Proving Myself Wrong

By Kate Riley June 17, 2009

I once publicly proclaimed that I would never buy a sofa second-hand unless I knew the owner.  I declared that if I was going to lay my head on it, well then it would certainly be new.  Kind of like that time I said I didn’t like burlap, but now find myself completely fixated on it. 

Funny how sometimes when you draw a line in the sand, you get that sand thrown in your face. 

I confess I have browsed at used sofas on Craigslist, but was always afraid to invest in someone else’s rejected couch.  In fact, I skip merrily past the sofa section at the local thrift stores, because “Ewww” is all I have ever seen in that department. 

But as fate would have it, I was at the St. Vincent de Paul last week and what before my eyes should appear but a new arrival that day.  A crewel patterned cream colored Drexel Heritage sofa.  Some might argue this fabric is damask, but with its raised texture, I think it’s more like crewel.  It was in near perfect condition, and listed for $300.  I gasped. I gaped.  It was way too good to be true.  I have a very sensitive nose, and ain’t no way I am bringing anything stank-ay into my house.  But I swallowed my pride, bent down and gave this sofa the Official Sniff Test. 

No odors.  No stains.  No pet hair.  Nada. Nothing. Zip. Zilch.  It was so amazing, I thought there must be some hidden camera somewhere.

At 50% off, I paid only $150 for this extremely well constructed, traditional style sofa.  I reasoned I could eventually have it recovered, and still come out ahead.  And I had special plans to freshen it up.  

Here she is BEFORE:

   drexel before

And AFTER I made a few modifications: 

sofa after with throw

Here’s the tag, still attached underneath those cushions:

drexel tag

I thought the skirt was a bit dowdy and old-fashioned, so I removed it carefully, staple by staple.  It took over an hour, but it was worth it. 

staple removal

Removing the skirt:

remove the skirt

Then I added some fresh pillows and a spa blue chenille throw:

pillows and throw

Much more stylish and modern !

My office is in transition right now.  I am trying to freshen up this space where I work, so this sofa is an elegant addition.  I plan to have the piece professionally cleaned next week. 

I am really into grass cloth wallpaper lately ever since watching Candice Olsen do it so well, but became completely sold on it when I saw this room by Eddie Ross.  Swoon !

eddie ross grasscloth wall

I found some linen look absolutely fabulous soft blue grass cloth wallpaper very close to this pillow, and I cannot wait to install it when it arrives next week.  Keep your fingers crossed for me – I have never wallpapered before. 

linen pillow

Finally, I must add that I found this brass wood carrier/newspaper holder at the thrift store the same day for $1.  I cleaned if off and gave it a bold coat of apple green spray paint.

brass holder  apple spray

Now it holds my favorite mags.  This is where I plan to catch up on all my favorite decor publications. 

mag rack after

sofa after with mag

If anyone has any tips on professionally cleaning a sofa, please send them my way. 

Also, have any of you put up wallpaper before?  Any suggestions, before I venture into this new territory?


  1. Looks AWESOME! I love it with the skirt removed. It didn't look bad before but looks a lot more contemporary with the skirt gone I think!

  2. Holy Cow, Batman! Your find has beaten all others I have *EVER* seen! Love it with the skirt off (okay that sounds kind of weird, lol)

  3. Beautiful sofa! You are so brave to take off the skirt, but it looks awesome!

    I also love the pillows and magazine holder and can't wait to see the wallpaper.

    I've only taken down wallpaper and I hate it!

  4. Uh..Lucky. So lucky. I love the look you created. Good job!

  5. Wow. That's all I can come up with. Seriously, that couch may have just beaten out all other thrift store scores EVER! SUUUUPER JEALOUS RIGHT NOW!! Really good job sprucing it up, by the way. :)

  6. What a fabulous find! I think you made the right decision removing the skirt ~ much cleaner look.

    As for the pro cleaning, I'm not sure what the going rate is in your area, but I've found it more cost effective to actually buy my own Bissell steam cleaner (carpet machine w/ upholstery attachments) at Costco. I've used it so often, it's paid for itself many times over.

