beforeaftercouch2This past weekend I finished up my second couch reupholstering job. Now I have a matched pair!

reupholstering-sofaOn Sunday — as a nasty blizzard raged outside, dumping 10 or so inches of snow on the Retro Ranch — I was stuck in the house for the entire day, so I decided to give it my all and see if I could put the finishing touches on my second vintage sofa.

vintage-sofa-upholsteryMost of the sofa came together quite easily, since a lot of the sewing was very similar to what I did for the first couch, but then there was that darn arm. Sure, I love the look of the arm — but it was such a pain to upholster! Sewing the piece of fabric to cover the arm was difficult enough, but attaching it — along with all those pesky little details like the small panel that covers the front of the arm were right — would be even tougher.

tack-stripCase in point: attaching the fabric to the underside of the arm without the staples or tacks showing. Problem number one, I had just enough tack strip to attach the fabric to back of the sofa, but none leftover for the underside of the arm. The blizzard was making a trip to the fabric store seem like a treacherous voyage, so instead I made my own tack strip…

cardboard-tack-strip…with some of the cardboard edge band and a box of vintage upholstery tacks that I bought for 25 cents at my local ReStore a while back — for seemingly just such an upholstering emergency.

upholsteryI wouldn’t call the finished results professional, but it is the underside of the arm. No one is going to notice if it is slightly lumpy, right?

retro-orange-sofaThankfully, the part of the arm that does show looks pretty darn good!

midcentury-sofa-armI’m in disbelief that it turned out this well. There were a few hours during my work on the arm when I wasn’t sure I could get it to come together, but thankfully it did in the end.

retro-sofaAlso tricky, was sewing this small, squared area of the seat cushion just in front of the arm, which called for quite a lot of tight sewing machine maneuvering.

1950s-sofa reupholstering-vintage-sofaThere were more difficulties, again brought on by the arm, when attaching the last piece of fabric to the back of the sofa. I used tack strip to attach the entire back, even for the jog around the arm. It wasn’t easy, but I got it to work — phew!

reupholstered-1950s-sofa retro-upholstery-sofaIn my opinion this sofa came out even better than the first, for two reasons:

  1. I had practiced on the first sofa and was getting the hang of sewing and upholstering in general
  2. The sofa was not as beat up as the first one, so the original horsehair padding is not quite as lumpy looking

midcentury-couch vintage-sofasNow I have a lovely matched set of vintage orange sofas with brand new upholstery, making them feel clean and new. Even my Mother-In-Law — who was utterly revolted by the couches when I first acquired them — said she would be glad to have a seat on either one of the sofas now. I think that’s a pretty good compliment, don’t you?

When all is said and done, reupholstering these two vintage couches cost me about $400 for fabric and supplies, however I have quite a lot of orange fabric left over from my purchase of 23 yards — so the actual cost is less when you factor in that I have extra material to use for another project. I’m not sure exactly how much is left (I’ll have to unroll it and measure). I initially ordered much more fabric that I ever thought I would need — just in case I made a big mistake — since it was my first time sewing and trying to upholster furniture like this. Being careful with my measurements before cutting, laying out the fabric smartly and luckily not making any big mistakes saved me enough fabric for another project. My adorable husband Jim suggested that I make a matching ottoman…

leftover-fabric..apparently Leo also wants a dog bed. We’ll see Leo.

kate-reading-on-couchPersonally — after spending the entire month of January reupholstering these sofas — I’m thinking about taking a break from the sewing machine for a little R&R — reading and relaxing on my new, old sofas. Thanks for tagging along on my first foray into reupholstering vintage furniture.



midcentury-gallery-wallWhile work continues on reupholstering the second vintage sofa, I thought it might be fun to let you peek into my living room to see my retro mishmash gallery wall.

retro-gallery-wallIt is a long wall — hard to photograph all at once!

gallery-wallUsually when someone puts together a gallery wall, the preferred method to use is as follows: collecting a wide array of decor — framed art, wall hangings, shelves and such — laying out the collection to carefully compose an arrangement and finally hanging it on the wall. While making my mishmash retro gallery wall, I reversed the process — starting with a blank wall, gradually collecting pieces to fill it, and hanging them as I went.

ranch-house-shelvesIt all started with the mini ranch house shelves that I made a few years ago to display my mini chair collection (and zombies). Next came a starburst clock and my awesome Shag print. From that point on, whenever I ran across something I liked, I tried to think if it would work for one of the ‘blank’ spots on the wall. As time went by, the wall filled up nicely.

