DIY and Crafts

10 important things you need to know before reupholstering your furniture

Reupholstering a vintage chair doesn’t need to be a one-time thing, says Your Home and Garden style director Catherine Wilkinson

Seven years ago, YH&G style director Catherine Wilkinson was given a chair by her mother-in-law. Originally purchased on Trade Me, it had a beautiful frame but was covered in tired fabric. Catherine had it reupholstered in a bold, patterned fabric that suited her decor at the time. Fast forward to 2019: Catherine is living in a new home with a different colour palette, and the chair is in need of an update.

We’ve covered DIY upholstery before, but there are a number of reasons – including lack of time, skill or interest – why you may want to enlist a professional. If you choose to go this route, you’ll need to decide on which upholsterer to use, what fabric, and any design details you want to be included (see tips).

Catherine used Huapai Upholsterers in Auckland because she had previously worked with the owner, Shane, who runs his business from home, and knew he would do a great job. For fabric, she went with Warwick Fabrics, a Kiwi company which offers a number of upholstery options. She chose a durable drill with a subtle pattern and soft green colour, to match the sage green of her bedroom wall. Choosing a pattern like this can be a gamble, but “a good upholsterer should make sure everything lines up,” Catherine says.

This time around, Catherine thought carefully about future-proofing her chair. “Choose a fabric that will last a little longer in terms of trends,” she advises. Catherine is thrilled with her new-look chair and says it was a worthwhile investment. “It’s not that expensive to change something quite substantial,” she says.

Scandinavian chairs, art by Miranda Skoczek

Top 10 reupholstering tips

  • Choose an upholsterer who will do a professional job and communicate well – listening to what you want and offering ideas if needed.
  • Choose a fabric that will stand the test of time – make sure patterns and colours are not too trendy.
  • Purchase upholstery fabric, or a similar hard-wearing fabric (vintage fabrics would work in some cases) to ensure cushions will withstand wear.
  • Think about sun exposure. If your chair will be near a sunny window, use a fade-resistant fabric.
  • Take the cushions to your upholsterer before you buy fabric so they can advise you on how much material to purchase.
  • Give as much design information to your upholsterer as you can. For example, do you want piping, domes, buttons or any other details
  • Choose fabric and design details that will complement the era of your furniture item.
  • Keep in mind that old cushions may need the foam replaced, which can be an additional expense.
  • Catherine’s chair was sanded and stained already, but you may need to touch yours up. Do this while the cushions are being reupholstered.
  • If you don’t have a chair to reupholster, you can find one on Trade Me, at an op-shop or vintage store, or perhaps a family member has one they are ready to pass on.

See a list of our favourite secondhand stores to visit throughout New Zealand.

Words by: Fiona Ralph. Photography by: Wendy Fenwick, Guy Frederick /

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