Finding An Upholsterer
How do you find a good upholsterer? What is a good upholsterer?
It takes work to find a good tradesman in any profession. Finding a good upholsterer is no different.
If an upholsterer has been in business for many years, there must be a reason why he is still in business. That is one good sign.
The Upholstery Trade
Upholstery is one trade that allows all levels of competence to find work. Rank amateurs to qualified professionals all have a place. Each skill level of upholsterer can find work from a corresponding type of client. The main problem is when any level or type of upholsterer is not truthful about the quality of his workmanship. However, with that said, it is not unusual for an upholsterer to think that he does better work than he actually does.
The services of upholsterers are as varied as the clients seeking upholstery work. Some clients have furniture where the fabric is completely worn through, that has the cotton hanging out in a number of different places. Some of these clients just want some new fabric on the furniture, and they don't want to pay very much. They don't care much about how good the work is, they just want a new cover at not much money. Other clients have high quality, antiques, or sentimental furniture and they want and expect high quality workmanship, and are willing to pay more to get what they want. And there is a whole spectrum of clients between those.
If an upholsterer claims to be “the best” and brags about his workmanship, then be careful. Those who claim to be the best seldom are. Often times those who brag are trying to cover up their lack of ability. An upholsterer who does good quality work doesn't have to brag. His work speaks for itself.
Skill takes years to acquire, although the time to learn can be dramatically lowered if a person is apprenticed to a qualified professional who is also a good teacher.
Upholsterers have various skill levels in a variety of specialties. Some may have lots of experience in one area, but very little in another area.
Find people in your life or on in your general area if they know of an upholsterer.
Ask Your friends, especially your middle aged or older friends, if they have ever used an upholsterer. If so, ask to see the furniture that the upholsterer recovered and inspect it closely
Ask your neighbors
Ask people at church or other organizations that you below to.
- Yellow Pages: It might seem too simple, but the yellow pages is a good first place to start.
Fabric stores. Many fabric stores who sell upholstery fabrics also keep a list of upholsterers.
- Antique Shops: They may know of a good upholsterer.
Interior decorators. They need upholsterers to do work for their clients. You could have your upholstery work done using the services of the decorator/designer. Hopefully, an experienced Decorator or Designer would have a quality upholster available for them to use.
The Internet: Some upholsterers have websites. However, many upholsterers are not very computer literate. So, some of the best may not have websites
Better Business Bureau: run a check on any upholsterer and find out if they have had many complaints
Chamber of Commerce.
At the upholstery shop
Be Prepared: Before going to the upholstery shop, make a written list of what things are important to you. Inspect your furniture yourself. (From experience I can say, many people never really look at their furniture.) Wiggle all parts of the frame, arms, back, legs, etc. Check the cushions, sit on them. If they have zippers (most do) look inside and see what condition they are in.
While at the upholstery shop ask to see some of the finished work, If they don't have anything finished, ask to see whatever is in process. Or come back later when they will have something finished. If necessary, be willing to go back several times.
Ask to see pictures of their work.
Most upholsterers have ways of doing things that are common to each of them. Also, various upholsterers use different supplies.
Don't take anything for granted. If you want certain supplies used, or if you want something special done, clearly explain, or better yet, explain it in writing and make drawings. Go on the Internet and find pictures of what you want.
“No instructions” means, for the upholsterer to do things in his normal ways. So, unless the job is bad, don't complain if it was done differently than you expected. If you have expectations, tell the upholsterer, preferably in writing BEFORE you give him the job.
Quality & Process
Various upholsterers have different levels of quality and also will have various work processes:
- Some upholsterers will strip the furniture to the frame, check/repair all joints, springs, etc.
- Some will take off the old cover, but not may not repair anything else..
- Some upholsterers leave may much of the old cover in place and put the new fabric cover right over the old.
I recently recovered some furniture for someone who lives out on a ranch. When the brought their furniture into me, that smelled so badly that I had to strip everything off of the frame, and I even sealed the frame with a sealant. All new padding was put back on the furniture. When they picked up the furniture, their truck smelled just like the furniture had at the beginning. they happened to mention that they had sick animals in the house for some time, probably on the furniture. The point here is that they have different expectations of their furniture. Having all the pleats be perfectly spaced was not a concern to them. The just wanted the furniture cleaned up.
I've heard it said that you can go across the Mexican border and get your car reupholstered very cheaply, but don't ask what type of padding they used underneath the fabric.
Be very clear and specific about your expectations and requirements. Make sure that everything that is important to you is written on the work order. Don't sign the work order and don't pay a deposit unless or until you are satisfied that the upholsterer meets your requirements (type of upholsterer, skill and quality level).
Many upholsterers give very minimal work orders, with very little written on them.
It is unreasonable to expect that upholsterers would give a very detailed contract like a building contractor would give. But the work order should included a detailed listing of all extra items, such as new foam, all new padding (if included), spring repair, frame repair, etc.
