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Off-Trend Furniture Designs Speak a Modern Language through Re-Styling

If you have an old piece of furniture whose design no longer speaks a modern language, you don’t have to get rid of it. Besides changing out a dated fabric for a new and fresh textile, many outdated style elements can be altered to update your piece while it is being upholstered.

a plain chair gets transformed through re-styling

This plain-Jane Mid-20th Century chair gets a late 2000s bling factor by being completely updated with button tufting in a high-gloss leather.

To turn your vintage sofas and quality antique pieces into even more traditionally well-crafted or designer-inspired furniture, consider special order down or microloft envelopes to lend a cushiony and luxurious sitting experience. Expanding a cushion crown with down is not always possible, but for those whose shape accommodates a higher loft, down or polyester-based envelopes fit around the existing flat foam to create a high-end, plumped-up look and feel that references classic British upholstery.

velvet arm chairs restored by Rose City Upholstery

Adding feather-down envelopes to the flat cushions of these quarter-century old arm chairs makes them deep, lavish, and contemporary.

Likewise, cushions on sofas and chairs can end up mashed and dumpy because they don’t have any inherent structure. Super casual trends of thirty or forty years ago are good choices to have their resolve stiffened–while being encouraged to appear as if they have more integrity than they were born with–by adding tailoring such as buttons or welt, besides a new foam core. These features will also help keep the fabric on cushions in place, so that it stays neat.

worn cushions

Formless cushions are perfect candidates for additional tailoring so they acquire structure. Here we see the good-natured culprit who has habitually squashed the back cushions down, attempting to get a better barking-view.

Skirted furniture was considered very stylish when our grandmothers were starting their first redecorating project, and often 4”-6” skirts were added to furniture as a 60s era “update” covering up lovely tapered or carved legs.  These days, we want those gams to see the light of day!  Look under the skirt to see if you’ve got something attractive being hidden away.  If removing the skirts isn’t an option, going with a taller skirt (9”or taller) or a waterfall style skirt can give a more polished and opulent look to your sofa or chair.

tapered feet under a chair skirt

This large profile chair isn’t helped by its heavy skirt, and has perfectly good tapered, Mid Century feet underneath.

A fleeting trend in the 1970s and 80s was fabric-covered feet on furniture. In very short order they ended up looking scuffed, dusty, and threadbare—having the effect of a respectably dressed person with desperately unfortunate shoes. Often the rest of the sofa looks fine, but the fabric-covered feet make the entirety look cheap and sad. Upgrading to new wooden feet or legs is an easy switch that transforms the look.

fabric feet on a velvet sofa

Fabric covered feet can end up looking like Ugg boots for your sofa, but these legs are welted in rootbeer colored velvet, which neatens up their seamless effect. On slick floors, fabric feet trap scads of dust bunnies, and need regular dusting.

Button tufting is a terrifically popular trend right now, and because it’s based on tried and true antique styling, it likely will continue to look stately and elegant on furniture even after the craze subsides. A plain and blank-looking bench can be made to look more substantial and textural by having it tufted when recovering it. Headboards and even interior doors can also benefit from this treatment. Diamond tufts can give a more formal look, while square or “biscuit” tufts are a mid-century modern staple as on Barcelona chairs or Florence Knoll sofas.

Gray flannel tufted Knoll sofa

Bisquit tufting and a tailored welt cord as on this Knoll sofa may enhance the original effect of  plain cushions.

Finally, adding brass or chrome nailheads to furniture gives it a sophisticated gravitas, and can make a basic piece appear expensive. Nailheads are a classic, candlelight catching feature on antiques yet are on trend right now.  They act as jewelry on furniture, adding a subtle yet shiny beauty that is appealing in many settings.

Art Deco chair with nailhead finish

Nailheads on this restored Art Deco channel back chair not only faithfully reproduce its original glamour, but also gives it a contemporary high-end sparkle.

Consider a re-style for your next upholstery project: It can transform an out-of-date looking piece into one that will appear fresh, contemporary, and utterly now.

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Second hand chair gets a second chance

Once again this year we’ve had the opportunity to work with the folks at Community Warehouse for their Chair Affair event. In years past, we’ve collaborated with outside designers to fabricate a chair to donate. This year, we’ve decided to do a collaboration of our own, with Aladdin Finishers, to bring one of our found frames back to life.

A friend texted about a year or two ago saying, “I just saw this chair on the side of the road. It needs you.” The frame was a classic with Queen Anne legs, and what we call a “channel” back, but had broken seat springs and holes in the upholstery.

A chair found by the side of the road.

