Covering up

So there’s this couch, this couch that is covered in royal blue
flowers and avocado green stripes, embedded with cat hair and
suffering from severe cigarette burns, but it was your husband’s in
college.
So there’s this couch, this couch that is covered in royal blue flowers and avocado green stripes, embedded with cat hair and suffering from severe cigarette burns, but it was your husband’s in college.

And he loves, loves, loves it … maybe even more than you. How do you get him to ditch its awful appearance, but still allow him to keep the crash-pad he loves so well?

Re-upholstery or slipcovering may be the answer. Fabric and fit can set the tone for a room, and after-market fabrics allow furniture owners to select the pairing that is perfect for them.

“We will go anywhere from a tailored fit to a really loose, sloppy feel that kind of fits in with that shabby chic thing,” said Eileen Korjenek, co-owner of the Great Cover-Up, a custom slipcovering business in Gilroy. “Some people call it removable upholstery, upholstery you can take off and wash if it gets dirty.”

Korjenek and her husband Robert spend between one and one-and-a-half hours pinning fabric around each piece of furniture they cover, creating separate casings for pillows and framing pieces.

“We basically use a piece of furniture like a seamstress uses a dress form,” said Korjenek.

The pieces are then sewn together by Korjenek at home, transformed into perfectly fitted couch coverings.

Re-upholstery can be extremely expensive – as much as a new piece of furniture – and doesn’t allow for nearly as much variety as slipcovering, which can be changed with the seasons, but it has its plusses, too.

“In general, you end up getting a much higher quality of fabric when you go with re-upholstery,” said Morgan Hill interior decorator Lynne Meyer. “I like natural fabrics. Natural cottons and wools are actually more beautiful over time. Synthetics don’t wear as well over time.

“And re-upholstery can give the entire room a facelift if the furniture is good, if it has a good frame and a good structure.”

Still, if there is no overwhelming attachment to a piece, and you’re not planning on keeping it forever, it may just be easier to buy new, said Suzie Crump, owner of Timber & Textiles in Hollister.

“Tastes change,” said Crump, whose reupholstering fabrics start at $16 per yard. “If it’s a sentimental piece or a piece that’s been in the family … or if you spent just thousands and thousands of dollars on it, it may be worth keeping.”

Both types of covering will wear over time, so tastes and usage are really dictate fabric choices, which range from flimsy decorator fabrics not meant for much more than eye candy to nearly indestructible upholstery like mohair.

For re-upholstery work, owners should look for heavy fabric with a stiff backing, generally kept in an upholstery section of fabric stores or specially ordered from books available through local upholstery shops.

Leather and chenille are two particularly durable fabrics, while woven textiles and heavy silks are beautiful but non-kid friendly fabrics more suitable for a formal living room that isn’t used too much, said Meyer.

Slipcovers, on the other hand, are generally made from fabrics without backing, as they need to be able to move over the surface of a couch.

The lack of backing reduces friction, which could damage the fabric of the furniture underneath, and allows a lightweight material, especially one not suitable for upholstery, to last longer with regular wear, according to Korjenek.

In the end, a fabric’s durability is only part of the equation as to how long it will remain in a home. Making sensible choices about the activities that take place on or near your couch could be even more important.

“I would definitely suggest doing something that could be slipcovered and is washable if you have kids,” said Crump, “but I often have customers who say, ‘Well what can I do about stains?’ It’s simple. Grape juice is not going to come out. If you know that, don’t have your kids drink grape juice on your sofa.”

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