Advice on whether to buy new or
thought Should I Buy new or old furniture?
die hard antique buyers will sometimes steer clear from buying antique sofas
and chairs. Maybe it’s the baggy bases, smelly fabric, dangerous looking
springs! wobbly legs or even the cloud of dust that engulfs you as soon as you
sit down! Non of this bothers me of course, but I can understand the desire for
a nice new, clean and fresh sofa, and the ease of buying a new one compared to
living with an old decrepit looking thing. But what if you bought an
antique sofa, lets say a Victorian one, made about 150 years ago and had it
professionally restored to as new condition? Its going to cost of course
and the restorer must have experience with antique furniture, but if you’re
happy spending a couple of thousand on a good new sofa, You could get an exquisite
restored antique one for the same money. You can, as ever, spend hundreds of
thousands on antique upholstery, but for now we’ll concentrate on the middle
market antique stuff that can compete in price with your new “interest
free” (Well who pays the interest then?) mass produced sofa’s.
of all find a good upholsterer, someone with great experience in reupholster
and specifically antique work. There are a lot of wannabe upholsterers who
could very easily cost you a fortune to ruin a lovely piece, so please take
advice here. Buying antique upholstery isn’t hard. It’s the restoration
that is the difficult bit and will possibly cost the most, so again choose
wisely your upholsterer.
rooms and dealers shops will have plenty of antique sofas, chairs and chaises
to choose from. You’re going to need some imagination to see any potential and
any end result in many of these pieces, but it doesn’t take an expert to spot
the oozing quality. Just look at the frames, the carving, the detailing, the
springing and the construction. These things were definitely made to last in a
time before the “throw away” idea was acceptable. The cost of the initial purchase
needn’t be too much, it’s the restoration that will be the painful part, but
you will have a sofa or chair that if you commissioned to be made today (and
finding someone good enough to do it would be very difficult) would cost many
times your final investment in the original article. It’ll be a bit like owning
a beautifully restored classic car, like the Aston Martins feature in last
months edition (well I think so anyway) you’ll own a piece of history,
something that you can impress your friends with, it’ll last forever, it’ll
turn heads (In the living room anyway) and you shouldn’t do too badly on the
investment front either.
exceptional walnut beautifully carved and quality chaise longue. Again Victorian
and made around 1870. Can be quite a state when bought. The original fabric is
thread bare, the sprung seat had almost dropped out, and that gorgeous walnut
frame was covered in 130 years of grime, once
restored you can now see the fantastic original colour of the walnut and
the sheer quality of the carvings and turning. All done,dusted, restored
and finished in a super fabric, this one will cost £1500 but you’ll
never see another!
old cushions, horsehair and seat springs
that flip you backwards and spike you in the rear end for good measure!
the joys of owning antique upholstery.
imagine for a bargain price, you’ve bought yourself an old Victorian sofa with
droopy seats and sticky, worn out covers. You bung it in your living room,
remembering to place a throw over the worst holes to hide the straw stuffing
and invite all your friends and family round for a sofa warming party. I wonder
how impressed they’ll be when they go home with red and nasty bumps up their
legs (sharp straw and horsehair) ripped pants (A rogue spring), maybe a
disturbed mouse hiding in a pocket! Sounds fantastic doesn't it?
its easy to understand then that even the most die hard antique buyers steer
clear of antique sofas and opt to buy new. I suppose it’s so easy to go to your
local furniture store, pick your fabric and have a lovely new sofa or chair
delivered. I’m not knocking it; part of my business is the making of new sofas
and chairs, so I wouldn't dream of cutting my nose off! I’m just saying that
there is another way and to my mind one that is actually more interesting and
satisfying, although a lot more effort is required, its never cheap and in some
cases you might end up waiting a long time.