Rose City Upholstery and Aladdin Refinishers cooperated to restore this abandoned chair for The Chair Affair auction.

It sat in the shop for a few years, but a concept was brewing in my brain as we accumulated scraps of discontinued fabrics. When Steff at Aladdin Finishers said “We should do a chair for the Chair Affair”, I knew just the one to choose.

The first step was to sort through the fabrics and select ones that would compliment each other. Then we had to decide on a piece size that would work for both the seat and the back. A pieced fabric sample was sent with the bare frame over to Aladdin’s, and Steff used that as inspiration to create a gorgeous coffee colored finish with a light dusting of metallic gold powder to give the woodwork some luster. A beautiful glossy clear coat, and the frame was back to Rose City for upholstery.

Wooden chair arm with gold wash.

Steff made this battered old lady rich and beautiful again by putting a gold wash over the deep walnut finish.

Anything found roadside obviously needs new padding, so after the spring repair, we started with a new piece of foam for the seat, then moved on to the beautiful Maxwell fabric donated by the Nest Showroom for the inside arms.

Upholstered seat of a white chair restored by Rose City Upholstery

Seat finished on vintage chair done in a range of creamy ivory and warm white fabrics.

The sewn channels in the back came next, and it took about three tries to get a layout that showcased all of the different fabrics, and looked balanced with the different creamy shades.

Deciding where to place creamy white fabrics

Laying out the squares of fabrics in a running brick pattern.

Finally, the outside fabric is applied. This awesome metallic herringbone plaid from Duralee finished the piece off nicely, along with some cream colored trim tape we found in our archives.

Finished patchwork-style chair

A true platinum beauty that just needed to be transformed from a Miss Havisham into a Miss Harlow.

We are so pleased to have a piece of our own in this year’s Chair Affair, and hope that it gets all of the attention it deserves. Anyone who can get out and support this worthy cause and–have a great time doing it—should attend the gala on Saturday April 21 at 5:30pm at the Sentinel Hotel in Southwest Portland.

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Suggestions for 1st Time Customers, Part II

Also consider what your priorities are for the next phase of your furniture’s life. Is it endurance in the presence of pets or children, soil avoidance, or softness? What is most important now? For empty nesters, it might be style and beauty as opposed to child proofing. For octogenarians it might be pet proofing and comfort rather than infinite longevity. For a newly single person, it could be to change up the color and texture entirely, to fit a new life.

Beloved dogs wouldn't dream of harming your furniture.

When pets leave or enter our lives, our sense of Furniture Freedom inevitably changes. 

Whatever might have gone wrong (in terms of wear and soil) in the former life of your piece doesn’t mean it will do again, because your lifestyle has likely changed, and this will continue. Remember to balance practical considerations with the ineffable values of delight and beauty for a piece that you will deeply enjoy over the long term.

When you’ve decided on your fabric, it’s time to get on our calendar. Your purchase of fabric initiates a contract for work with us. We handle all the delivery and sourcing issues when you buy your fabric from us.

Choosing fabrics to give your furniture a totally new look.

Little else in life is quite so satisfying as switching up a bland beige sofa to a lush and exciting fabric.

We are also able to collaborate with some great businesses to provide refinishing and textile protection, and can integrate their services in to our contract.

Because we do beautiful work, we have a wait list! For cushions, it is typically 4 to 8 weeks until done, and for furniture it is 10 to 14 weeks until we start your project. This means that those weeks will go by before we need your project in the shop; these are weeks of simply waiting for folks ahead of you in line as they have their projects finished first. At the end of the wait time, we will be ready to get started on yours, and we’ll contact you to bring it over. You can arrange pickup and drop off yourself for free, or we can arrange a delivery service for an additional $85.00 each way.

Once it is in the shop, it will take anywhere from a few days to a month to complete: This is time during which we remove the fabric, diagnose any interior problems that need to be addressed, and begin restoring and remaking your piece, all by hand.

Close shot of spring tying.

All the work done on your project is accomplished by hand. This spring tying ensures the stability of the seat.

As soon as your project is finished, we call and email you that it is ready to pick up. You pay the balance in person at our shop and take the piece with you, or we arrange a delivery. Now is the time to enjoy your furniture’s new lease on life!

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Suggestions for 1st Time Customers

For first time customers and folks unaccustomed to working with custom handcraft workshops (upholsterers, like us!), we would like to answer our most common question:

“How does this work?”

First, we begin by giving you a free quote, which gives you an idea of costs, what sort of work will be done and what to expect during the process.