Michelle-Bickford-PaintingSome of my favorite pieces on the wall are pieces of original art. When I was in Fort Lauderdale, Florida last June for The Hukilau tiki festival, I found this awesome piece by local artist Michelle Bickford.

painting-michelle-bickford michelle-bickford-artI just love how she adds small wooden cars to the scene — and I am amazed at her ability to cut out such small pieces! For reference, each car is about an inch and a half or so long. 

el-gato-gomez-paintingI also managed to score a tiki themed midcentury house painting by artist El Gato Gomez for the wall — perfect!

teak-shelves-midcenturyNot long ago, I found this midcentury boomerang shaped shelf at my local antique mall. I’m still trying to get the right arrangement of items on the shelf, but even the empty shelf looks nice up on the wall.

retro-wall-art starburst-clockI’ve been collecting clocks over the last year or so too. Some of them work (but I don’t wind them every 8 days) and some of them don’t, so I just make sure I know which one has the correct, working time and set the other clocks all to different times to make my guests think they are going crazy. (Just kidding!)

retro-diamond-clockI love that this wall is a combination of things I made, found midcentury items, original artwork, toys and prints — even if it is a retro mishmash.



reupholstering-vintage-sofaMy first foray into sewing/couch upholstery is complete! After about 35+ hours of stripping off the old fabric and removing about a million tacks, measuring, cutting, sewing and attaching the new fabric, and finishing it up with a new bottom dust cover. Ta-da, finished! It isn’t perfect, but for someone who had never used a sewing machine or attempted reupholstering anything harder than a dining chair seat, I’d say it turned out well.

couch-reupholstering-messI stripped the couch in the garage but where, you may ask, did I find room to do all of that upholstering? Besides my work at the sewing machine out in the den, I completely took over the office to finish up the sofa this weekend. It looks like an explosion hit, doesn’t it?

couch-reupholsteringI’m really glad that I had a nice bit of open floor space in this room. It was hard enough as it was to shimmy around the couch to attach the fabric (carefully) with my pneumatic staple gun. I can’t imagine trying to work on a couch of this size in any less space.

couch-time-capsuleBefore I closed up the sofa again, I added a “couch capsule” that included the original tag, the cleanest scrap of the original fabric I could find, and a short note describing the reason for reupholstery. That way, anyone who opens up the couch in the future will know a good chunk of the story surrounding it. You might think me strange for making a “couch capsule” but I love discovering stuff like this, so why not pass on the hidden goodies to future retro enthusiasts?

reupholstered-vintage-sofaNow to the sofa — the process of reupholstering it was quite a learning experience for me. I feel like the second couch will be just a wee bit better thanks to a few stapling and sewing techniques I learned during the process of reupholstering this couch. While the couch turned out very nicely, and I am super happy with the results (I have been randomly giggling and then excitedly running in to sit on the sofa on and off for the last 12 or so hours since I finished it), I don’t deny that this sofa is far from perfect. 

midcentury-sofaI decided to reuse the original horsehair padding, which is in good condition, but a little uneven. Over the life of this couch, most people have chosen to sit on the 2/3 of the couch that has a backrest, causing that part of the couch to become more compressed than the open end. Therefore, the end of the couch is a little puffier than the rest and is not flat and even. Oh well, it adds character, right?

vintage-sofaI also had a little trouble with a few of the bottom corners on the seat cushion, thus the small gathers just above the tack band. 

vintage-couch-reupholsteringThe part of the sofa where the edge of the seat meets the back was hard as well. The transition is not perfect, but it works for me. Note: the original fabric was just stuffed down in there and not tacked at all! I think since the new fabric is thinner, it may have been easier to stuff in there, but harder to make wrinkle free.

couch-end couch-back 50s-sofaYou’ll notice I didn’t replace the buttons on the sofa seat. I made this decision because I have very vivid childhood memories of my Dad constantly sewing the buttons back on the seat of his easy chair every month or two — since they seemed to catch on people’s jeans and pants pockets and pop off a lot. I didn’t want to have to worry about that happening to my sofas after all of my hard work (they had a lot of buttons!) so I made the conscious decision to omit them from the seat. I do like the way the buttons look, so I made sure to replace the 5 buttons on the seat back.

upholsteringIt was difficult to make sure the welt cord remained straight while pulling and stapling the fabric onto the sofa frame, but I think I did a fairly good job.