other way of course involves an antique sofa, chair or suite. They can be
bought unbelievably cheaply, but don't be tempted by that alone. You’ll need a
good upholsterer and they really are rare animals. There are lots of so called
upholsterers, who’ve spent time in factories mass-producing suites (One man can
make up to five three piece suites in a day..Great quality hey) Watch out for
these chaps. They might be okay at making stacks of sofa beds, but show them a
fully coil sprung 150 year old sofa, with horse hair, straw and a wonderful but
loose beech frame all in need of complete restoration and they’ll drop dead! So
step number one must be to source your upholsterer. Ask antique dealers,
auctioneers or friends to recommend a good one. He must be experienced in,
knows and understands antique upholstery. The cost of the restoration and
reupholstery will normally and massively out weigh the cost of the sofa or
Victorian sofas for example can be bought for as little as £200, but might cost
five to ten times that amount to restore. So don't be shocked when you get a
quote for reupholstery. Only this morning I gave a price to a lady to restore
an Edwardian sofa she’d recently bought in the local auction room. My price
included some cleaning and polishing to the legs, frame repairs, new feather
and down cushions, respringing and reupholstering. Basically this sofa would be
in as new condition. The price came to £1150. Well, If only I had a CCTV
system, I would have recorded the comical or was it a mortified face? The lady
pulled as she stumbled backwards in an effort to get out of the shop as quickly
couldn't quite grasp what she was mumbling to me as she exited the building,
but I did catch the fact that she’d only paid £75 for the sofa, £1150 was a
ridiculous price and she could buy two new sofa’s for less...Do you think she’ll
you’ve come to terms with the fact that reupholstery is not cheap and you’ve
found your perfect upholsterer, get yourself out on the hunt for your perfect
partner (sofa or chair I mean) and make sure that the upholsterer can start and
complete your work in a reasonable time scale. Bigger professional restoration
companies should be able to turn around your furniture within a month or two.
The smaller one-man band types might be less expensive, but will probably take
much longer to complete the work. I recommended a customer of mine to contact
the Guinness Book of Records after she told me she had once waited six years
for an upholsterer to complete a reupholstery of a Georgian chair.
are always stacks of antique sofas and chairs in every auction room, so this is
where you’ll see the largest collection, unless you can get yourself into an
antique warehouse. Dealers often have the better pieces and will sometimes
restore them before being putting them on display. The problem here is that if
you don't like the fabric the shop has chosen for the piece, you’ll have to
have it reupholstered again.
there are lots of place to buy lovely old sofas and chairs. You won’t need too
much money to make the initial purchase, but what you’ll need is a great deal
of is imagination! If you don't have imagination, then get straight down to the
nearest out of town furniture store selling three piece suites on interest free
credit (Who pays the interest then?) and let the spotty faced salesman sort you
out. But if you do, you’ll be able to see past the general old and dirty
appearance. You might not like the old fabric, but you can see past that: the
saggy seats with springs poking out of the bottom wont put you off and the very
distinctive smell might even be attractive (Or is that just me?)
you’ve seen past all the horribleness, you’ll find the shape you like and size
that’ll fit perfectly. What you’ll appreciate is the wonderful quality that has
kept these things in use for generations. Also realise that although its going
to cost some money to bring you ideal sofa or chair back to life, you're going
to have a truly unique and characterful piece of furniture that no one else
will have, it'll be worth passing on and something you’d have to pay much more
than your final investment to commission someone to make in the same way and to
the same standards.
then, all things considered, reupholstery isn't expensive. Yes it takes effort
to find the right upholsterer, the right piece of furniture and plenty of time
trawling around auctions rooms and antique shops. But if you enjoy antiques and
the pleasures that come with them, why not go this route next time you need a
new sofa or chair. The whole experience will be exciting and possibly
frustrating, but something you’ll always remember and I think you’ll really
buying a piece needing reupholstery
Check the frame as best you can. Some wobbliness is okay as the frame can be
repaired and strengthened once all the fabric is stripped off. Watch out though
for signs of woodworm. Look under the piece and if you see piles of white dust
on the floor, leave it alone as it’s got a bad case of the worms! Don't stop
looking yet; Turn the piece over and peel away a bit of the hessian base so you
can see the frame. Look for signs of the powdery dust left by munching worms or
fresh wormholes (Fresh holes are clean and white apposed to old holes that are
dark and aged) the odd hole here and there is fine, it can be treated before
the reupholstery. But if there is a lot of wood dust and stacks of holes, leave
it alone, it’s not worth the risk. Don't confuse old upholsterers tack holes
with wormholes. Wormholes are smaller and not uniformed like upholsterer’s tack
holes are. I made a big mistake years ago by falling in love with a gorgeous
in hope than expectation, I striped the sofa to the frame Sadly, the dream sofa
I shouldn't have bought began to crumble when the old covering was being
removed. Every attempt was made to save the frame, but it was all in vein. I
actually witnessed worms leaving their holes hurriedly being chased out by the
chemical treatment that was being poured all over the thing (In huge
quantities) The frame was eventually pronounced dead on the bench and ended up
being burnt in fear of the worms spreading. I watched my purchase cost of over
£500 go up in smoke and lost a whole days work .
So all in all a bad experience and one that I
shouldn't have had and refuse to have again! So remember, sometimes it pays to
take no notice of yourself?
