A DIY Sofa Makeover


Can This Sofa Be Saved?

Rita’s Turn:

From the beginning this was really a marriage of convenience. I mean, it wasn’t exactly true love.

Before I had this sofa, I had a camel-back sleeper-sofa that I found on craigslist when I was setting up a new household for my kids and me. I was so overwhelmed with everything going on back then, I didn’t know what I needed or wanted in a couch.

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I wanted extra sleeping space for kid sleep-overs and this sofa was pretty good-looking, so I bought it even though I’d hardly looked at any others. It didn’t take long at all for me to realize that it wasn’t the one for me. It was too hard and too narrow and not good at all for movie nights with the kids or snuggling in with a book.

The thing is, I didn’t have much money, so I couldn’t afford what I’d come to know I really wanted. Then I found the sofa we have now at Salvation Army for $175.00.

Did I love it? No. But it’s got a solid frame and down-filled seat cushions. The fabric isn’t faded, stained, snagged, or ripped. It was a neutral color in a classic shape, so I bought it. It wasn’t super-stylish–that skirt screams Grandma!–but it was way more comfortable than the sleeper-sofa and the price was right.

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We all make compromises, right? A perfect match is a fantasy, and I needed a couch for the real world and our real life. I thought I might learn to love it. And maybe I could have, but those back cushions!

What a limp, saggy mess those are. Oh, I tried stuffing them with batting (like you can see in the photo above)–but then they were just a stiff, bulky mess. They looked OK when I’d fluff them up and beat them into shape, but with the dogs always wanting to lie on the top of them, they usually look pretty terrible.

The last time I needed to wash the cushion covers, I just gave up and threw the batting away. It was too much trouble for a poor solution to the problem.

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I don’t want the expense of a new sofa, but with that frumpy skirt and those impossible cushions, I just don’t know if I can make it work any more. Where’s the line between healthy and unhealthy compromise? I mean, life is short. How many years should I give to a sofa I can’t really be happy with?

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The Sofa’s Turn:

I’m not surprised Rita is fed up with me. It’s not the first time someone’s wanted to get rid of me. (How do you think I ended up in the Salvation Army thrift store?)

It’s true that I’m an old dog of a sofa–but I’ve got years of good use left in me. I’m strong, and I’ve held up well under three kids and those two little dogs. They’ve all logged a lot of hours on me.

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For what it’s worth, I know those kids love me. And I hope Rita will think long and hard before dumping me. They still haven’t forgiven her for getting rid of the brown chair–and they gave her no end of grief when she replaced him with that green retro number she thought was all that.

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The old chair and me in happier times. We were both brown and comfy and skirted. And no one seemed to mind.

I know my back cushions are a disappointment to her. But what does she expect? Those two dogs are more like cats. They love to work themselves down into my cushions and sit there for hours. I give them a good perch from which to watch the street. I can’t believe she’d want a sofa with a different sort of back. The dogs would miss it so much. That boy of hers would miss me, too–I’m his favorite napping spot!

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I really hope Rita can learn to love and appreciate me for who I am. I don’t want her to give up on me.

The Counselor’s Turn:

It was clear that Rita didn’t really want a whole new sofa. The sofa she has is comfortable and paid for. However, her growing dissatisfaction was a problem she needed to address if the relationship was going to last.

It seemed there were two big issues getting to Rita:  The back cushions and the skirt. I encouraged Rita to think creatively about how she might change those features to make them more pleasing.

sofa before A DIY Sofa Makeover

The original cushions were too lumpy and broken down by her dogs to salvage, and she didn’t know how she might make (or have made) new ones. But after I urged her to get creative, she began wondering why she couldn’t replace the cushions with some large pillows.

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This image from genusloci helped her see that a sofa backed with pillows might be both comfortable and good-looking.

She had an Ikea Gosa Tulpan pillow insert, a 26″x26″ down pillow. She could see that 4 of these would fill the space that the two cushions had filled. She had recently had success making throw pillow covers for the family room sectional, so I encouraged her to consider making simple covers for the Ikea pillow inserts.

She was excited by this idea, and she found an on-sale linen floral fabric that coordinated with the existing upholstery and the wool rug in her living room.

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Further, she decided that she would use the fabric from the original cushions for the backing fabric. She thought this would make the new cushions look as if they were made for the sofa, and it meant she didn’t need as much of the new fabric.

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After a recent fail with recovering some chairs, Rita was understandably reluctant to cut into the sofa cushion covers. If she couldn’t make this work, she’d be looking at a new sofa. But she faced her fears and went for it, trimming away two large pieces of fabric from each cushion cover.

She had to do some tricky piecing-together to make it work for all 4 pillow covers.

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And, she decided that she wanted the covers to fasten with buttons. This meant learning how to sew button-holes. It took a bit of experimenting, but she was able to do it! This positive growth experience increased her feelings of affection for the sofa.

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The test button-hole.

She was thrilled with the finished product:

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The back of the pillow cover. The buttons help the cushion stay in place more securely than a simple sham would.

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The next challenge was the skirt. She read about how some other bloggers removed the skirts from their sofas, but that wouldn’t work for hers. The sofa under her skirt was covered with a plain muslin, not the fabric that the rest of the couch was covered with.

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Rita found this image from Brick City Love to be very inspiring. This blogger was able to remove the skirt entirely.

Instead of removing the skirt, she decided to simply fold it under the bottom of the sofa. It was a bit tricky getting it to fold in neatly around the legs, but working with Cane she was able to manage it. It took them only about 20 minutes to staple the skirt in place.

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She is still thinking about stitching this gap closed and touching up the paint on the leg, but neither thing really bothers her, so she might just leave it be.

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Revealing the legs and losing the skirt lightened the sofa up dramatically. Both Rita and Cane are amazed at how much they’ve come to enjoy and appreciate their old sofa, now that they can better see its classic lines.

“We’re so glad we didn’t spend money on a new sofa,” she said. “We spent $40 on the pillow inserts, $30.00 on fabric for the new covers, and $8.00 on buttons. For less than $80 we have a sofa that we can get years more use out of!”

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They are especially pleased with how the “new” sofa is bringing the room together. “We think the sofa is still a little ‘grandma’ with that floral pattern, but we think it works with the braided wool rug, the geometric granny blankets, and our eclectic art collection,” she said.

“The room is full of old, comfortable, humble pieces,” she added. “We’ve been thinking that the room’s style might be called ‘Modern Grandma.'”

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Rita and Cane aren’t the only ones who are pleased with the sofa makeover. The younger and smaller members of the household are equally happy with it:

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“What I’ve learned from this is how important it is to work with what we’ve got,” Rita said. “Sometimes, it only takes a few small changes to revitalize a relationship that’s not working the way it once did.”

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“We’re so glad we didn’t give up on this piece of furniture!”

When I was young, my grandma subscribed to Ladies’ Home Journal, and I was fascinated by its regular column called “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” (Yes, I was an odd kid.) As I worked on the first draft of this post, the word “Grandma” kept coming up, and that somehow made me think of that column and the hours I spent reading it as a kid. And that is why we’re bringing you my own take on that for today’s post. (Providing proof, perhaps, that odd kids grow up to be odd bloggers.)

PS:  I consider this total redemption for my chair fail!)