Send us pictures of your project, some basic measurements, and what you want to accomplish to info@rosecityupholstery.com, and we will get back to you within a couple of days with a price for the labor required to recover/repair/restore it, and an estimate of how much fabric you will require.

 We are also able to collaborate with some great businesses to provide refinishing and textile protection, and can integrate their services in to our contract.

If you’re not especially skilled at sending photos via email, put your project in your car and bring it to our workshop on ThursdaysWe’ll take pictures of it, measurements, briefly discuss your plans, and get back to you with an estimate for labor cost and yardage amount.

Thursdays are great for bringing your project to us, live, for an assessment.

Thursdays are great for bringing your project to us, live, for an assessment. We’ll email or phone you back with an estimate.

The next step is to choose your fabric or leather. Call or email with a time and date and we will make an appointment with our designer to help you with selection and discuss any further questions you may have. She is available for one-on-one design consultation and fabric hunting on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays between 8am and 3:30pm.

Being thorough while making design decisions means your resulting project is well designed, beautiful, and always one-of-a-kind.

Being thorough while making design decisions means your resulting project is well designed, beautiful, and always one-of-a-kind.

For this appointment, have some ideas in mind with what you’d like to do with your project. Bringing inspirations from magazines or Pinterest, as well as pictures of the room into which the piece will go are hugely helpful in narrowing the scope from the thousands of fabrics we have on hand.

You are welcome to check out samples from our library and take them home for a week. It is crucial to view likely contenders of fabric in the light and near the colors of the room it will inhabit. Environment is so important when choosing fabric!  

Bring some sources of inspiration so you can remember what you want, when you start looking for fabrics.

Bring some sources of inspiration so you can remember what you want, when you start looking for fabrics.

Colors and textures that look great or dull in one space can look completely opposite in your own environment. Remember to choose a few options that surprise you. Often the most exciting and delicious designs are those that arise when we break out of the box of what we think we want!

Next month, read about the next steps in the process…

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Double or Nothing: Do Double Rub Counts Really Count?

Do a simple search online for “What to Look for in an Upholstery Fabric” and you’ll find one of the most often shared advice is to look for a high double rub count. A couple of industry standard tests (Martindale or Wyzanbeek) are used to gauge how much wear a fabric can take before it becomes threadbare. So, a double rub count of 25,000 means a piece of fabric has been rubbed back and forth by a piece of plastic 25,000 times before the textile began to wear through.

Rose City Upholstery : double rub counts

Sure, your clay colored faux leather can last 200,000 double rubs, but is that necessarily a good thing?

Textile durability has the most to do with the content of the fabric (is it silk, wool, polyester?) and how it’s been woven. A high rub count does not necessarily equate to a greater capacity for wear. A more delicate fabric like a natural, finely woven linen with a double rub count of 25,000 will still wear more quickly than a tightly woven synthetic even though they both have the same double rub count.

This totally trashed sofa is something we can work with. Rose City Upholstery.

The highest double rub count in the universe can’t protect furniture from deliberate brutality.

Very high traffic areas such as hospital waiting rooms, university lounge areas, and restaurants require a double rub counts of 30,000 or more in a synthetic material to meet their standards of wear. Think about it: these are places continually used, every day, by a variety of sizes. Home furniture doesn’t come close to the wear that public spaces endure.

Light-duty textiles, like those used in curtains and pillows, can get away with a double rub count of 6000 – 9000. Fabrics with this low count of double rubs are quite difficult to find, as the industry has reacted to the call for greater durability with fabrics capable of withstanding the double rub machine in the tens of thousands. Medium use is that of daily used furniture in the home, such as chairs and benches, for which DR counts of 9000 to 20,000 are suitable. Heavy use fabrics with DR counts of 20,000+ are perfect for high traffic family rooms with furniture that gets used often and daily.

Cleaning fabrics regularly keeps your upholstery fabric young. Rose City Upholstery.

That sky blue crushed velvet circa 1967 is as strong as the day it was upholstered, but this is what 50 years of no cleaning has done to the exposed parts.

So, what does a double rub count of 100,000 mean? It means choosing such a fabric for home use is akin to using a Sherman tank to get to the nearest coffee shop; it’s overkill. The fabric may withstand being physically rubbed against for decades, but it may also have sacrificed for immortality all the good things we look for in fabric: it may be tough, scratchy, uncomfortable, a static trap, or it may simply take way too long to make way for change in the lives of our furniture. 

As Erma Bombeck said, “Nothing lasts longer than an ugly carpet.” At some point, the fabrics, colors, and textures we love today become dull, worn, flattened, strained, dirty, and out of style, and they still need to be switched out so we can maintain delight and comfort in our surroundings.

