begin by repairing the damage done by another upholstery shop. While stripping the chair, we discover a thin layer of scrap fabric is the only padding in the seat. The seat's brass springs are held in place with jute webbing instead of being properly tied to the frame. Because they're not tied down, some springs are bent. Glue used to join the frame is failing. Stress caused by the loose joints is cracking the frame. Worst of all, the arm pads and trim are attached with a messy silicon adhesive instead of being tacked down.

After removing the old webbing, padding and upholstery, we glue and clamp the joints. The cracks are repaired the same way. The spring box is next. Brass bends easily, so we have to be careful reshaping and tying down the springs. With the springs in place, we rebuild the seat using layers of burlap, cotton batting, polyurethane foam and dacron.

The original upholstery fabric is too badly worn to use again. Fortunately, one of our suppliers manufactures a nearly identical fabric. It's a cotton polyester blend tapistry called "Vintage". We trim the new fabric with burgundy gimp. The refurbished chairs not only look like the originals, they're sturdy and much more comfortable.


 

Choosing The Proper Pleat

When ordering curtains, fabric isn't the only consideration. As our top designer points out, "Even the nicest curtains won't look good if the pleats don't compliment the fabric and the room." Choosing the proper style of pleat can make or break a custom drapery project.

aligning double pinch pleat
Aligning Double Pleats
double pleats
Bow Tie Effect

A Pinch Pleat -- two layers of fabric pinched together -- is the simplest way to go. Two Finger, Three Finger, Four Finger and Five Finger Pleats refer to the number and depth of pleats per fold. They're fancier verisions of the Pinch Pleat. A French Pleat is slightly different; the fabric is joined at the top, causing ripples below. A Butterfly Pleat is a Two Finger Pleat with a smaller pleat in the middle. Other styles include the Pencil Pleat and Box Pleat.

When a customer orders drapes from Upholstery Seattle, we take time to match the pleat style with the fabric and decor. These curtains are designed for a yacht. After consulting with the yacht owner, we chose "marine friendly" Sunbrella fabric with Two Finger Pleats. Pinch Pleats would've been adequate, but Two Finger Pleats gives these custom-made curtains a more refined look -- an excellent choice for a modern yacht.


 

Kid Friendly Bolsters

If you've got kids in the house, a bolster cushion often becomes more than a stylish way to accent furniture. Imaginative youngsters will turn bolsters into oversized Lincoln Logs*, building blocks, rolling pins -- just about anything they can dream up.

worn bolster covers
Old Bolster Covers
zipper
Pocket Needed For Zipper
new bolster covers
Bolsters With New Covers

When a set of new cushion covers arrived from India for these 36 x 16 bolsters (below), there was a problem -- the sort of problem only a kid could spot.

Instead of zippers, the new cushion covers were fitted with long, "duffel bag drawstrings" on both ends. The drawstrings worked fine and looked great, but they prevented the bolsters from standing upright.

To keep these bolsters kid friendly we had to re-engineer the cushion covers. The process takes about one day. The polyurethane foam is still in good shape, so there's no need to start from scratch. After removing the troublesome drawstrings, we discover there's just enough material to redo the end covers in the same fabric. With a limited amount of fabric, we follow one of the oldest rules in manufacturing; measure twice, cut once. After the new end covers are sewn in place, we install zippers down the length of each bolster. Just to be safe, we also fabricate a narrow fold to cover each zipper line. The fold prevents the zipper from scratching kids when they play. By the time we're done, these bolster cushions perform double duty; furniture for the grown-ups, toys for the kids.

*What! You've never heard of Lincoln Logs? Google it!


 

Reinforcing Fabric Seams

The single arm chaise is a fun alternative to more traditional designs. By foregoing one arm, this chaise (below) maximizes flexibility and lounging area. The other arm is left in place to provide support and to help a person get on and off, if necessary.

  • attaching cardboard edge
    Attaching Cardboard Edge
  • trimming fabric
    Trimming Excess Fabric
  • edge ready for trim fabric
    Edge Prevents Fraying
  • gluing gimp trim
    Gluing Gimp Trim
one arm chaise
Single Arm Chaise

We love the zebra chenille used to reupholster the chaise, but chenille fabric tends to fray at the edge. Before finishing the job, we need to reinforce the edge. It's time consuming, but it makes a big difference.

Using a pneumatic gun (above left), we staple thin strips of heavy gauge cardboard over the fabric edge. The stiff cardboard holds the chenille in place, preventing the fibers from fraying.

After trimming the edge with a razor blade, we're ready to hot-glue the gimp trim. The gimp -- a dark French scroll -- nicely compliments the zebra chenille.


 

Removing Kitty Cologne

Most cat lovers will tolerate a little kitty cologne now and then. After all, marking turf is part of a cat's job description. But, when Fluffy's territorial dispute with the neighbor cat escalates into thermonuclear furniture spraying, it's hard to ignore. Removing cat stench from polyurethane foam (below) is just about impossible. The only solution is radical surgery.

cat
Cat Urine Stain
removing stained foam
Removing Damaged Section
removing stained foam
Sizing Replacement Foam
foam joined using adhesive
Aligning The Sections
scrim to fill the gap
Matching The Depth With Scrim
repaired sectional
Repaired Sectional

Fabricating an entirely new cushion would be costly and wasteful. Instead of starting from scratch (no pun intended), we cut out the damaged section and replace it with a block of brand new six inch polyfoam.

Since the original foam is slightly thicker -- six and a half inches -- the sides don't quite match. Stacking a sheet of durable, half inch scrim (center below) on the replacement block does the trick. Layering is a lot less expensive than custom-cutting new foam to match the original dimensions.

Our heavy-duty adhensive holds all the pieces in place. After wrapping the cushion with two layers of dacron, we put everything back together. The cushion is good as new.