I collect used furniture. It’s one of my greatest joys in life. The hunt, the find, the rejuvenation of discarded pieces, it is oh, so fulfilling. And addicting. As I’ve gotten older and fine-tuned my style, I have developed a very strong preference for aesthetic variety in my living spaces. Buying second-hand makes it easier to meet that desire. I also think my preference for used furniture has something to do with my long love of history. A want to learn about stories of furniture-owner-past rightfully manifests itself through the scouring of antique store basements and the poring over of Craigslist ads for the next great tale. As an added motivation for second-hand shopping, furnishing with used pieces adds a level of warmth to a home that new stuff just can’t replicate. In fact, I would say at least 90% of all the furniture in our home was purchased second hand.
In full disclosure, I am not against buying new pieces, but if I can find a deal, I’d rather buy a used table and dresser for the price of a new chair. And since there are so many good quality used pieces that, with a little TLC, can be amazing, there is fulfillment in the search and rescue that I just can’t get from new furniture. Plus, there is something freeing about buying a piece that has already been dinged or scratched, not having to worry about being the first one to do it. And I tell ya, the compliments I get on used pieces far outnumber the ones I get on the new stuff – and I am OK with that.
Now, I do have a few rules for what I will and will not purchase second-hand. First, I have to get a “feeling” about the piece. A sense that my home won’t be complete without it. And, trust me, when I get that feeling, it is unmistakable. Second, it has to be in *usable condition (or easily fixable). My refurbishing skills only go so far, so if I find a piece that needs to be completely rebuilt or reupholstered, that’s a hard pass from me. Third, the price has to be right. Although this part is important, to say I have never overpaid for a piece that met rules #1 and #2 would be a flat out lie. If I connect with a good quality piece, I will be flexible with price. Well, to a point.
With that being said, I was recently in the market for a new sofa. I had some ideas in mind in regards to style and color but was open to anything as long as it was in good condition and priced right. Late one night, while perusing Craigslist, I found what I was looking for: a 7ft long blue, chenille sofa from the 1960s. And it was only $75. I immediately put in a request to view it and after about five minutes of looking it over, I was loading it in the back of my rented van.
When buying fabric pieces there are a few things to keep in mind, and unless you are a master upholsterer, which I am not, avoid anything that smells pungent, or has large stains or tears in the fabric. Also, check to see if the covers are removable, and if there are zippers, what condition are they in? Are the legs stable? Are the cushions in solid condition? Are springs poking out? Not every piece is worth the cheap price. Reupholstering an entire sofa or even replacing the foam in the cushions can add up quickly. Make a list of “musts,” and definitely check it twice.
The piece I purchased is one of those sofas built with an incredibly sound construction, and boy is it heavy. I feel supported, yet cozy when I sit on it and the massive cushions weigh a ton because they are filled with high-quality foam. No squeaking, no sagging, and no rocking. This was, indeed, a good find. But, as you can see from the “before,” it needed some tweaking.
After we got it home I let it air out in the yard. An important note: don’t leave any piece in the rain or in direct sunlight. After a few hours, I gave the piece a good cleaning via my vacuum. Then, I began the updating.
The first thing I wanted to do was remove the skirt. So, I closely examined how it was attached and verified that all the fabric beneath was in good condition (which I checked at the viewing, but it is always a good idea to look again before you tear anything off). The upholstery looked great so I loosened a few staples and pulled it off – it took about five minutes.
The upholstery is in great condition (no rips or tears) but the color had faded quite a bit and was splattered with some water stains. One of the reasons I was excited about this piece is because it is upholstered in chenille fabric. Why? Well, for several reasons. Is it soft? Yes. Is it classically chic? Of course. But most importantly, chenille fabric has an incredible ability to take color. Dying fabric is an amazingly affordable way to update faded furniture. And, it’s incredibly easy:
First, I mixed a spray bottle of hot water with 1/4 cup of blue Rit fabric dye. I then soaked a sample of the fabric (this was a good use for the skirt I just removed). I didn’t want to change the color, just brighten it up, so I diluted the dye with plenty of water and tested a few swatches until I found the color I wanted. I then made up a new bottle with the appropriate portions and went to work.
To spray furniture, take it outside if at all possible, otherwise protect any surrounding areas you don’t want to be dyed (including your hands). Soak the fabric evenly and thoroughly. Be sure to let it dry completely – the dye will not come off on your clothes once it dries. An important note, however, is that water will reactivate the dye, so, just be sure not to put anything wet on your newly dyed fabric.
The final step in my sofa update was to replace the legs. I had an old ottoman with the exact legs I wanted, so I swapped them with the sofa. I added a few pillows, arranged it in my living room, and am thoroughly enjoying this awesome “new” piece.
*As a rule of thumb, I never buy old glassware or kitchen gadgets for anything other than putting on display. A lot of vintage glass, cookware, or utensils were made with lead. No good.