Recovering Furniture or Reupholstering?

Is Recovering Furniture the same as Reupholstering Furniture?

Looking over inquiries from folks around the New Jersey area we've found they use the words "recover" and "reupholster" in three different ways:

  1. Recovering and reupholstering mean the same thing - generally replacing the fabric, but not only.
  2. Recovering furniture is a mild form of reupholstering furniture.
  3. Recovering refers to loose items like pillows and reupholstering refers to furniture.

Around the shop, we tend to use the two terms in the third way.  We "recover" throw pillows and loose cushions such as on patio furniture or window seats.  We "reupholster" when the fabric is applied over a frame or attached to some sort of structural backing - a headboard for example.

Is Recovering Furniture a Short Form of Reupholstering Furniture?

 Stripped Chair Frames

Stripped Chair Frames

Examining this second way people use the two words can be tricky.

We've found that they take "reupholster" to mean replacing ALL the outer and inner elements of the furniture's upholstery.  Stripping it down to the frame, or to the springs at the very least, as in the picture above.

They take "recover" to mean replacing the outer fabric only - not touching the padding and other foundation elements.

You can see how it can get confusing.  We get, "Thanks for the estimate to reupholster our sofa, but how much to just recover it?"  For us, it is the same thing.  But we understand their caution - they don't want to pay for a bunch of work that isn't needed on their furniture - and they assume that we will automatically go to the extreme because we use the word "reupholster".

It Is A Semantic Thing

Getting through the words to the intended meaning is the key in such cases.  So what do WE mean?

Re-upholstery is replacing the fabric.  Basic.

Then, where needed or desired, the degree of reupholstery work deepens to potentially include:

  • new padding and/or cushions
  • re-webbing the sagging springs
  • completely rebuilding the upholstery foundation (springs, webbing, padding)
  • frame issues: repairs or modifications, refinishing or mold mitigation

So reupholstery starts at the basic specification of replacing the fabric.  Then the specification extends to the more comprehensive items.  The costs change accordingly - starting at the basic level.  But we still call it all "reupholstery".

Basically chair recovering, for example, is chair reupholstering - for us.

The Dark Side of Re-Covering Furniture

As in covering over the old fabric with new fabric.  Without removing the old fabric first.  Here is a fairly benign form of it on a chair seat:

 Re-covered Chair Seat

Re-covered Chair Seat

The extra wad of folded fabric under the corners of the seat left a gap under the rest of the seat.

On more involved furniture, stretching new fabric right over the old fabric leaves some unsightly results and reduces the longevity of the work.

 Re-covered Arm Chair Symptoms

Re-covered Arm Chair Symptoms

Symptoms of Covering Over

1. An amazingly low upholstery labor price (ask ... twice)
2. Lumpy and irregular detailing at pleats, tufts and channels
3. A swollen or puffed look where the fabric meets the exposed wood frame that seems unbalanced
4. Slack, bumps or hollow spots telegraphing from the worn under layer

We don't do this - and won't even if you ask (we don't like the Dark Side).  But we see more than a few projects each year where we discover it had been done in the past.

I hope this shed some light on the wordplay between "recover" and "re-upholster" and how we use those terms:

  • recover - replacing fabric on loose items not associated with
  • reupholster - replacing fabric attached to something

Thanks for reading!  Feel free to chime in!

The furniture workshop of JH Conklin & Co. upholsters furniture for people and businesses throughout Southern New Jersey, Delaware, Philadelphia metro and the southern shore areas. The workshop also provides custom window treatment and fabric resources.

Our general service area includes: Gloucester County, Camden County, Burlington County, Cape May County, Atlantic County, Cumberland County, Salem County, NJ; Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia county in Pennsylvania; and New Castle County DE.  #NJupholstery