Comfortable seating gets a chic, budget-friendly makeover.
Simple Sofa Update

Giving new life to a worn sofa doesn't require a complete overhaul. Any couch potato can tell you which part of the piece gets the most wear and tear: the seat cushions. So why not start there, and add a shot of high style for a low cost?

For this project, we livened up a neutral sofa that is several years old. It's comfortable and too good for the trash heap, but it definitely needed help.

A custom slipcover for the entire sofa would be too costly, considering the price of fabric and labor can run upwards of $800, more than the piece is worth today. Plus, we liked the idea of mixing and matching. So we had a seamstress make three slipcovers, one for each seat cushion. The sofa's khaki material blends well with the new fabric, which adds a jolt of color with its multihued stripes.

Each slipcover cost $35, not including the price of fabric. Fabric can range from $5 to $50 per yard, so keep your budget in mind when shopping. This project required about 8 yards of fabric. Costs vary based on region, but expect to pay $25 to $40 per cushion for labor. Instead of splurging on custom pillows, we used leftover fabric to dress up store-bought ones. We attached a fabric square to the front of each pillow with iron-on hem tape. What about the wall?

You can't make over a sofa without addressing what's above it. In this case, the "before" included a framed print that was lovely but too small to have an impact above the large sofa. It also was hanging too high on the wall, floating above the furniture.

We replaced the print with black crown molding ledges. The 4-foot-long ledge is centered about 5 inches above the sofa. Its size is more fitting for the length of the furniture. A wall display should be at least half the size of the piece below it. The 2-foot-long ledge hangs above the right side of the bottom ledge, setting the stage for a casual and asymmetrical arrangement. We created a theme by propping a colorful, framed New Orleans Jazz Festival poster on the bottom ledge and balancing it visually with a framed print by New Orleans artist George Rodrigue. Two small glass vases filled with flowers add a fun dash of yellow.

When to Slipcover
Deciding whether or not to purchase a custom slipcover will depend on several factors.

  • Is the furniture piece in good condition? Will the springs and filling need to be repaired or replaced? If so, you may be better off buying a new piece.
  • Will the cost of the fabric and labor add up to more than the cost of a new sofa or chair? Labor for a complete slipcover can cost $400 or more. Suitable fabric to cover the furniture will run about the same.

Fabric Facts
Look for a slipcover material that is durable, tightly woven, and washable. The fabric should not be too stiff (upholstery fabric with backing doesn't work well) or too loose (many chenilles will not hold up to wear and tear). Smart fabric choices include canvas, twill, denim, and jacquard.

"Simple Sofa Update" is from the October 2004 issue of Southern Living.