    When we moved into our home last year, I splurged and paid to have the carpets professionally cleaned (to save time). It was very expensive and the results were unimpressive. Unless you have eXcellent references (and a coupon), I say get yourself a steamer and DIY!

  7. What a great sofa! Love the pillows too!! (and if you do need any pet hair to add to it…I will be happy to share my wealth! ;)

    m ^..^

  8. Great couch and I really love it with the skirt removed. I made the mistake of trying to clean an ivory upholstered chair several years ago. That turned into a complete train wreck and I had to put a throw over the back to cover up the damage that I did. Professional cleaning is the way to go and if they can do it WITHOUT any water, I would go that route.

  9. Wowza. That thing is gorgeous! And how lucky that it arrived just in time for 50% off Thursdays! Can't even believe it – these ladies are right… you definitely just scored the most amazing thrift store find in history.

    And skirtless was the way to go. For the couch. Loves!!

  10. When I started reading your post about buying a used sofa, I started thinking eww. I'm anti-used-sofa as well, but then I saw the picture! I would have bought it too!! That's gorgeous!

  11. Wow! What a find! I've been looking for a "new" sofa too. I haven't found anything like this!
    Looks great!

  12. I was a person who wouldn't buy anything upholstered second-hand. . .Until I saw how great your chairs looked, and for such a great price. I bought two beautiful wing backs for $50 last week. They were in perfect condition – the seller made a point to show me where she had made a rip in the lining under the chair (and sewed it back together). I'm slipcovering them with dropcloths for summer, can't wait to see how they turn out.

  13. Wow! The sofa looks so fresh and vibrant! You did an awesome job! I love the colors of the pillows and the blanket. That is one couch I just want to curl up on! lol

  14. Wow and double WOW on the sofa! Girl, you got a great bargain on that & Drexel Heritage, no less. You DO know how expensive their stuff is??! I love it without the skirt & that totally changes the look & makes it so much more modern. Love the pillows too.

    Yes! I have wallpapered all by myself one time in my old house. Be sure & size the walls first with wallpaper primer stuff. I used extra wallpaper glue on the back of mine just to be sure it stayed up. I've got a little project coming up too with some textured wallpaper & I'm waiting for it to arrive also!

  15. Kate, it's fabulous! I was glad to see that SOMEONE has had good luck with a used sofa…it gives me hope for the arm chair of my dreams to appear some day. ;) I really like how you ditched the skirt–I didn't know you can do that. Love the apple green. I know I've seen one of those newspaper thingies before…maybe my parents had one? Good post. :) As always, I love the photos.

  16. Your sofa is gorgeous! WOW! What a steal! I agree, you are brave to take off the skirt, glad it turned out so well! Good luck on the wallpapering and pro cleaning, I haven't done either. Love your nook! The green magazine holder is great!

  17. What an awesome find! LUCKY LUCKY GIRL! It already looks amazing without the skirt and with the addition of the pillows and throw. Great job.
    And the wallpaper-hire a professional. Grass cloth is particularly difficult. My brother hangs wallpaper professionally and he hates grasscloth with a passion.

  18. I would have never thought to take the skirt off as I would be too scared to mess it up but that's a great idea and a way to look past what you have and see more! Looks great and I am lovin' the price too! I am following your blog for inspiration for sure!

  19. Kate, this is really beautiful. I suspect you spend a fair amount of time sniffing out bargains like this, and in this case you were justly rewarded! Very nice indeed and we'll look forward to seeing further office pictures.

  20. I have been following your blog for the past week and love love love it! I have always felt the same way about couches and anything else with fabric where other peoples grimy nastiness could penetrate-UGH! But if I found the couch you got then I would def. rethink all of that! It looks amazing!!!!!!!!! I found my first $1 chair at a garage sell last weekend and gave it quite a facelift thanks to your directions. I will post a pic on my blog soon!! :)

  21. What a find, Kate! I love the lines of that sofa. I had to laugh at your one time snub of burlap because I felt the same way and I just finished upholstering my dining room chairs in a chocolate burlap. Never say never, right? I know that GC can be tricky but since you've never papered, you won't know that. I do know that the seams are more noticeable than regular wallpaper. That's all I can remember. Can't wait to see. It's a new adventure.

