We had a call today from a prospective client who restored their récamier or fainting couch six years ago, with someone else. The news was sad. She had taken the piece to a local refinisher to have it refinished. The refinisher had stripped the piece of its internals and tossed them. His wife did some reupholstery and reupholstered the récamier for a bargain. He dipped the lovely old finish and sprayed it out with a modern product. Our prospective client chose a rather expensive show cover fabric, and had been pleased with it when she brought it home. Now she said the seat was not sitting right, and the foam on the entire récamier was collapsing.
We are not going to focus on the refinishing of the wood. Another time. Let us instead discuss the innards, which is a good example of the phrase, “penny wise and pound foolish.”
When the refinisher threw out the innards he threw out the original design for the récamier. Whomever reupholstered it did not follow the blueprint for the original design, and the upholstery form was not period appropriate. Based on the images we saw of the piece before the refinisher stripped it, the innards would have been reusable, saving the client money in the long run, and adding to the overall value as the piece would have had its original internals. But more than all that, the récamier would have sat right and today she would still be happy with the comfort of the piece, and her show cover fabric would be in good condition.
She wanted to know what it would cost to make it right. This means buying what was thrown out, new show cover fabric, and rebuilding (labor) all the parts which were intact, and needed only to be cleaned, and possibly repaired (as in restitching an edgeroll.)
- the fiber and hair-filled pods ($2250)
- tufted back ($2500),
- sprung seat including horsehair, springs, etc ($5000)
- $3000 for 10 yards of NEW fabric
- some new cotton batting would have been needed, but often some of the original cotton batting can be vacuumed and reused,and this is negligible.
So let’s say, for the sake of argument, replacing the original innards historically and properly with good fabric would run $13,000-14,000. Had she done the project properly to begin with, we estimate it would have cost her roughly half that amount. She paid $4,000 for the first reupholstery; a few thousand more in the beginning would have saved her $14,000 now, + the wasted $4,000.
Putting cheap modern innards into a tufted back fainting couch means it will never perform right, and will fail and be uncomfortable. It is far better to use the original materials or like kind. Save up, do it right. The form will last you and your children a century, changing out only the show cover!
Note: The images below are not of the récamier we are speaking of, but a piece done properly 15 years ago.
©MPF Conservation. May be printed for your own use ONLY,
not for use on blogs without permission.
I have an armchair that has good bones but hasn’t faired well (upholstery and cushioning/foam) over the year. I hope to get it redone at some point. I imagine it will cost me a pretty penny though. 🙂
I good upholstery job is not inexpensive, but what is true is that you won’t be redoing the innards every ten years. Many folks shop jobs and go for foam insides on a piece that should not have foam, and then the seat collapses. BTW, I am sorry I didn’t approve and respond; I was not notified! OOPs WordPress!
I have recently aquired a victorian fainting sofa and am in the process of refinishing it. Do I understand you correctly that I should reuse the wood shavings?
You say you are in the process of, “Refinishing”, the piece, but I suspect what you must mean is that you ared in the process of reupholstering. When I her “Refinishing” I immediately think of wood and varnish, but since you are also talking about wood shavings I am thinking you mean stuffings. I will answer your question based upon my assumption that you mean the former, not the latter.
Yes, I do mean reuse the stuffings. It is not always possible when vegetable stuffings are highly degraded, but typically strategies for lashing those historic materials back into position, after cleaning and recarding, is possible and in the pieces best interest. Do you know how to conserve the materials which are in the sofa? You will need additional vegetable stuffings or hair in order to add to the degraded historic. Do you have access to those materials?
I am happy to answer further questions if you choose to write or call.
You are correct, however the wood does need some work so I’ll be doing that as well. Since I’m trying to keep it as original as possible and it appears that it has only been varnished, not painted, I’m going to do a light sanding and oiling.
To answer your question, I have placed all of the shavings in a plastic bag for now because they are very dusty. But I will need to add more material since it will not be enough to complete the project. No, I don’t have access to the materials but if you do, I’m interested.
Thank you so much for your time.
I am at a disadvantage in guiding you , partly because I do not have enough information about the piece, partly because I do not have detailed photos. If this piece is an historic piece and/or well made, sentamental, rare/unusual, primative but indicating interesting regional qualities, etc., then it is worthy of a proper restoration. Much of the time the decision of worthiness is in the eye, mind & heart of the owner, but not always these reasons only. Sometimes there is real financial value at stake and a wrong decision by a well meaning restorer can cost both the aesthetic and the monetary value of the piece.
I would be concerned about sanding a varnished finish and oiling. If the varnish is shellac, the oil will make it lokk good for a bit then cause the varnish to dy and fall off. Realtive to the woodshaving stuffings: most probably they are mixed with flax straw of some other vegetation. If these materials are not properly lashed back into the structure, they will move and crawl and bunch and you will have wasted your tiem in restoring.
I suggest that you consider having a professional look at the piece. Ther are very few upholsterers in the USA who do what I do, but you may be able to find one in your region. This may not be the best DIY piece for a beginner and starting with a project with a smaller scope will allow you to gain technique by practice, trials and errors, as there will surely be a few in the beginnig stages.
I do not resell stuffings btu they are to be found by going to a search engine and plugging in the information.
Feel free to ask questions. I am happy to answer.