Buy New, or Re-Upholster? And What About Slipcovers?


Increased activity in the housing market has increased confidence about updating our homes.  In my business, that’s translated to a lot of questions about the wisdom of buying new vs. re-upholstering, or just slipcovering.

Helping clients make thoughtful and value-oriented decisions is what The Refreshed Home does;  so key is understanding the differences between each option, along with thoroughly and realistically thinking through  their needs, and expectations.


  • Fit over-on top of-existing piece
  • Not a lot of middle ground: available very custom-(time and $$$), or very generic (quick, inexpensive, but few choices)
  • Will adapt to piece by velcro or zippers (very custom) or by fabric ties, stretchy fabric, or elasticized overskirts (generic)
  • Usually unlined, and in a light-weight fabric-to fit, and drape well over original fabric
  • Fabric not attached to frame-can shift with use, or not lay as flat as on upholstered piece.
  • Can be washable

These craftspeople still exist, but cost, and modern lifestyles have nudged this look out of mainstream favor.  Readers of ‘a certain age’  might remember Gimbel’s shop at home service, where someone would come to your house and measure/make a pattern while you chose a fabric cover.

Some furniture retailers offer another choice: they sell both new muslin-covered sofas, and a selection of matching slipcovers separately. This allows them to mass-produce several options of reasonably well-fitting covers at a pleasing price point.

Think about the wear this will get, and your expectations of how long it will last.  And  because fabric rests on the frame, reflect on your fondness for a more casual look-or your threshold for straightening seams.

New is…well, new! Almost anything you’d hope to find is available, or could be made. Which could be a good thing….


  • Used to mean gutting, then repairing/replacing
  • Upholsterers today will just replace cover, gut, or do anything in between-depends on condition, and what client wants to spend
  • Design details (like piping, trim, skirt, nail heads, tufting) can be added, removed or altered for a truly different look
  • Fabric choices are endless
  • Modern padding materials can be non-allergenic (instead of  down, petroleum-based foam, latex or horsehair) and green (soy-based foam and  shredded pop bottles)
  • Heavier-more durable-fabrics can be used

Unless a frame has genuinely been lightly to never used, re-covering might not be a great option.  The insides of a sofa age as  much as the outsides do, putting money into covering shrunken latex cushions,  or one that’s not sturdy is a waste.


Do you have pets, small children-or messy big ones? Do you get bored easily, or hate a perfectly good hand-me-down sofa?  Maybe you’re just cash or time-challenged at the moment?  All  good reasons to think about a generic slipcover.

The answer to new vs. re-upholster is not as clear.  Age is not always reliable marker of quality, or suitability to be re-worked.  Cost of new can be more fabric than quality of manufacturing.  And a sofa that is undersized, or that sits at an uncomfortable angle is not going to feel much better with new fabric on it. Even quality, older pieces can have frame damage if say they spent time in direct sunlight, or  in front of heating elements.


If you’ve got a piece where the loose cushions are stained or worn-but arms, and rest of frame looks good-replacing inserts, and covering them in a totally different fabric can be both inexpensive and stylish.

Easy to go back and forth, but don’t expect to choose based solely on cost. A solid re-upholstery job will probably run a similar amount of money as the same quality of new.

Instead,  first ask yourself if the piece has actual or sentimental value.  Do you like it? Is it an unusual size that fits well in a specific space?  Even just wanting new-OR-not wanting to cut down another tree-all valid, that will help you more clearly evaluate pricing.