Home & Garden: Vintage flair

Jillian Span Hofbauer
Columbus Monthly
A dated couch takes on a modern look with fresh upholstery done by Fortner Fine Living.

Are you in need of a fresh feel in your home this spring? Reinventing vintage furnishings with a modern touch has become more approachable in this Pinterest-inspired era.

Whether you enlist a professional for help or do it yourself, mixing refinished or reupholstered pieces is a great way to breathe new life back into your design. We talked with local experts on some important considerations to think about before taking on a furniture restoration project.

“Furniture starts to look tired after awhile,” says Sheri O'Leary, owner of Sheri's at Fifth Avenue, an upholstery shop in Victorian Village. But older pieces tend to offer a quality that's unmatched in today's furniture store selections, often making a dated, open-arm chair or worn dresser a better investment and more interesting addition to your space, she adds.

That's because older furniture construction practices involved materials such as solid, kiln-dried woods, spring coil seating and superior joining techniques that withstand time much better than the construction practices used in pressed wood and particle board options widely available today.

When an upholstered piece, such as an old-fashioned club chair or tufted sofa, has a strong frame, updating the fabric and finish can go a long way in creating a new vibe and a custom look that holds up well over time.

Yet with fewer and fewer upholstery stores to turn to, some wonder if the time and cost involved in reupholstering old furniture is worth it.

“When my grandfather talks about the industry 40 years ago, reupholstering was always less expensive than buying new furniture,” says Justin McAllister, a fourth generation owner and president of Fortner Fine Living. But with the globalization of furniture manufacturing, that is not always the case now.

The two biggest cost factors that come into play with reupholstering a vintage piece of furniture are material choice and labor.

Textile costs are dependent on the amount of fabric needed, brand and style. A high-end leather or Ralph Lauren plaid is more expensive than neutral chenille, selected for durability, notes McAllister. Depending on the function of the piece and your stylistic preferences, an experienced upholsterer can help you determine the best choice for your needs and budget, as well as guide you on current trends in the industry.

Labor costs are another factor because upholstering requires hands-on work, special skills and specific tools, O'Leary adds. One piece may take up to three to four weeks to complete.

But entrusting the work to a professional will help ensure a quality finish. “We have seen a lot of pieces come in half-finished from a project started in the home,” McAllister says.“Upholstery is a craft that takes years to master and there are specialty tools that make the work a lot easier,” he shares. If you do try to take on your own project, he suggests starting small.

For pieces that do not involve textiles, such as a bedroom dresser or a buffet table, the work may be more within reach depending on your skills and comfort level.

“[Refinishing furniture is] not as intimidating or difficult as it once was with all of the [application] products that are out there,” says Shannon Gabor, owner of Vintage Restyled in New Albany, a shop that specializes in painting and restyling furniture using chalk-based paints. Gabor sells refurbished pieces and offers custom-work services, but teaches classes for those who want to try it themselves.

While some may argue that painting old furniture may ruin its value, Gabor disagrees. “If you're not using it in its current state, then there is no value to you. If you shove it in the basement, then what good is it?”

Before starting a refurbishment project, she advises thinking about what is most important to you. If you are seeking financial value for an antique piece that's in great condition, steer clear of repainting it. But if the piece has sentimental value and you want to bring new life to it, she says go for it. “It's an easy process and if in eight years you change your mind, you can repaint it.”

As trends in 2017 continue to favor vintage looks turned modern, reimaging your dated furnishings is the perfect way to add freshness to your space this spring. The overhaul process is a great creative outlet and can be very rewarding, says Gabor.