Upholstery is one of the best ways of restoring vintage and antique pieces of furniture. Not only can you bring an old piece back to life and make it usable again, but you can also bring it into the 21st century with vibrant new fabrics and prints. We sat down with interior designer and upholsterer Micaela Sharp, the star of Channel 4's Changing Rooms, to find out about all the different types of upholstery, how to work with an upholsterer and the process behind it.


What are the different types of upholstery?

There are two main forms of upholstery: traditional and modern. Traditional techniques involve using tacks and horse hair to hand tie and sew forming the shape. Modern techniques use staples and foam and are generally quicker, as well as being gentler on your hands.

Traditional techniques are best employed when working on antiques, as they are more sympathetic to the shape and period of the piece.

Modern upholstery methods are more suited to smaller budgets, thanks to the affordable materials and faster turnaround times.

Photo credit: Micaela Sharp Design

What is the best design style to incorporate into your home?

Mid-century design has dynamic shapes and exposed wood, so furniture from this period can easily be mixed into most homes.

How do you choose the right fabric for upholstering furniture?

Be bold with colours

A bespoke piece of furniture shouldn’t look store bought. It’s an opportunity to make something that’s stands out from the crowd so add a contrast piping or mix your patterns. Generally different textures can be used anywhere.

If you’re working with an upholsterer, most will have a list of preferred suppliers, companies they know and trust. They can also work with fabrics you have sourced yourself as long as they are suitable (i.e. upholstery fabric, rather than fashion fabrics).

Think about scale and size

Think about the scale of the pattern for the piece. Smaller patterns work best on small items such as dining chairs. Curtains are often a better place for large scale pattern repeats.

Check the fabric’s durability

If you’re choosing fabric for your main sofa or chairs that are sat on every day look for something higher than 35k martindale/rub test. You may also want to consider a stain-resistant finish.

Make sure the fabric is fire retardant

To comply with UK Standards fabric need to be fire retardant or have a fire-retardant liner. If you’re reupholstering yourself, go for a fabric that’s already fire retardant to save yourself an extra layer of process.

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Can you upholster using vintage fabrics?

Yes! Vintage fabrics are great to work with, thanks to their unique patterns and styles. Just make sure you have enough fabric to work with.

What are the current upholstery trends?

Scalloped edges are very much in fashion for chairs, benches and pelmets. I think asymmetrical design will be popular in the coming years. As with all trends, things go around.

Photo by attic.furniture.qld via Instagram
Photo by modway_furniture via Instagram

What are the benefits of upholstering furniture rather than buying new?

The initial costs of upholstery might seem like a lot, but it’s very reasonable when you consider you’ll have a piece of hand-made furniture that is totally unique. That’s why you should design the piece to stand out! Avoid grey or plain fabrics. Add trim, contrast piping and fringe. You’ll have that piece in your home for decades to come. It’ll all seem worth it once the compliments start rolling in!

Do upholsterers make loose covers for furniture?

Yes, upholsterers make loose covers as well as fixed. Just make sure the fabric you’ve chosen can be washed or dry cleaned. Fixed upholstery tends to look better, however, as it holds its shape. If you’re wanting loose covers because you’re worried about staining, you could try using a stain-resistant finish on your fixed upholstery instead.

How much does upholstery cost?

Prices vary depending on the shape and size of each piece. Generally, labour for dining chairs start from £30 each, armchairs from £350 and sofas from £550, plus the fabric and courier fee.

How long does upholstery take?

Usually, upholsterers will hold a piece for a minimum of two weeks.

How do you find a reputable upholsterer and what questions should you ask them?

  • Find out if the upholsterer is using traditional or modern methods
  • Find out whether they are striping the piece back to its frame or only recovering it
  • Check out pictures of their previous work
  • Do you find them fun to work with? You may only ever reupholster one or two items in your life, so make sure you have a good time!

Top image credit: Micaela Sharp Design