vintage-sofa-reupholster vintage-sofa-back orange-retro-sofaThis transition was another difficult one. Trying to get all of the welting to lay correctly and keep everything straight took a lot of careful stapling and positioning.

midcentury-sofa-end kate-on-couchIn the end, this couch is SO much nicer now than it was when I inherited it. It is clean and free of odor. The fabric is smooth and not itchy, but still has a “retro feel” with bits of sheen. Plus, it is orange — which as you might have noticed — is one of my all time favorite colors.

kate-on-couch-2When I realized I had a dress in my closet that matched the couch, I decided to mark my first major upholstery achievement with a photo or two — you know — after I cleaned up a little. I think my Nana (whose sewing machine I used), my Grandma (who was a thrifty, mend and make do kind of lady and also loved orange) and my Great Grandma (who I never met, but was the original owner of these sofas) would be proud.

One down, one to go!


time-fliesIts the beginning of another new year. In June, we will have lived at the Retro Ranch for five years. Time flies when you’re having fun — or if you are Leo, taking naps. Like usual, I have my list of resolutions for the year, plus a recap of last year’s resolutions.

First, let’s see how many 2014 Retro Ranch Revamp resolutions were completed:

1. Upholster at least one half of Great Grandma’s couch set. Incomplete. Though I did start stripping the old upholstery off of the frame just before we rang in the new year, so I’m off to a good start.

regrouted-shower2. Complete phase 1 of the green bathroom spruce up. Complete! In 2014 I managed to fix up the ceiling drywall where the new fan was installed and painstakingly remove all of the old, worn and moldy grout in the shower, replacing it with brand new, all white SpectraLock Epoxy grout. It is so much nicer and easier to clean!

modern-fence3. Work to return some privacy to our back yard. Complete! It was a long, drawn out process to get a permit and a fence along the one side of our back yard, but the struggle was totally worth it. Privacy returned!

path-done4. Make a path to the victory garden. Complete! This task had been on my list for a few years, and finally, this year I found the time (and the energy) to install a lovely circular stepping stone path between the patio and the garden, even though Leo refuses to walk on it.

porch-column-midcentury5. Repaint the iron work on the front porch. Complete! This is another task that’s been on the list for several years — and it is finally done. As the summer was winding down, I realized this small job could be knocked off on a Saturday morning, so I stopped putting it off. After a good cleaning and some primer and paint, the porch support looks better than ever.

6. Build that retro modern TV stand already! Incomplete. Once again, I spent the better part of the summer working on getting our yard under control and accomplishing other tasks, so the TV stand will have to wait.

7. Take up the carpet in the hallway to expose the original cork flooring underneath and spruce up the space with some paint and artwork. Incomplete. I’m dying to see the original cork flooring in the hall, but I’m also scared that it might not be in good condition. Eventually, we’d like to replace the carpet in our bedroom with cork, so I’ve decided to wait until we are closer to that point before I rip up the hall carpet, just incase the flooring underneath has to be replaced too.

Completing four out of seven resolutions for the year isn’t too shabby. Horray!

Now for the 2015 Retro Ranch Revamp resolutions…drumroll….

vintage-couches-in-corner1. Reupholster both of Great Grandma’s sofas. I’ve conquered my fear of the sewing machine. I’m working feverishly on reupholstering the first of the two sofas, things are coming together quite nicely — and it is only January 12th! That means I have complete confidence in my ability to finish both couches before the end of the year. Heck, maybe I’ll even make some throw pillows or a matching ottoman! (Ok, Kate now your are dreaming…)

peeling-laminateloose-floor-tile2. Complete Phase 2 of the green bathroom spruce up. Phase two of the green bathroom spruce up involves replacing the cracked and loose floor and installing a new tile floor (final tile selection still undecided). In addition, I will build a new vanity to replace the disintegrating and delaminating white vanity already in the space. I’ll also replace the worn, 80s laminate countertop, put in a the vintage white sink with hudee ring I scored for $4 at the restore a while back and install a new, low arc faucet.

cedar-fence3. Seal and/or stain my new fence. I love my new privacy fence and I want it to last for a long time, so that means I’ll need to get it sealed this summer. I haven’t yet decided if I’ll just use a clear sealer or if I’ll try to alter the color with a stain, but either way, it has to get done this summer.