Rose City Upholstery - vacuuming

The brush on your home vacuum will do the trick to pull up much of the flotsam that ages fabric.

Many people think of the double rub number as a magical talisman whose size will keep fabric looking fresh and unworn for decades. But what truly ages fabric is its care or lack thereof. The hardest thing on fabric is not cleaning it or vacuuming it: Dust and grime age fabric the most.

Cats also scratch microfiber. There is no cat proof textile. Rose City Upholstery.

No, this isn’t charcoal gray spaghetti squash. People used to choose microfiber because “cats don’t scratch it.” Oh, really?

Body oils, food oils, spills, dust and dander, and half-cleaned-up stains age fabric a great deal, and these have nothing to do its initial strength. Finally, pet use of furniture introduces holes and snags from claws, mashed cushions from habitual nesting, besides deliberate feline nail enhancement (a.k.a. scratching), all of which no fabric’s durability rating can offset.

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Exotic antiques!

Being an American shop, we find that most of the newer frames we get in are made in the US, with the occasional exception of the international companies like Natuzzi and Roche Bobois. Vintage pieces from the 60s and 70s will often be Scandinavian designs, some of which were actually made in Denmark but more often outsourced to Asian manufacturers. It’s a rare day that we get to see an antique piece that has any evidence of being made overseas.

A few years ago we had a settee come in that the customer said was shipped from France in the teens (1910-1919), and the bottom of the seat still had the address and shipping information on it. We thought this was going to be our ‘unicorn’, with such a great personal story attached and proof actually on the frame.

Antique French settee

Antique French settee


Imagine our surprise and excitement when we found handwriting and dates on the sofa we got in recently. The writing was hard to decipher, and definitely not in English, but the dates 1937 and 1946 were clearly written in wax pencil on the muslin cover.
Further research found that the writing was Swedish, and said something to the extent of “so-and-so worked on this next”.
Sofa back under padding
The frames also had makers’ tags on the underside with a name and city of origin. Real Swedish antique furniture! And the way they were built was a beautiful example of vintage upholstery padding and style. All of the original horsehair padding was intact beneath the muslin cover, and all of the seats and arms were hand built using traditional materials and mattress stitched burlap.
Maker's tag on the bottom of Swedish chair

Maker’s tag on the bottom of Swedish chair


The carvings on the arms and feet had similar motifs to American antique furniture, with ball and claw feet, and acanthus leaves on the arm fronts. The dogwood flower on the front of the arm is slightly more unusual and may be indicative of the area where it was made.
Finished faux mohair sofa

Finished faux mohair sofa


All in all, a very exciting project, and an unusual set of furniture to find this far from its origins.
Chair with down envelope cushion

Chair with down envelope cushion

Antique Swedish sofa with down cushions.

Antique Swedish sofa with down cushions.

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What the heck is a jacquard, anyway?

If there’s one thing we’ve noticed to be true here at Rose City, it’s that if you have one of something, suddenly you will have several. This is the only possible explanation for the fact that we’re currently doing work for FOUR customers named Terry and THREE customers named Linda.

A formal vintage sofa in Charlotte 4121 Gold

A formal vintage sofa in Charlotte 4121 Gold


The reason I bring this up is that we’ve had a bunch of customers select formal jacquard fabrics for their chair projects.
This cream jacquard looks very elegant on a curved profile.

This cream jacquard looks very elegant on a curved profile.


Greenhouse fabrics has been the preferred vendor for this product, since they have such rich colors and interesting patterns.
This vintage channel chair just glows in Greenhouse A4900 Ruby

This vintage channel chair just glows in Greenhouse A4900 Ruby


A deco inspired jacquard for a vintage Hollywood bedroom

A deco inspired jacquard for a vintage Hollywood bedroom


Luxury fabrics has some similar products too, that come pretreated with a Nano-tex stain repellent, which is a big benefit when you’re using your formal furniture for entertaining (Glass of red wine, anyone? How about some coffee?).
This Luxury fabrics product has glamour, and stain repellent.

This Luxury fabrics product has glamour, and stain repellent.


All of these pieces sparkle like jewels with their glossy new covers. Jacquard is a great way to bring some glitz to a small antique chair.

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Rags to Riches

A recent project arrived in VERY poor condition, which makes its transformation all the more rewarding when it’s completed.

This piece had been in the client’s family for 90+ years and had spent its most recent time on the front porch. The old cover was rotting away, and the springs had long since stopped being supportive.

The old fabric had started to tear and disintegrate

The old fabric had started to tear and disintegrate


We took it down to the wood, with all new webbing, spring tie and padding.
Richelle rebuilt the seat, then webbed and stitched the back springs on before padding.

