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New looks cost less for restyled furniture

You might think that the ratty old sofa stored in the garage is beyond repair, with its sagging springs and the stuffing poking out of the faded velvet upholstery.

Before you set it out on the curb or call a charity to pick it up, think again. You would be surprised what a clever bit of reupholstery _ and perhaps some restyling _ can do.

Even a straightforward reupholstery job can dramatically alter the look of a sofa or chair _ or an ottoman or recliner, for that matter. Structural changes can go even further to transform a piece of furniture.

Two recent projects by Fort Worth firms illustrate the point. At Expressions Custom Furniture, a pair of armchairs originally boasted orange velvet upholstery, tufted backs and shallow skirts. They were updated with a linenlike fabric in a tan and white stripe, loose-cushion backs and deep California-style skirt; the arms were widened slightly, with the fabric gathered all the way around.

If Expressions gave those chairs a face lift, J&D Inc. performed major surgery on a beige, tuxedo-style sofa. With its low back, narrow roll arms, tailored skirt and thin cushions, it looked severely dated.

The customer wanted a deep couch you could sink into, said J&D co-owner Juan A. Castro Jr. His design added five inches to the front of the sofa's frame to accommodate thick down cushions that now form a loose-pillow back; a camel back was built onto the frame for height, and the roll arms were slightly enlarged.

A down-and-foam combination was used for seat cushions, and the skirt was cut slightly long so it brushes the floor for a casual appearance. Green-and-black-check gingham upholstery, accented by red-and-black-check pillows, and an abundance of cording, brush fringe and tassels add up to a comfortable look.

It would be an exaggeration to say that reupholstering or restyling a piece of furniture can result in any look imaginable. But that's not too far off base.

"It's pretty unlimited," said Richard S. Karotkin, owner of Expressions' Fort Worth store. Reupholstery doesn't just mean changing the fabric. Arms, skirts, cushions and legs also are likely targets for rejuvenation.

The sofa and chairs are typical projects at both Expressions and J&D. Tufted-back chairs and tight-back sofas, thin cushions, shallow skirts and square arms _ staid by today's standards _ beg to be modernized with thicker cushions, deeper skirts and, perhaps, roll arms. Bun feet _ fat wooden discs _ are popular, too.

"We do a lot of restyling to look like what we have on the floor," Karotkin said, referring to Expressions' commodious seating, usually with loose-pillow backs.

Roll arms lend themselves to a variety of detail treatments, including pleats and stitching, he said.

At J&D, some typical projects in recent years have included a brownish Herculon armchair with roll arms that was reupholstered in dark red print chintz, blue fringe and a ruffled skirt; an asymmetrical-back chair with stuffing emerging from its cut velvet upholstery, re-covered in a floral print for a soft, pretty look; and a striking art deco couch with sphinxlike legs, formerly covered in an old brown linen, that was redone in white linen with the exposed wood whitewashed.

Regardless of the possibilitiesthat reupholstery offers, some pieces of furniture aren't worth redoing. It helps to start with a well-made sofa or chair.

So how do you judge quality? "Coil springs are top-of-the-line," Castro said; no-sag springs, which look like wavy lines, are another indication.

Weight is yet another. "If it weighs a ton, it's definitely worth saving," Castro said. Weight implies sturdy construction with an abundance of wood in the frame and a lot of springs, he explained.

You can also assess quality by the manufacturer, Karotkin suggested.

"We get lots of hand-me-down name-brand furniture," such as Baker, Henredon and Century, he noted. Usually mom gives it to a young couple, who want an up-to-date look. "It's worth reupholstering because it's made well," Karotkin said.