  22. Great find! I learned not to be afraid of second hand upholstered furniture when I was scouting some furniture for a shoot at a thrift store and noticed that they tagged everything saything that they cleaned it before putting it out on the floor. I'll buy something like that second hand but only if I see that it's been cleaned first.

  23. Wow! I am so jealous! I'm looking for a sofa for my living room right now and I would totally have taken something like that!


  24. What a beautiful blog…You have a great blog…enjoyed reading it tonight.
    I had a little time to do some blog hopping…I always enjoy finding new blogs and new friends.
    Hope you will stop by and visit me.
    This month I am posting on our Disney trip plus a June giveaway.

  25. Looks great! What a steal. Taking the skirt off definitely "made" that couch.

    You'll be very happy w/ the Drexel brand. I picked up a chair at GW for $20 that is Drexel and about 30 years old. I'm recovering the cushions in a non-ugly fabric, but it's in otherwise perfect condition. My DH even keeps remarking about how well made the chair is, so if it impresses him, it's gotta be well put together!

    Good luck on cleaning it. I have leather couches so I can just wipe them off (ahem, 3 year old and 2 dogs), so I'm not sure how to clean a fabric couch.

  26. Score!!! What a find. Removing the skirt made all the difference–it went from fussy to fabulous. I swore I'd never buy upholstered furniture used either until I found my tufted living room chairs and HELLO change of heart!

  27. I laughed because I say the same thing about buying a second hand sofa from an unknown. But I am sure I would if I found something as fabulous as you did. You really scored! You can clean your sofa yourself with a Rug Doctor, you would rent the upholstery attachment and buy the upholstery cleaner. I haven't done it myself, but I have seen the stuff when renting the machine to clean carpet.

  28. I never liked thrift stores until recently. I'm completely hooked now and love going shopping to see what goodies I'll find that day.

    Your couch is gorgeous. I really like it without the skirt but would never have thought to do that myself.


  29. Very nice! I look forward to hearing about your cleaning experience. I haven't done any of that yet, so don't have any recommendations for you. You might check the tag, though, to see if it was treated with anything when it was made. We bought our sofa new and had the fabric treated and our tag under the cushions reflects that. I also wanted to mention that I think you have a damask fabric, not crewel, but it's hard to tell from photos on my computer. Crewel is a plain fabric background with yarn embroidery on the surface. Damask is cotton with a jaquard patern woven into it. Brocade is the same sort of thing but in silk. All of them are beautiful, but crewel is a little more rustic looking and makes my heart go pitter patter. My MIL has a chair I love with crewel work upholstery and fauxbois arms and legs. Swoon!

  30. Wow! What a great couch! It may have been something that didn't sell at a store that they donated for the tax write off. Target does that to Goodwill when they donate their salvage.

  31. It's like getting your heart broken and swearing off men until you find Mr. Right. That sofa is your Mr. Right (well, Mr. Right #2. Wouldn't want to make CG jealous now, would we?) Absolutely prefer without the skirt, no question. Love the color of the throw, not so much the apple color (sorry!).