An upholsterer can say, “the price includes everything”. But what does "everthing"mean? In the upholsterer's mind it might mean something as simple as just putting a new cover on the furniture, re-using the old padding and cushions. But the client might be thinking that it includes all new padding, new cushions, etc. If an upholsterer says that it includes everything, have him explain (in writing) exactly what is included.
If quality is important to you, don't go with the lowest price. You generally get what you pay for. If an upholsterer is the cheapest, there is usually a reason why (less experience, less attention to details, poorer grade of materials, etc.). Remember this basic rule about most products and service, "Lower price = lower quality and less service". If price is the main issue with you, then go with the cheapest price, but don't complain about the quality of the finished job.
I once had a man call me up for a phone quote. He asked me, “You guys (upholsterers) are all the same aren't you? Why shouldn't I go with the cheapest price?” (and he probably did go with the lowest price.) However, to be realistic, if you don't care about quality, why pay more to get a better job?
What does the price include? When an upholsterer says that his price includes everything, he may be afraid that if he raises the price for new cushions etc. that he may loose the customer.
Each client has different backgrounds, experiences, temperaments, etc. One client may be focused more on the upholsterer's personality (or lack of it).
One upholsterer may be gruff, and lacking in people skills, but may do a really good job. Another upholsterer may be very personable, love to talk and interact with people, but his skills may be only moderate. Some upholsterers may have both qualities, they may be very social and also do excellent work.
Consequently different clients might rate the same upholsterer differently. One client might be insulted by what they perceive as the first upholsterer's “stand-offish-ness” and ... give bad report of this upholsterer. Another client may be more focused on the quality of his workmanship and give glowing recommendations of the very same upholsterer.
Just like one wife might say, “I've got the best husband in the world” ( he takes me out to dinner every night, he works long hours to give me a large house.. ) Another woman might say, “I want a man who will be home each night, who will be here play with the kids, who will do activities with me and the family."
Similarly, one client might say, “I've got the best upholsterer in the world. He only charged me $300 to recover this sofa.” While another person might say, “I've got the best upholsterer in the world. Look at how all those stripes match, see how fluffy the down cushions are,... He only charged me $3000 to recover my couch. (and both clients could have the same type of couch.)
The point is, when you get a recommendation, whether good or otherwise, ask the speaker what specific things they liked or disliked about the upholsterer and the work that the upholsterer did.
Reputation means public recognition that someone has consistently done a good job for many people in the past. If the reputation is attached to a one-man shop, then that person has the reputation. But , if the reputation is attached to a multi-person shop things get a little trickier. If there is a quality inspector, such as the owner or manager, who consistently checks the quality, then the quality may be consistent no matter which upholsterer does the job. But if each person in the shop is responsible for his/her own work, then the quality of your work might vary, depending upon which upholsterer in the shop does your work. In this latter case, ask to see the quality of the work of each upholsterer. OR, if you see a finished piece that is really well done, ask who did it. Then insist that the same person does your work.
But things can change with time. Reputation is an indicator of past behavior, but it doesn't always predict future behavior. Past reputation is not always an indicator of current quality. You might get a referral from a friend who had her sofa recovered twenty years ago, and she was very pleased. Well, a lot can happen in twenty years.
For example, the largest upholstery firm in Salem had a good reputation that it took years to build. Eventually the business passed onto the son. After a period of time, he had marital problems, and his marriage split up. The business then passed over to the x-wife. During the tumultuous years key people left the business, quality began to suffer, customers were unhappy, finances became a problem. Eventually the business suddenly closed.
In another example, an upholsterer in my town had a shop for years along the highway. In recent times he had diabetes and started loosing his vision. He should have stopped doing upholstery, but for some reason he kept doing it. During the last period of business lost most or all of his vision, and the quality of his workmanship dropped considerably. Once happy clients were now disappointed. The point is, things can happen. Always go into any business relationship with your own eyes open. Check for yourself what the current situation is
Finding someone with a good reputation doesn't absolve you of your responsibility to use your eyes and your brain.
Potential Problem Areas
Assuming that both parties are honest and want to do what is right, here are some potential problem areas:
- Unclear Expectations: The client doesn't clearly explain what she is wanting: she is unclear with herself about what she wants. She may not have thought it out what she is expecting, and so she doesn't clarify her expectation to the upholsterer.
- Unclear or Lacking Specifications: The upholsterer is unclear about what he will specifically be doing. The upholsterer may just assume that whatever he does will be fine with the client.
- No, or minimal, written work order. Many upholsterers don't write out many, if any, details on a work order about what he will be doing.
- Mismatch of client and upholsterer. Not every upholsterer is a good match for any one client. It often pays to put in a little (or a lot) of effort to find an upholsterer that is a good match for you. To find out more, read this article on Upholsterer Types . (There should also be a corresponding article on "Customer Types") If a client and upholsterer are mismatched, they can drive each other crazy.
Finding a good upholsterer can be a challenging, and sometimes frustrating, task, but putting in the continued effort can be rewarding. Few good things in this life come easily.