Key Factors to Consider When Reupholstering a Piece of Secondhand Furniture

Blog Written by Sarah Lyon
Written by: Sarah Lyon
April 17, 2024 Updated 11:04 AM
April 17, 2024 Updated 11:04 AM

Estate sales are excellent resources for scoring fabulous furniture finds, but let’s face it: Fabric can experience significant wear and tear over time (or simply appear dated in style), and oftentimes, vintage and antique pieces call for a bit of a makeover in the form of a reupholstery job. However, keep in mind that when purchasing that secondhand sofa with the intention of recovering it, you may be signing up for a relatively large—but worthwhile—undertaking, so it’s important to develop an understanding of all that is involved in a reupholstery project ahead of time. 

As Ella Hall, the co-founder and CEO of Brooklyn-based upholstery shop Stitchroom puts it, “Reupholstering isn’t only about updating the fabric; it's about revitalizing the entire piece for comfort and longevity.” Below, she shares the three main factors to take into account prior to revamping that estate sale find. 

Determine Whether a Piece Has Good Bones

It’s only worth investing money in reupholstering a vintage find if the piece is well made and guaranteed to last for decades to come. Hall shares a few key factors to look out for when evaluating a secondhand piece and determining if it will stand the test of time.

  • Weight: The heavier a piece of furniture, the better. “A heavy item often signifies that it's well-built with real wood, suggesting durability and longevity,” Hall explains. 
  • Sturdiness: Separate from weight is sturdiness—Hall recommends sitting on the piece of furniture and seeing how the seat feels. “If the springs feel saggy or loose, it’s a sign that they'll need replacement, adding to your costs,” she says.
  • Stability: No one wants a wobbly piece of furniture, and this is something that should be addressed. “Anticipate the need for structural repairs, which can affect your total investment,” Hall says of wobbly or loose pieces. 


Easily find furniture that meets all three key factors at AuctionNinja, such as this set of dining chairs—a Chippendale ribband back armchair with ball and claw foot.

Don’t be too quick to simply glance at your furniture piece and call it a day; a careful evaluation now will pay off in the long run. “By addressing these underlying issues, you can transform an aging piece into a timeless treasure that's both functional and beautiful,” Hall says. 

No signs of any of the above issues? You’re in the clear! As Hall says, “Typically, if a piece of furniture seems to be in good condition, and is extremely old, it usually means the quality is great and it should be considered for a reupholstery project!” 


You should of course take a look at your overall budget before jumping into a reupholstery project. The cost of recovering that $20 estate sale find may not be worth it if you’re not looking to spend much cash. Of course, Hall explains that reupholstery costs vary based on piece, location, and other factors, but in general, it’s a luxury service. 

“For a comprehensive estimate, it's crucial to consider both labor and fabric expenses,” she says, noting that a sofa may run you between $2,000 to $8,000 in labor costs alone. Not looking to spend quite as much? “For smaller benches you should expect to allocate between $250 to $750, or dining chairs, $95 to $250,” Hall shares. 


“For smaller benches you should expect to allocate between $250 to $750, or dining chairs, $95 to $250,” Hall shares.


Keep in mind that while purchasing fabric by the yard online or at a craft store is the most conventional approach when it comes to reupholstery projects, this is by no means the only option. “When it comes to sourcing fabrics for reupholstery, creativity and functionality are key,” Hall says. Perhaps you’ll even stumble upon a gorgeous textile while at an estate sale and decide you wish to use that to recover your sofa. “Don't hesitate to think outside the box—repurposing items like drapes or tablecloths can breathe new life into your upholstery endeavors, adding character or history to your pieces,” Hall says .


 Think outside the box and discover textiles for your upholstery project on AuctionNinja, like this large lot of fabric yards

She also recommends exploring fabric remnants as an option, as this is a cost-effective solution when taking on smaller projects. “At Stitchroom, we even host monthly sales where designer remnants are available at significant discounts, making it easier for enthusiasts to find unique materials at affordable prices,” Hall says. For those looking for a discontinued fabric, Hall recommends looking through Etsy.


Ready to locate an estate sale company or explore online estate auctions? Visit AuctionNinja.com. If you're new to online estate auctions, try it risk-free by sigining up here.

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