tacks-on-my-porch-screens4. Repaint the peeling trim on the house/screen porch posts. The house and trim were painted about a year before we moved in, which makes it 5-6 years since the last paint job. I’m not sure what type of paint they used or how well they prepped, but the porch posts are peeling and are in need of repair (so are some of the screens), as is the trim on the front picture window. In a harsh climate like Wisconsin, one can’t let these things go too long, so I’ll be taking care of it this summer.

gutter-rust5. Try to repaint or seal the integral gutters. Our ranch house has the coolest integral gutters — and after 53 years of service, they are starting to get a little rusty in spots. I need to clean them up and try to either paint or apply a protective coating to keep them from rusting further, especially since they would be costly to replace.

weedy side yard6. Continue working on the south side yard. The one part of our previously overgrown yard that I haven’t given much effort to improving over the last four years is the south side yard. It is bumpy and weedy and in need of some ground cover, shrubs and possibly a little path to the fence gate. I’m not expecting everything to happen all in one year, but if I can pay it a little more attention than I have in the last few summers, I’d have a nicer view from my home office.

Saarinen-tulip-chairs7. Make seat covers for my newest acquisitions. Yes. Those are authentic vintage Saarinen tulip chairs. They need new seat covers. I bought them a while back. They are AWESOME. There’s a story. I’ll share it soon!

Its an ambitious list for sure — and one that involves a lot of outdoor paint brush time and surprisingly enough, sewing — but some years, that is just the way home ownership goes.

In addition to my personal list, I’ve got a fun new project over on Retro Renovation: Building a 1955 Besty McCall, 1:12 scale dollhouse! It is going to be super retro cute, you won’t want to miss it, trust me.


vintage-couches-in-cornerIt has been exactly two years since my two Great Grandmother’s vintage couches made their way from my Uncle’s house to mine. It has been one year since I found some lovely, burnt orange, affordable fabric to use for recovering the sofas. Just a few days ago, I finally found the time, energy and bravery to start working on the huge job of reupholstering them.

worn-out-and-icky-couchLike I mentioned before, the original upholstery fabric on the sofas was trashed. Years of daily use and an unfortunate incident involving what was described to me as a “spilled pizza” took its toll on the upholstery.

couches-coveredSince the fabric was in such bad shape, I managed to find two inexpensive blankets from Ikea to hide the dirty sofa fabric until the time came when I had the fabric and time to begin reupholstering the sofas.

vintage-sofa-coil-springsAs you know, I live in Wisconsin and it is not very warm this time of year. However, a few days after Christmas, the temperature outside jumped to a balmy 47 degrees, giving me the perfect window of opportunity to strip the old upholstery off the first couch out in the garage — because there is NO WAY I am opening up a dirty vintage couch in the house. I decided to start with the more disgusting of the two sofas, and the one that looked least difficult — the larger sofa without the arm.

vintage-coil-springs-in-sofaAfter removing the fabric on the bottom of the couch (and five hundred tacks), my suspicions were confirmed. This is a well-built couch with metal coil springs, padded with horsehair and cotton batting. The springs and horsehair were in good shape, and the cotton batting is mostly in good shape so I decided to keep them, which is what the upholstery book I have been consulting suggests. It is cost prohibitive to replace horsehair these days and modern day foam has a much shorter life than the good old stuff like horsehair. Keeping the couch innards will save me a ton of work and money on the project.

reupholstering-vintage-sofa vintage-sofa-paddingOther than a few spots where the cotton batting had shredded and fallen off, it was clean and in good shape. All of the ick on the upholstery fabric seems to have stayed there and not passed through to the padding.

vintage-sofa-strippedI made sure to add a little extra batting along the front and a few spots on the sides where the cotton has deteriorated. That dark stuff peeking out from behind the cotton is the horsehair.

sofa-covered-in-battingI bought a large roll of polyester batting (the kind used for quilting) at a local fabric store. It is thin and mostly acts as a way to keep the cotton batting in place while I work on the sofa, plus it is a buffer between the old cotton and the new fabric.

old-upholstery-fabric-dirtyPrior to removing the old upholstery fabric, I knew it was shot, but I had no idea how dirty and worn it actually was until I discovered the difference between the parts of the fabric that had been tucked inside the couch and those parts that were exposed.

dirty-vintage-upholsteryThe fabric I had originally thought was beige was actually off-white when new! GROSS. Besides a handful of old popcorn, most likely left over from my Uncle’s bachelor days, there were no other surprises waiting for me in the bowels of the couch.



