Re-Use Re-Cycle Re-Upholster or How I Saved My Old Sofa

Well that was a turn-up wasn’t it? I’ve never seen to many of you so riled and fired up before. On the other hand, it was lovely to see so many of you commenting and joining in the debate. As I said in a couple of comments, that lamp definitely sums up all the trends but clearly, according to many of you, putting them all together in one piece is a huge mistake. Huge.

By contrast today’s post is a sea of calming good taste. Although do come back and chat or I shall be forced to find more polarising pieces to get you all going again.


This is my sitting room. That is finally finished. This year it has fallen victim to the Decorating Domino Effect which began when Enid’s Chaise (as it shall be forever known) had to be sent away to be re-upholstered. This was partly down to her scratching the arm down to foam and partly due to the fact that it hadn’t been done (according to Sharon O’Connor, of Vintique Upholstery) since the 1950s and the bottom was falling out. You can read all about its transformation here.

The refurbishment of this piece of furniture coincided with the decision to get rid of the dark grey walls in the sitting room. I still love Down Pipe but it had been five years and I wanted a change. It was time for a rich chocolatey colour, which would go perfectly with new pale pink chaise. And then my mother rang.

She had decided to get rid of her sofa and aware that I had been coveting it for years she wanted to know if I would take it off her hands so she could get something more modern and, crucially, more comfortable.

the sitting room at
the sitting room at

And so the yellow sofa came to The Mad House. It had belonged to my Great Grandmother, who died in 1979. Born in 1881, Hilda Attlee was a formidable woman who belonged very much to the first half of the 20th century. She always wore a hat, often a fur stole and carried a handbag in the crook of her arm. She died when I was 12. I was completely terrified of her although my mother said she was actually great fun.

After her death, my mother and one of her sisters went to the house in Dorking to help clear it out. Reaching the kitchen, they came across a tatty old sofa covered in dog blankets. My mother gingerly lifted a corner and spied a shapely arm.

“I’ll take this,” she said casually.

My aunt, always alert to the possibility that she might be missing out – or more likely ruled by that innate sibling rivalry which means one must never allow one’s sister to get a better deal, stopped dead in her tracks.

“I’m doing an upholstery course,” said my mother. “I can practice. On this old thing. It’s nothing special, but I need something for the next class.”

My aunt relaxed. My mother fled the scene with her booty. And she did indeed reupholster it. In a pink and white stripe with sprigs of pretty flowers. It was in keeping with the age, Edwardian, of the sofa. It was pretty, if a little bedroom in style, but we had a small sitting room and it worked in there.

About ten years later she moved house and decided to have it professionally reupholstered in a mustardy damask. And that was when it all went wrong. It was so pretty. And so uncomfortable. But my mother had two extremely comfy armchairs so she never sat on it. It was for guests only and mostly ensured that they didn’t outstay their welcome.

Finally, about six months ago, she gave in and I got my hands on it. When it first arrived I loved the mix of yellow against the grey. But when the walls changed I didn’t like the new combination. Plus no-one wanted to actually sit on it. And the arm was falling off.

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It was time to call in Sharon. This time I new I wanted something soft and classic. This room is quite strong and maximalist and, as much as I love patterned sofas, this isn’t the room to put one in. I also like furniture that looks slightly undressed – mattress ticking, dust sheets and natural linens. So we decided to go for linen to create some calm amid the colour. This would finish off the colour palette of chocolate, pale pink and ecru/cream.

I chose a Romo Launay Linen, (that is the colour linen), although there were 63 other shades I could have opted for. And, if you have read my pieces on how to buy a sofa and choosing a tough fabric, this scores 35,000 on the Martindale Rub Count. This is an industry standard and means the fabric can be rubbed/touched that many times before it begins to break down. Which is quite a lot of sitting.

Sharon, did her usual expert job of repairing and re-upholstering and carried out my instructions to the letter: “It must be comfortable but not too new. I don’t want to break it in, but would rather that it feels firm but as if it has had five years of sitting already.”

And so she did. And so it does. And now finally, finally, this room is done. It works in winter as a cosy haven but also in summer where the paler colours contrast with the warmth of the dark walls.

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Re-upholstery isn’t the cheapest thing in the world – I paid £950 for this (including the courier taking and returning it and that doesn’t include the material which Romo very kindly gave me) but for a piece of furniture that carries so much family history, tells so many stories and which is nearly 90 years old, I think it’s well worth the money.

I may never cover it in dog blankets and Enid may never sit on it – she currently likes spying on us from under the coffee table – but I’m pretty sure it could do another 86 years and it would be wonderful to think that my great grandchildren may one day sit on it themselves. On Mars or wherever the sitting rooms of the future may be.


Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.


  1. Lovely story, and pretty sofa. Nicer than the heinous lamp, anyway 😉

    From where I sit, in my office in Dorking, it’s about 200 metres to Attlee’s Country Store, which I guess is the remains of your “family business”! Who knew?

  2. I love your restored sofa and the story behind it and actually I think that was a very good price – I’ve just bitten the bullet on a similar looks-over-comfort 19th-century French sofa which had been needing help for several years, opting for grey linen and having a complete rebuild as the previous upholsterer was a complete cowboy. It’s gorgeous and was well worth the money and I just have to keep the animals off it (since it sits in the window, they think it’s fair game to keep leaping on it). On the fringed lampshade, I shall say nothing …

  3. I once had a gorgeous pink chesterfield sofa and armchair that my other half convinced me he could re-upholster himself – despite the fact that his previous experience consisted almost entirely of tinkering with old motorbikes. I’m not sure quite how he managed to persuade me to let him loose on my adored furnishings, but he did and needless to say it was a HUGE mistake. I can only describe the resulting scenario as the equivalent of an upholsetery abbatoir. Ten years later and I still feel the pain of its loss. So I say yeeaayyyy to re-upholstery, but booo to penny-pinching partners who know not what they do….

  4. A brilliant ‘save’ … it fits my mentality exactly to rescue pieces, creating stories behind the contents of our home (as much as sanely possible) … and the sofa certain does all of that … whilst looking stunning too. I think it’s called ‘A result’! Enjoy it … Cheers Emma

  5. Lovely room! Personally I think adding curtains would make it more cosy and frame those fab windows. I also have the same voile blinds which are perfect for privacy whilst allowing you to see out and also can remove to clean the windows! All my neighbours are copying!

  6. Love it’s shape, it’s history, the new fabric is perfect and it fits beautifully into the bay.

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