It is best to avoid purchasing upholstered used furniture, especially if you are new to buying used furniture. Even the most veteran of buyers and sellers and dealers can end up with a purchase that would have been better left alone. The truth is that all of us will buy an upholstered piece sooner or later. Leave it until later.
Do not let my admonition about buying upholstered furniture scare you. Of course, it is quite fine to purchase used furniture, especially dining table chairs and desk chairs and the like, that has an upholstered seat. An example is the chair to the left. This is a perfectly good buy.
If the seat cushion has a stain or a rip or if the padding has bunched up almost anyone can replace the seat. In many cases, when buying dining chairs or desk chairs the seat upholstery will be changed out anyway, for color and pattern if for no other reason.
On the other hand, never purchase dining chairs or casual den furniture that is upholstered as in the picture to the right. I say “never” to the buyer who is looking for a bargain for use in his home.
There are several reasons to avoid the purchase of upholstered furniture, not the least is the cost of having a piece reupholstered.
Why Should I Avoid Buying Used Furniture that is Upholstered?
The cost of having even the simplest of used furniture reupholstered can easily run into the hundreds of dollars per piece. Buying new upholstered furniture is often more cost effective.
Even the cleanest of upholstered used furniture may have a hidden stain or a small stain on the fabric. Trying to remove the stain, especially if it is set can ruin the fabric or discolor it.
When shopping thrift stores, antique malls or other shops or auctions the buyer may be certain that the fabric is in good to excellent condition. However, more than once I have seen furniture that has been stored for an extended period of time before the sale. The fabric looked fine. In other words it passed the look test. But, it did not pass the smell test.
The smell test is the detection of a moldy or mildew smell. It is often difficult to detect in a large store setting, so sniff the furniture. Get close and take a good deep smell of it. If any moldy smell is detected you can believe that it will only get worse once it is in your house. So far, after years of buying and selling I have found nothing that will completely remove the odor of mold or mildewshort of having the entire piece restored and that goes beyond re-upholstery.
As with all rules, there is an exception. If, as a buyer, you find the perfect design — wood frame — and do not mind having the piece entirely rebuilt around the frame, buy it. We are talking major expenses because rebuilding a piece of used furniture that is upholstered often includes replacing springs and all the padding. To do a good job requires a professional. Professional refurishing is costly and unless you know what you are doing, you may end up paying for a job that is sub-par. It is hard to find an artisan to do a good job. I use the term artisan because rebuilding an upholstered piece of furniture requires the skill of an artist.
Before Buying Upholstered Used Furniture
Invariably someone will still purchase an upholstered piece of furniture the first time out. As a last thought let me suggest that just as we would not purchase a used mattress (illegal in most states) we should consider how closely we will come in contact with used furniture that is upholstered. If you have children take special care and think twice. You do not know what fluids or pests may have penetrated the surface fabric and be hiding out of view. As a safety factor, especially if children will have access to the furniture, it is best to avoid buying used furniture that is upholstered.