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Friday, July 23, 2010

Sofa Before and "After"

I've been trying to catch up on some photo archiving of my recent projects while the weather is not so hot.  I can't work with my tools outside and want to still feel productive.  So, I'm going to share the before and somewhat after's of my sofa.  I'm not yet completely satisfied with the result and therefore I refuse to consider it finished.  Two years ago I was living in England (while I was still married).  Space was even more of an issue than it is for me now.  In fact, the house I currently live in I would have considered big while we were living over there.  There was no way to fit a three seater sofa in the living room and, desperate to find a solution to the tricky space, I had been searching for a modular option that wasn't so modern looking that I couldn't live with it in my house.  Don't get me wrong, I like modern decorating, I find it quite Zen.  Minimalist, clean lines, chrome, leather,  I like it, I just can't live in it, doesn't suit my lifestyle.  We moved around quite a bit then and never knowing what the next place would look like, I wanted something that could be adapted to many different spaces.  The search took years, only because everything I liked was way out of my price range.  Finally I found this on eBay...

 I know, it's pretty hideous.  Who knows, maybe someone else would have loved it as it was but I didn't.  However, it had potential.  Five separate slipper style chairs that could be arranged in any number of configurations to fit any space.  It didn't matter if we moved to some medieval building with a tiny spiral staircase, these could fit pretty much anywhere.  They were listed as 'vintage' or some such appealing label but really they were just old, I'm guessing sixties-ish.  They were also listed in excellent condition.  The price was ridiculous at what would have converted to about $800CAD but we were going through sofas like no one's business and this was the only thing on offer.  I went for it.

When they arrived I realized that the person who listed them told a few little lies about these 'vintage' pieces.  Firstly, they absolutely stank of cigarette smoke.  It was rancid and took forever to get rid of.  Second, the fabric was practically threadbare and the foam was starting to turn to dust and come through the weave.  They were also so low to the ground it felt rather silly to sit on them, especially with casters instead of legs.  You'd drop into it and roll sideways when you sat down wrong.

When we moved back to Canada in 2008 I brought the pieces with me because I'd never had the chance to finish this project and I was determined to see it through.  Shortly before leaving England I'd found fabric on eBay to recover the sofa and it seemed a shame to have to get rid of it all.  I'd scored two 25m rolls of upholstery weight beige chenille, that's 50m all together, and I paid aprox. $40 a roll for it.  It somewhat made up for the crazy price of the sectional.

Last year, while I was searching for a house, I started to work on the sofa because I suspected that once we moved I'd be so busy with other things I wouldn't have time to do it.  I was very right.  I really wanted to strip them down to bare bones and re-upholster them correctly with new materials.  I couldn't afford to do that so I had to compromise.  To see the entire work in progress as well as the total cost vs. buying new or professional re-upholstery check out the rest of my post, after the jump...

  The back cushions on each unit were sewn onto the back and could not be recovered on their own.  I cut them off as shown in this photo.

 At this point I'd already enlisted help and invested many hours of work in taking off the casters on each unit and removing the dust cloth and tack stripping that was covering the bottom of each piece.  It took a long time.  Anyone who has ever stripped an upholstered piece will understand how many staples and tacks there are.  It's crazy.  I'd bought super cheap new legs that, when combined with a new thicker seat cushion, would bring the whole thing up to the height of an average sofa.  No more feeling like you were sitting on the floor.  The elastic webbing on the inside backs was in OK shape so I left it alone for now.  The next step was to sew slipcovers for each of the five units.  I decided they could be made without zippers, which saved money and sewing time.  With the slipcover, they look like this...

   Then I sewed new seat cushions for each piece.  I hate sewing cushions on a regular day, but I especially despise box cushions with piping.  They take forever and are extremely finicky to match up corners.  I couldn't afford to get new inner cushions made for me.  Ideally I wanted eco foam with a feather wrap.  If you aren't familiar with what that is, imagine a smaller foam cushion wrapped up in it's own little down duvet pocket.  I think the cheapest place I searched was going to charge me $150CAD per cushion inner.  I could have ordered the eco foam cut to size and bought my own feather/down mix but I'm not that crazy and it would have still been too expensive.  What I ended up doing was reusing the original foam cushions, striped fabric and all.  I bought ten huge square feather filled pillow inserts at a discount shop for $10 a piece and made foam sandwiches to imitate a foam and feather wrapped inner cushion.  Then I sewed new seat cushion covers to hold the 'sandwiches'.  It's not exactly like the fancy cushions, the pillows have a tendency to shift, but $100CAD for all five seats meant a savings of about $650.  The seat with slipcover and cushion looks like this...

The inside of the seat cushion looks like this...

Note that the base slipcover does not have piping.  I don't like sewing piping, especially piping made with heavy fabric, into seams unless I think it will be needed visually.  Because these chairs don't have arms, leaving the piping off the base actually draws attention away from it, which I think is a good thing in this instance.  The next step was to make new back cushions.  I could have made box cushions similar to the seats, but not only would I rather just throw the sofa out before I made five more of those, I think it would have been too formal and modern.  I wanted a more casual and relaxed feel so I opted for plain square cushions.  I did pipe them, but only because it would have looked off if the seats were piped and the backs were not.  I used the same big, square feather inserts for the backs as I did for the seats.  There are seven cushions in total.  I wanted the extra cushions so that when the pieces are placed together to form either a two-five seat sofa, I could overlap cushions and make a more plush arrangement.  As a single unit, each one looks like this...

You will notice that the bottom edge is rather unfinished.  I've only overcast the raw edge to prevent fraying.  I was going to staple the fabric under the frame to create a completely upholstered look.  I may still do that, but it would require buying and installing new legs as exposing the cheap ones is not a good idea.  I could also add a tailored skirt to the bottom of each chair as well, but that would require more piping and sewing and I'm not sure when I'd find the time.  I may just sew a small plain hem around the bottom of each and leave it at that.  In my current living room configuration, I have three chairs placed side by side to create a sofa and it looks like this...

Not perfect, but a far cry from what they used to look like.  Off the top of my head, without hauling out my receipts here is what went into creating them.

5 piece "retro' sectional =  $800
25m fabric = $40
aprox 50m piping cord @ around$0.40/m = $20
12 zippers aprox. $48
20 legs aprox. $60
base plates for attaching legs aprox. $30
17 feather cushions @$10ea = $170
labour = free :)
rough total = $1168
per piece = $233.60

 That seems like a lot of money, and it is.  The base cost of the pieces was, in my opinion, too high.  However, they are solid hardwood frames which are rare to non-existent on inexpensive sofas these days.  They'll last almost forever as evidenced by the fact that they're about 50 years old and still going strong.

A couple small things to consider before closing off.  First, though feather cushions are considered a luxury item and they are a natural material, though not strictly eco since there are issues regarding how the feathers are havested, they aren't for everyone.  As soon as you sit on one it gets crushed and will need to be plumped.  This can actually mean a lot of extra work, however, you can plump and plump and plum day after day and the pillows will always come back to shape unlike polyester fibre fill cushions which eventually compress and need to be replaced.  You can also launder feather pillows, I put mine in the dryer.  Just don't use fabric softener.  Also, I have a cat and she loves the feather cushions as they make a perfect place to nap and drive me crazy all at the same time.  I have a single chair opposite the three seat sofa configuration and the cat has chosen it as her "spot".  I can't remember when the last time was I saw the back cushion on that chair stay plumped for more than 2 minutes.  Here's what I mean...

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