Upholstery, Is This Chair Worth Doing?

written by Kim Chagnon

When you give someone an estimate on the cost of reupholstering their favorite chair often times there is a long pause.  I typically break the deafening silence with “I guess the estimate is more than you expected?”  And I know that my answer is usually “YES”.  So do you just say, "oh ok" and let them go?  Do you take a “well what did you expect” snarky tone?  Neither of those responses makes good business sense.  So the best way to handle this is to educate your client and find out if their piece is worth reupholstering.  I would start by asking a few questions that will help you determine if this is your client and if their furniture piece is worth reupholstering in the first place.

Is This Job Worth Pursuing?

Making the determination as to whether or not this is a job worth pursuing,  my next statement would be something like  “Let me ask you a few questions about your piece to see if it is worth you investing in, ok?”  Sometimes they will automatically say something like “ I picked it up at a second-hand store for $15” or “ I bought it new 5 to 10 years ago and it only cost me $299”  Those two statements are both very good indications of how to move forward with this potential client.  Response one, the piece is a $15 second-hand store find.  This is the project where you really move into educating the client that what they have could be a real jewel!  Most often if the piece has survived a home and made it to the second-hand store or “Furniture Orphanage”, then it’s likely to have some great bones and deserves a facelift.  Talk with them about how the older pieces were typically made out of hard kilned dried woods.  Explain how a lot of today’s pieces are made out of what they refer to as “laminated woods” or the more common name “plywood”.  Determine if the chair is structurally sound and is it heavy when you lift it?  If the answer is yes to these questions, that is a good sign as to the worthiness of reupholstering.  On the flip side, the chair that is only a few years old and probably can be lifted with one hand typically does not warrant the cost of reupholstering and would probably give you a few headaches if you did attempt to reupholster it. The second scenario is the client you usually let go.


Furniture comfort can be another issue for clients.  Maybe they see the value and now they start with “well it's not comfortable and can you fix that?”  Knowing what spring system is in the furniture often times can be the reason a piece is not supportive.   A coil spring system with an eight-way tie is by far the most supportive and in my opinion the most comfortable seat.  A properly installed and tied coil spring system will give you a very solid base and can be very comfy to sit on.  Looking at the image you can see that each of the springs has 8 knots at the top which is the “8” in our eight-way tie.  The springs are spaced in a way that supports your weight when you sit on your furniture piece.  Now a zigzag spring system is not a bad system it just is a very different feel when sat upon.  You can determine what system might be in a piece by feeling the underside of the furniture.  If the underneath of the upholstered piece feels like there are strips of webbing or a solid base where you can feel something attached to it, chances are this is a coil spring system.  When the bottom of your piece feels hollow you are most likely looking at a zigzag spring system and possibly just simple top webbing with padding.  The coil spring systems with an eight-way tie are typically found in higher end furniture that is more likely to be a hardwood frame and worth putting the effort and expense of reupholstering.  If your client has a zigzag spring you have the option, in most cases, of changing over to a coil spring system if they are complaining that the piece is not supportive enough.

Offering a Valuable Service

So the next time you get that OMG response when pricing out an upholstery job be sure to take a deep breath and educate the person on the other end of the phone.  Educating my clients has gotten me many a job.  Had I not continued the conversation these prospective clients would have hung up and shopped for a new chair, or just called the next guy to see if they were cheaper.  I have also made clients out of those whose projects were not worthy as now they know that I am trustworthy and am not just looking for the money but offering them a valuable service.

Pick the Right Fabric

My passion for educating has not stopped with upholstery clients.  Helping those who are just getting started in their upholstery business as well as those of you with a few years in so you can save time working with clients and be in your studios where you make the money that keeps you in business is helping the upholstery industry as a whole.  When working with clients it’s just as important to help them pick the right fabric that matches the use of their piece.  For this, I refer you to a past post here on the Greenhouse Fabrics blog.  Once the client has said yes to the project it is time to help them pick the right fabric

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post!

See you on the inside,