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Reupholstery Cushions Cost of Redecorating

February 27, 1992|ELAINE DAVIS

Hang on to that battered Naugahyde recliner and sagging sectional--especially if they're made with hardwood frames, coil springs and metal plates. Reupholstery may be the solution for reviving and restoring quality furniture--at half the price of starting over.

"Nowadays we're trying to save the trees. People are starting to keep their good furniture, and pretty soon you won't be able to buy it," said Laura Aranda-Hill, owner of Aranda's Custom Upholstery in Vista.

Plywood and plastic are rapidly replacing hardwoods and metals. People say furniture was once built to last forever but is now being built as a disposable commodity.

"When you buy a new sofa for $450, you know it won't become an antique," said Carl Henning of Oceanside, who is planning to have a piece reupholstered. "It's not made to last."

Most upholstery shops concede they can't compete with the bargain-basement prices of mass production furniture. But when it comes to matching "apples to apples or quality of furniture to fabric," said Roger Gureczny, owner of La Costa Upholstery, that's a different story. "We are accustomed to working with $400 to $500 budgets."

Having furniture reupholstered is not just for people on fixed budgets. On the contrary, reupholstering is in vogue among a high-income group, according to most upholsterers. "It has become sheik to save money," said Kerry Bylerly of Encinitis, who is getting started in the upholstery business.

North County has its share of upholstery shops, particularly in Oceanside, Escondido and Vista. The majority are small, family-operated establishments that began as back-yard businesses--the name given to upholsterers that work out of their homes and make up a large segment of North County's cottage industry.

Several North County full-service shops are also family-owned but, in addition to reupholstering, they frequently act as a liaison between the customer, interior designer and fabric representative.

The upholstery business is competitive. There are discount fabric shops, do-it-yourself classes, and a wide range of prices and services to choose from. At one time, the typical upholstery shop would only recover furniture when also providing the fabric. Today many clients not only want to furnish their own fabric, but look for free telephone bids, and free pick-up and delivery.

Although a number of upholstery shops tout a guarantee on labor, customers normally ask to see samples of workmanship before making a final decision. Selecting a reputable back-yard upholsterer often requires getting references first, said upholstery instructor Eric Duvall.


A number of back-yard upholsterers in North County have received their training through the Regional Occupational Program at Palomar College. Taught by Duvall, whose upholstery background spans 17 years, classes are in demand each semester. "It usually fills up fast," said Joane Osborne, who directs the occupational program at the college. "We teach it as a professional class, so our approach is very professional."

Duvall, with help from three aides, teaches four classes a week that run for 19 weeks. They are held in a 1,200-square-foot facility in the Shadowridge Business Park in San Marcos. Each class is limited to approximately 20 students who enroll on a credit or no-credit basis.

Students are taught furniture and auto upholstery techniques, using state-of-the-art equipment that includes 18 industrial sewing machines, compressors, power saws, large cutting tables, video equipment and an assortment of hand tools. Beginner classes start with a video presentation focusing on equipment safety and the basics of upholstering.

"The most difficult thing is for students to learn how to use the sewing machines," Duvall said. "They are three times as fast as standard ones."

Students must first prove their machine competency by sewing on paper without thread--an exercise that may take some people three hours and others three weeks. Learning pattern layout is another tricky, but important facet of the class.

The majority of Duvall's students are women who want to learn upholstery for household projects. Once they realize the financial possibilities, their outlook changes. "They see that this is a good way to make some extra money and stay home with the kids," he said.

While most students bring their own projects, many choose to work on a school-supplied project, which comes with free materials. Students work on everything from sofas to antique chairs, but Duvall does not recommend recliners. "You can do two sofas in the time it takes to do a recliner," he said. "We actually videotape students ripping the recliner apart."

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