Victorian chairs have a metal frame. Watch out, they’ll cost you much more to
springs: Any old sofa or chair will need respringing, so don't panic if there
are more springs on the floor than on the seat! It’ll all get sorted out.
seat cushions: New foam blocks; some say ruin the look. Then go for feather or
fibre seat cushions.
or tacks The majority of upholsterers use air compressed staple guns. If it’s
not a museum piece, it doesn't matter if staples are used. They’re more
efficient and do a better job. The only place I insist on having tacks is on
the base. It just looks nice if you turn the piece over.
wood and polished legs: A lot of antique upholstery has show wood frames or
turned wooden legs with castors. If you’re going to reupholster something like
this, then make sure the wood gets some attention. Don't have it over polished
to make it look new - just touched in, re-coloured and waxed. It still needs to
look its age.
an antique armchair
armchairs are fabulous quality, full of character, very comfortable, almost
always unique, and incredible value for money.
can buy a 120-year-old Victorian chair made by a true craftsman from only the
best materials for around £50! To buy the same quality new – and let me assure
you there are only a handful of companies left who make to this standard –
you’d need to be prepared to pay over £2000!
see, one of the downsides to buying one of these bargain chairs for 50 quid is
the material from which they’re made. Horsehair and straw may be some of the
best materials to use in chair upholstery, but when the stuff is over 100 years
old and you’re sitting on top of it you may be in for some trouble, especially
if the chair has been stored in a barn for the past 30 years!Obviously then, we
can see that buying antique armchairs has its pros and cons!
there is the £50-and-up sector. Auction rooms are probably your best bet, but
remember what you’re buying is not really a chair to sit on, but actually the
shape, style, and frame of one. The new owner will need to dispose of all the
top cover and fillings and have it resprung and rebuilt professionally. Its
legs might need re-polishing and their castors might need replacing.Go to a
recommended upholsterer. Don't skimp on the price and get it out of your head
that you’ve only paid £50 for it. Put a good quality fabric on, or, even
better, a nice Scottish leather, and maybe a feather seat cushion. Make sure
that they closely examine the frame and do any re-jointing and gluing right
then. If you do this, you will have a supreme chair that will last forever.
Sadly though, the £50 bargain will now owe you closer to £1000 all done and
dusted, but don't worry too much, because that's still about half the cost of a
similar quality new one.
a restored one
an already-restored antique chair will save you an awful lot of time and effort
over finding a beat-up one – and then choosing an upholsterer and waiting for
ever to have the job done. The downside here is that you could possibly arrange
it more cheaply yourself, but then again, this isn't always the case. A few
companies do specialise in finding and restoring antique armchairs. They’re
sympathetic in their restorations and employ teams of qualifies upholsterers.
who has ever been in business will understand that these upholsterers need to
be continually employed and kept busy, so holding out for big money on stock
items is not good for business. They need to sell quickly and move on to the
next restoration project to keep the wages paid, so with a bit of negotiating
you can pick up quite a good-value restored chair off the peg and have it
delivered the next day. With an already-restored chair, though, you are not
going to have a choice when it comes to the fabric covering, as it will never
be cost-effective to have it done again just to change the colour. It might be
worth asking if you may see any chairs prior to restoration, and if you have a
good imagination you can choose your own fabric and have it done to order.
an antique chair in original condition
is the domain of the seriously good antique dealer. To find an antique chair in
its original fabric covering and in super condition is extremely rare. Such a
chair is highly desirable, highly sought-after, and normally astonishingly
give you a couple of examples.
As I’ve already said, you can buy a Victorian armchair in rough condition and
needing restoration for £50. The same chair, found in really fine condition and
not needing any work, maybe from a country house sale, and in its original, but
nicely worn, brown leather covering might sell for well over £1500.
A Queen Ann wingback chair on cabriole legs dating to the early 1700s will
always be expensive, and if I could ever afford one, I’d happily pay the
£10,000 or so to own a great, but later re-upholstered, one. That same chair,
however, in its original and perfect needlework covering, might be worth
£100,000. Shocking, isn't it? And quite confusing, to be honest
simply, buying antique armchairs is never going to be as easy as buying something
new. There will always be problems to overcome, whether these be having it
restored or finding the right chair in the first place.
upside, though, whether you live in a period house or a minimilistic white box,
is that using antiques adds a unique style to your home, whether you have it
furnished super-modern or truly traditionally.
is never cost-effective to buy cheap throwaway furniture only to have to
replace it time and time again, and there can be no sense of well-being in
owning horrible-quality goods.
antique armchair has a wonderful feel-good factor. It will not only give great
service, but be a great investment, too, in financial terms as well as in terms
of character and style – and isn’t it just nice to be different!