Design 101: Giving old furniture new life

While reworking Sally Thorner's Baltimore home, a space that hadn't been touched in 20 years, designer Christopher Howarth vowed not to buy when he could inventively re-use.

In room after room, he re-upholstered — three sofas, multiple armchairs, dining chairs, a headboard, a chaise.

"I don't understand the need to get rid of things," the designer says. "If you already have a piece in your home, there's probably a good reason you have it there — you like it. If it works and you just want a new look," you might want to re-upholster.

Here are a few tips from Howarth to keep in mind if you're considering a re-upholstery job:

•Consider the value of the piece. Re-upholstering isn't cheap. To recover a basic armchair, you're looking at $400 to $450 for fabric — figuring $50 a yard. And fabric can run anywhere from $15 a yard to many hundreds of dollars per yard. On top of the fabric costs, it's $700 to $800 for labor. That's at least $1,100, not counting cushions, which might also have to be replaced.

"What I would first say is assess the value of the piece," Howarth says. "It may not be worth a lot of money, but if it has a sentimental value it might be worth re-upholstering."

•Finding fabric. Howarth's favorite place to shop for fabric is the Washington Design Center, in 300 D. St. SW, in D.C. ( Some, but not all of the high-end showrooms there will let people in who are unaccompanied by a designer.

Closer to home is DeBois Textiles, 1835 Washington Boulevard. ( Howarth has had luck there finding remnants and smaller pieces of fabric for things like pillows and bedspreads.

He also suggests taking a peek at Ebay and flea markets where it's possible to score deals.

•Hiring an upholsterer. Howarth's choice is Ibello Upholstery, 429 Fawcett St., in Remington. ( Alan Ibello recovered everything in Thorner's home. "He's the best guy in town as far as I'm concerned," Howarth says. "If you're going to make it a nice piece, you should invest the money in it. If you do it right, you're going to get a lot more wear out of it and it's going to look more tailored."

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