Close up of Bernhardt Spellbound Cayenne fabric from Modern Fabrics.

Once the couch frame and padding was vacuumed and brought back inside, it was time to crack open the 23 yards of fabric I bought last January. I purchased the fabric from Modern Fabrics, a company that collects perfectly good, overstock and leftover fabrics from large furniture companies, saving it from being thrown away. They resell the fabric at a fraction of the original cost — giving the general public a great deal (I got all 23 yards of fabric for about $300 delivered). A win win!

vintage-sewing-table-singerNext, I had to open up the terrifying sewing machine. Yes, I know — it is really not that scary. But for some reason, I am more intimidated by a sewing machine than a power saw. Go figure. This particular sewing machine is a Singer model 99, made in 1942 and belonged to my Nana, who was quite the seamstress. My Mom says nearly her entire wardrobe up until high school was made on this machine, by my Nana. My Grandfather, who I called Bob, built this cabinet himself. The family history continues!

vintage-singer-sewing-machineOther than a few short instructions from my Mom on how to thread the machine, wind a bobbin and my attempt to sew a five inch long scrap of fabric last summer, I have never used a sewing machine in my life. I didn’t even take anything like Home Economics in high school. My bad. I had completely forgotten how to thread the machine and wind a bobbin since my lesson in July, but luckily, the original manual was still kicking around in the cabinet, allowing me to give myself a refresher course. After a few tries, I managed to get the old iron lady up and humming.

vintage-singer-ruffler-attachmentMy next task was to identify which sewing machine foot was the zipper foot, since my upholstery book mentioned that you can use a zipper foot to make welt cord, and my sofas needed loads of it. There weren’t any pictures of the zipper foot in the manual, but there were several other, more involved “feet” shown. By process of elimination, and a quick internet search, I was able to identify the zipper foot. Hurray! (Note: I am SO GLAD I didn’t have to use the ruffler foot. That is one complicated piece of machinery. Have you ever seen a ruffler? SCARY!)

sewing-welt-cord-on-vintage-singerI estimated that I would need about 24 yards (72 feet!) of welt cord to complete both sofas. Since nearly every part of the sofa was attached to welt cord, I decided making the welt cord would be the first order of business. I used an old yard stick I found in the garage to cut the strips of fabric on the bias, then pinned all the strips together as instructed in the book and sewed them into one long strip of fabric. Then it was time to sew the welt cord into the fabric. It took a little practice, and I went very slow.

Any time I felt frustrated or worried about the sewing, I thought about my Nana, who would be so proud that I was using her machine. I thought about Great Grandma (who I never met) and my Grandma being so proud of me for fixing their old perfectly good sofa to use in my home. I felt like I had three angels sitting on my shoulders the whole time giving me praise and pointers. After about four hours…

24-yards-of-welt-cord…I had 24 yards of awesome welt cord! I danced around the house holding the massive pile of welt cord and feeling a bit like Rapunzel holding her long hair. My husband was amused with my antics. (Note: I cut the strips much wider than I needed to because I was using thick welt cord (12/32) and I had never used a sewing machine before. Mom reminded me you can always cut extra off but it is very hard to put back on, so I erred on the side of caution.)

sofa-reupholsteringUsing the old fabric as a pattern, I carefully cut out the fabric pieces, sewed them together very slowly and then tried the finished piece out on the sofa.

sofa-back-sewnIt fits!  And it doesn’t look half bad! I’m sure it will look better when it is actually attached to the couch, but for my first foray into sewing, I’m pretty darn proud.

On deck for the upcoming weekend, I’m going to try and sew the slightly-more-complicated seat cover. Fingers crossed!

couch-detailMy hope is to have this sofa finished — or mostly finished — by the end of January. Since it is only the 6th, and I don’t have a whole lot on my plate for the month, I think I can really accomplish this goal. January, February and March are the perfect time of year for me to work on this kind of project because spring, summer and fall are almost always packed to the gills with spray painting, yard work, gardening, and doing other repairs and revamps to the exterior of the house. Gotta make use of these cold winter months cooped up inside, right?

UPDATE: A few of you have asked which Upholstery book I am consulting — I found Spruce: A Step-by-Step Guide to Upholstery and Design ( to be a very helpful resource for anyone attempting to reupholster. Lots of photos, everything broken down into manageable chunks of information, and a great glossary with explanations of materials and tools needed to get the job done.