  32. Where did you get that spa blue throw? I've been looking for something EXACTLY like it!!

  33. Well Done! I'm new here.
    Wallpapering isn't as hard as people get it in their minds it is. Actually that sentence is harder to read than wallpapering! My Mom had me helping her paper when I was about 10, at 14 I wallpapered my cousins' flat for him and his wife.
    The walls were all on a slant and at one point the striped paper looked almost diaganol. But I did manage to make it all right.
    Anyhow….measure, measure and then check it out with a rep at a quality wallpaper store. Not some pimply hormonal tadpole at a diy store. Really I mean that!
    Start at one corner… use a plum [string on a heavy button whatever] to tack up at that one corner, & to hang to just off the floor. That straight line hanging is what you want to line your first strip up to. If your paper has a pattern to it…make sure the first strip isnt going to cut the pattern in half etc. Make it a full, clean sheet.
    Measure and cut to include an extra couple inches at the top and bottom for corrections etc.
    Sit the preglued paper in the wallpaper trough, containing luke warm water for about 5mins, then pull up slowly ensureing there is water on all areas.
    Take the cut paper to the wall, line up against the plum line and attach to the very top, ensuring it hangs straight down.
    Press to wall with a dampened cloth, and then use a wallpaper edge to smooth against wall, motions from middle to edge one side and then repeat moving to the opposite side all the way down to get bubbles out.
    Trim top and bottom once your satisfied, with a straight edge blade against a ruler, You dont want to pull and rip the wet paper.
    Match any necessary patterns with the second piece when its' dry…against the first, then do the soaking trough deal, again and again.
    To get a run on it….put a third piece in and let it set against itself [fold bottom third to middle, glue side to glue and top as same – helps glue adhere] This can be done while your putting up the second piece.
    IT really goes along fast. You'love the look.
    Cover your desk mat, an icecream pail to make a trash basket, etc. with the leftover paper to give a cohesive & expensive look to the room.
    * Your so damned good at what you do my dear…I'm sure this job is already completed and your impressing us again.

    BYE THE WAY. I redid my sons'room for under a $100. Wallpaper on sale for a buck a role: expensive looking brown, gold and blue line plaid, twin sheets on sale for the curtains and accents, wooden dowel rod, and two tennis balls dipped in gold paint as finials.
    Painted the 3 walls in a rich goldy brown colour, and trims in the same gold paint as the tennis balls. He's 22 now and still wont let me change it. It really looks rich!

    I'm signed-up for your postings and looking forward to them. I'm on disability now for good [was Hospital sr.Management] and going out of my mind. Between pain and exhaustion I have been laxidaisial about finishing my projects. Now…Refreshed due to going through your site and reading others' comments.
    I'm going to get back at it!
    Thanks lady….Keep up the great stuff you do.
    Cheers from Oshawa, Ontario, Canada

  34. I ADORE this room!!! Everything is gorgeous, good job!

    I have a sofa, loveseat and wingback chairs in the same exact style as this sofa ($4oo for the set at a garage sale!!!), and just wanted to say, though my damask pattern is actually mixed in with blue and pink stripes(???), I have tried using different steam cleaners, and it doesn't work because of the texture.

    The one thing I found that works is very labor intensive, and requires actually whipping GREAT (I use Nordex, no fillers, very concentrated) laundry soap with extremely hot water, and using the foamy peaks that creates, to scrub the sofa with a clean cloth. Repeat until it looks clean, and then rinse, rinse rinse, with hot clean water. Its very effective, but my one 3-seat sofa took me 6 hours!!! You have to keep getting fresh water… (it was more dirty than it look apparently.. :S)
    Hope this helps!

  35. Great find! That looks like it is Damask fabric..camelback style and I like the skirt on but you were brave to remove the skirt but it looks great that way too. My neighbor’s daughter got some great buys on living room furniture, antique pieces from a dentist that was retiring and moving a few hours across the state. Everything was in perfect condiction. Her Mother said she wants her daughter to find her another sofa for her sunroom on CL.

    The one thing I’d be scared of would be cigarette or pipe or cigar smoke. Smokers don’t realize that odor gets even in the walls and sometimes it takes two coats of stain blocker to get it out completely. A home sale for a home 2 doors from us fell through for that simple reason. Seems the owner had some of her Father’s furniture removed to give to charity and it stirred up the old man’s cigar smoke, especially after it rained for a few days. She had to replace all the carpet after that.

    Roaches or bedbugs would concern me but I even spray cardboard boxes when I bring them home from the store.

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