Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Loveseat Upholstery 101

I decided that our 2-year-old Room & Board Jasper sofa was not going to fit in our new living room. Though stylish and comfortable, it was 86” from end-to-end. The traditional Victorian parlor in our new place is long and skinny, with a fireplace in the middle of the room. It is a fact that the Victorians were not consumers of anything overstuffed or sectional—their rooms were not proportioned to fit super-sized furniture. Nervous that it would be hard to unload on Craigslist, I posted Jasper early for $700 to test the waters. It sold in a matter of hours, and there were 5 women chompin’ at the bit to buy it. So, three weeks ago, we happily found ourselves without a sofa and with a giant workspace in our living room.  

I quickly parlayed my $700 in sofa money back into another Craigslist buy: a $60 camelback loveseat that I bought from two hipsters in a 4thfloor walkup. I rented a City Car Share truck for 90 minutes (cost: around $8.00) and brought it home. My inspiration in buying this sofa was the image above from my design Bible, Domino: The Book of Decorating.

For the next three weeks I stripped the loveseat. It had not been recovered in 70+ years, and the insides were musty, dusty, a little moldy, and generally gross. Dean complained that the loveseat gave him a respiratory illness, which is easy to believe. It had originally been covered with pink velvet, but somewhere along the line someone had dyed it dark green without removing the fabric from the frame. The green dye seeped through all of the layers and obviously sat in the bowels of the loveseat for many months, causing some erosion of the natural fibers. Nasty stuff. I would think twice before stripping another piece of furniture in my main living space.

I extracted about 800 tacks, found a 1983 coin from Hong-Kong, a bunch of vintage Number 2 pencils, and some Macy’s tags buried in the depths of the loveseat. From this forensic evidence I deduced that a well-travelled tween had this loveseat in her pink room, before the hipsters took possession.

I took notes as I stripped the piece, hoping to have a road map for reassembling it. I also saved a few of the gross pieces of green velvet from the seat back and arms to use as patterns for my new fabric. Unfortunately, this involves keeping that gross fabric in a corner of my living room for the foreseeable future.

I also went to Cushion Works in the Mission District and picked out my supplies for re-construction. I got some luxurious waxed Ruby Twine for tying springs, a large spool of jute webbing, and 10 yards each of really beautiful burlap and cotton batting. The supplies are so earthy, strong, beautifully made—I have really enjoyed interacting with these materials. This all cost $80.

The crown jewel of my materials was a $225 custom-made cushion, a 4-inch piece of foam coated with a 100% down sleeve. I could have bought a less expensive synthetic cushion, but I am a sucker for a tufted, well-fluffed anything. I ordered the cushion and, in doing so, threw the budget to the geese in our first “Project Nest” mini-project. It’s all about splurging where it counts, I told myself. And the look that I wanted was one of enveloping, sumptuous, Jane-Austen-era sofa wonderfulness. Like these photos below.

In the first days of reassembling I used a webbing stretcher to create a really tight seat base, and then tied all of the springs to the webbing with some guidance from the great book, Complete Step-by-Step Upholstery. After spending approximately 8 hours doing all of this work, I realized that my “road map” had not been so complete. I tied the springs in a way that would not let me re-attach a wood edge piece to the frame. I plummeted into panic, until patient and problem-solving Dean suggested an alternative way of mounting the edge piece on “shims.” I was satisfied with his solution, but the scare caused me to take a step back and really assess all of the work that I have done to this point.

I decided to put my special cushion on top of the springs I had already tied, to get an idea of how the proportions of the loveseat were developing. To my horror, the cushion looked much loftier than I had envisioned, and seemed agonizingly high in comparison with the back of the loveseat. I cried. I spent $225 dollars on that damn cushion! And how many hours working on this loveseat? About 20 so far! All for it to look like a giant toadstool!

Again, Dean and I talked through our options: retying all of the springs much tighter so the cushion would sit lower, or removing all of the springs and having the cushion rest on a webbing deck, or scrapping the cushion and simply having the springs form a tight seat covered with foam.  Then a funny thing happened. The sofa started to look much more normal to us, after we looked at it for a while and surfed the net for some more reference images. Even though the cushion is pretty high in the air, it looked antique, comfortable, eccentric, and one-of-a-kind. Testing it proved it was comfortable, and the armrests feel like they are at a good height when sitting on the cushion. So we are going to move forward with the loveseat as it is. On the emotional rollercoaster of loveseat upholstery, this was a peak. We went out to Thai food and I had a beer.

What do you think of the project thus far? Do the proportions look weird to you? We will continue to post progress shots….



  1. This blog is amazing. i know nothing about decorating or style, but I look forward to hearing about your forward progress. As well as how Dean makes out with his respiratory disease.

  2. This blog is incredible. When will you get to the part where you explain how to fix the huge slope that I've created in my mattress from sleeping in the same spot for the past 6 years? I'm pretty sure that this problem has caused me to have nightmares of falling off of a cliff. If those dreams stopped, that'd be great. If you can't fix mattresses, I'd take a recommendation for a psychologist. Or perhaps it'd be cheaper to simply buy a new mattress? Please advise

  3. Andi and Dean,

    Jeremy sent me this and I am very impressed and will be tuning in to see you conquer something the rest of us mere mortals would run far, far away from. Already you are speaking with words that are not even in my vocabulary.

    And of course you know this but the more photos, the better. Before and Afters are like food in the desert to those of us lurking in the blogosphere.

    x Yael

  4. All of you commenters are so nice. That means you Dan, Jeremy, and Yael. I am with you with the before and after photos, Yael.

    Regarding your psychologist vs. new mattress conundrum, I don't think this blog will venture to those territories. But there are things in a home that should be rotated bi-annually. Mattresses, rugs, and crops all need to be rotated. Yes, crops. This is going to be a gardening blog too.

    I don't know who out there rotates their mattress. Speak up now if you do, and tell us about how that goes. I have rotated a rug on occasion, to prevent the sun from fading it unevenly.

  5. Go Deano and his "significant other". When will me meet ? Does she like Brits ?
    Loving the project - I'm guessing that means a handicap "creep" (in a Northerly direction ?!)
    Let's hope not - then again, we Limeys need your money....... take care, coming to a piano bar near you - soon. See you in the Carolinas mate. Ali

  6. Show us the fabric!

  7. OD and Andi,

    This adventurous blog I find to be informative, amusing, and hilarious (problem-solving runs in the Enell household...along with patience and a great sense of humour). I am already looking forward to the next entry and the progress of the current projects posted.

    Keep rocking guys.

    I like to put a vote out there and mention that there should be a video reality version too.

  8. Andi and Dean, you're AWSOME! Andi ,could you be persuaded to come back to MI and recover my dining room chairs???

    When I read that one for disassmlbing the Forker hierloom armoire was to 'drill' out the dowel pegs, my heart yelled out NO, NO, NO ABSOLUTLEY NOT!!! I was VERY releived to read that Dean chose the 'tweezer' option; and very proud that he walked out of the store armed and ready to tackle options 2 and 3 if need be.

    By the way, Dean, I'm impressed that you are blogging with capital letters and punctuation : )
    Love you both!