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Upholstery, hardwood, rugs: Don't throw it, fix it!

  • Article by: CHRISTY DeSMITH
  • Star Tribune
  • March 19, 2013 - 8:41 AM

1. FRESH UPHOLSTERY

Myth: Reupholstering is only for fancy antique chairs. Truth: Valuable antiques and family heirlooms are always great candidates for re-upholstery jobs. But budget furniture is occasionally worth the while, especially if you adore how that knockoff Eames lounger looks in your living room.

 

“I’m pretty honest with people. I kept telling one of my clients her piece doesn’t have any value,” said David Osterberg, owner of Remnants Design, one of the metro’s most respected upholsterers. “But she liked how it fit in her home” so she invested in new upholstery anyway.

Another couple spent inordinate time shopping for a new sofa, but they couldn’t find anything. So they’re “dumping a lot of money” into reupholstery instead, said Osterberg, because they mostly like how their stained, distressed sofa looks in their living room.

“People seek out reupholstering on occasion because they think it’s cheaper than buying something new,” cautioned Osterberg, who specializes in midcentury-modern pieces. “That’s not always the case.” After all, that requisite bolt of thick Danish wool or crisp Italian linen doesn’t come cheap. Plus, reupholstery involves lots of labor-intensive stitching, stretching and folding; the man hours add up.

Contemporary furniture can be especially costly, explained Osterberg. “With a tufted Victorian piece, you can hide a lot of stuff in those folds.” But modern furniture pieces, with their minimalist profiles, provide little cover for error. Think Eero Saarinen’s womb chair and Arne Jacobsen’s egg chair. Pieces like these require additional patience and skill, said Osterberg.

Reupholstery doesn’t necessarily save on time, either. “I really don’t have the time to research all the fabrics,” said Osterberg. So his clients usually do the legwork of shopping for their own upholstery, whether online or at a local brick-and-mortar retailer like SR Harris.

What if your furniture doesn’t make the cut? “People hate to see their sofa thrown out,” said Osterberg. That’s why he helps clients break down their furniture and have it recycled junkyard-style. “A lot of the innards — the cotton, the horsehairs — there’s places I can recycle it.” Osterberg can even reuse the frame, but only if it’s made from hardwood. “You can mill it down and use it for other things,” said Osterberg, who has, on occasion, turned an old sofa frame into a new piece of furniture.

1500 Jackson St. NE., Suite 277, Mpls.; 612-823-5591;

remnantsdesign.com

 

2. HARDWOOD RESTORATIONS

Does your wooden furniture need a face-lift, maybe some sanding, a little re-staining and a fresh coat of glaze? Lucky Minnesotans. You’re in the right place.

Minnesota is a hotbed of woodworkers and furniture restorers. “We’re one of the only states with a refinishing school,” said Derrick Luhm, vice president of Luhm’s Refinishing in Minneapolis. Providing a dozen or so graduates every year, the wood finishing program at Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount, Minn., accounts for the wealth of furniture technicians in the phone book.

Except Luhm isn’t a graduate. He learned on the job from his grandfather and father, his forebears in the family-owned business and the furniture industry in general.

Founded in 1953, Luhm’s is a storied shop with an old-school reputation for restoring grand pianos. “We’ve shipped pianos to Alaska, New York, Massachusetts, Arizona, California ...”. The Luhm family has restored pianos for Minnesota governors Rudy Perpich and Arne Carlson, a testament to their prominent place in the community. “We’re known for our pianos,” continued Luhm. “But we started branching out in the early ’90s.”

Now Luhm’s will restore practically anything, from valuable antiques to rickety heirlooms. “We’re doing a lot of upright pianos,” said Luhm. “Some people think they’re not worth anything, but other people really like them—they seem to fit better in the home.”

The only thing Luhm’s refuses to work on is newer furniture. “It’s just not worth it,” said Luhm. “Unfortunately, we’re turning into a throwaway society. I look around at the furniture they’re selling today, even the expensive furniture. Is it going to be around 100 years from now? No. Probably not even 20.”

Of course, Luhm makes an exception for custom furniture by artisan woodworkers. “Now that’s very fine furniture,” he said emphatically.

936 33rd Av. NE., Mpls.; 612-781-3662; luhms.com

 

3. RUG DOCTORING

From artisan creations to Turkish antiques, the best rugs are as lovely and decorative as a work of art. “But they don’t get the same treatment as, say, a painting, a mural or an antique jar,” said Sam Navab, co-owner of American Rug Laundry in Minneapolis and a prominent purveyor of Oriental rugs. “Unfortunately, we put rugs on the floor and we walk on them.”

But there’s good news: Rugs are super resilient. “Generally speaking, they don’t need a lot of care,” said Navab. Rug-dealers are known to counsel against cleaning. But Navab suggests professional cleaning every two to three years, depending on traffic levels. “Handmade rugs get better with proper cleaning,” he argued.

More good news from the world of rugs: They’re eminently repairable. No need to trash a tattered floor covering, especially if it’s one-of-a-kind or handmade. “A little bit of care goes a long way to ensuring the value,” said Navab. “We handle anything — from what I would call small mending jobs to complete restorations.”

Replacing a couple tassels or simply reinforcing the edges, to protect against future unraveling? “We call that mending,” said Navab.

Then there’s restoration — patching up a rug that’s badly torn or riddled with holes. “If the rug is valuable, if the rug is unique and antique, then we would suggest restoration,” continued Navab. Often the rug is rebuilt using cutouts from a similar rug. “We have an extensive rug collection, where things have been cut into pieces, and we use those to patch. But sometimes the rug is of such value that we deem it necessary to send it overseas.”

Does Navab’s business repair less expensive rugs, say, something from Ikea or the West Elm catalog? “Sometimes a machine-made rug is cleaned several times and the fringes are taken care because it has sentimental value,” said Navab. For these cases he usually suggests the occasional mending job.

He cannot, however, extract the chemical smell you get with a lot of store-bought rugs. “What you’re smelling is latex glue. It’s heated and applied to the back,” explained Navab. “We get calls all the time — ‘my rug smells like burned rubber.’ Unfortunately, there isn’t much one can do to correct that problem. It’s just in the rug.”

4222 E. Lake St., Mpls.; 612-721-3333; americanruglaundry.com

Christy DeSmith • 612-673-1754

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