Richelle rebuilt the seat, then webbed and stitched the back springs on before padding.


One of the casters had busted out the front leg, so we had it rebuilt and found a replacement caster and brass plate to match the existing three.
The front leg arrived in this condition

The front leg arrived in this condition


An antique wooden caster from stock and a reproduction brass plate complete the repair to make the leg match the others

An antique wooden caster from stock and a reproduction brass plate complete the repair to make the leg match the others


Cleaning the wood really brought out the colors in the decorative inlays, and now it’s a beautiful and unique piece of family history.
Decorative wooden inlays really shine once they're cleaned

Decorative wooden inlays really shine once they’re cleaned


The settee fully restored with a new damask cover inspired by the original fabric.

The settee fully restored with a new damask cover inspired by the original fabric.

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Green!

Pantone has announced their color of the year for 2017 is Greenery, but we have noticed a trend toward greens in our own shop as well.

Some of our forethinking clients were selecting beautiful shades of green velvet for their projects well before this announcement was made.
IMG_3323

Camelback sofa in Latimer Alexander Como Emerald

Camelback sofa in Latimer Alexander Como Emerald


And Apartment Therapy projects that green sofas will soon eclipse navy blue in trending sofa upholstery. Here in the northwest, green surrounds us, in the grass, trees and bushes, so why not bring a little of our natural environment inside? Here are some beautiful options from our vendors.
Duralee 90858-72 Blue/green

Duralee 90858-72 Blue/green

Maxwell Joey in Grass

Maxwell Joey in Grass


Maxwell Blossoom in Pine

Maxwell Blossoom in Pine


Duralee 90956-58 Emerald

Duralee 90956-58 Emerald

Duralee 15550-597 Grass

Duralee 15550-597 Grass

Robert Allen Wool Chevron in Billiard Green

Robert Allen Wool Chevron in Billiard Green

Robert Allen Fall Fun in Billiard Green

Robert Allen Fall Fun in Billiard Green

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Fabric Upholstery into Leather

If you were to walk up to an upholsterer and say, “Hey, can you change my fabric sofa to leather?” they would say, “Well, probably, but…” and then proceed to tell you why it’s not as straightforward as it sounds.

A client's walnut framed sofa before reupholstery

A client’s walnut framed sofa before reupholstery


First off, you’ll find that while leather is really really durable, it’s also going to feel firmer than the fabric did, even if nothing about the padding or cushioning is changed. Upholstery leather has been treated to have very little stretch (unlike garment leather), so it’s going to have little to no give to it. It also isn’t porous like fabrics, so it’s necessary to change the style or tailoring of some elements of your furniture to allow air to move in and out of the foam padding in your cushions. Seat cushions, for example, are built with a partial fabric panel on the underside or zipper to allow the foam to breath.
Crest Dante color Bourbon leather going onto a sofa that used to be fabric.

Crest Dante color Bourbon leather going onto a sofa that used to be fabric.


Another challenge to consider is that a lot of adhesives, plygrip and hand stitching don’t work on upholstery leather. Ever wonder why so many leather pieces have decorative nails? In a lot of cases, it’s because that’s the only way the leather can be attractively attached to the frame. Got a curvy piece of furniture that you want to be leatherized? You’ll have to discuss a lot of changes with your upholstery shop before the project can be completed. Fun fact: you’ll have a snowball’s chance of talking a shop into doing one of these in leather.
A Saarinen Chair from Knoll

A Saarinen Chair from Knoll


Many shops will be able to demonstrate the difference the added bulk of leather makes on seams and edges, making welted cushions look stiff and lumpy. Typically you’ll find most leather furniture has weltless cushions and topstitched details to eliminate the excess material in the seams and control their shape and location.
Stitching detail on leather cushions

Stitching detail on leather cushions


Lastly, keep in mind that real cowhide leather was once, in fact, a cow. These critters have been known to rub up against barbed wire, have brands and even urine stains. Large attractive expanses of leather are few and far between. Not only does your upholsterer have to have eagle eyes to spot imperfections, but also spend a lot more time laying out square pieces on a not-so-square shape. Be prepared to have extra seams on the larger parts of the frame that weren’t present when it was covered in fabric.
The same sofa after it's new leather cover, Crest Galileo in black.

The same sofa after it’s new leather cover, Crest Galileo in black.


One thing for certain, despite the extra work, leather upholstery is an excellent investment when the right product is selected and cared for properly. Choose your color well, as that leather is going to be with you for a long time.

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