How to Make a Crappy Couch Awesome Again

A couch is a big purchase, and chances are, many of you frugal readers are hacking it with a hand-me-down or Craigslist couch until the day you're able to afford your dream sofa. Instead of deploring how dreary and frumpy your old couch looks, why not take some proactive steps to get it looking great again? Although (short of a complete upholstery job) you won't be able to get it looking new, you may be able to make it work better for your space, get a cool vintage vibe going on, and in general jazz up your couch so that you can learn to love it again. (See also: 4 Reasons I'm Keeping My Ugly, Old Stuff)

Play With the Layout

Many times, the primary reason why an old couch looks downright bad is because of the layout of the room. If you've got an old couch shoved in the corner of the room against a blank wall, with under/oversized furniture surrounding it and stacks of junk mail piled on top of it, it's going to look awful. But your old couch might have the potential to be much more functional and look far more inviting if the layout of the room is more user-friendly.

Try floating the couch into the middle of the room, facing other seating, to create a cozy conversation area. Or bring it forward from the wall and add a console table behind it with some accessories (you can even use this tutorial to DIY your own console table).

If you have nowhere to set a drink, hit up the thrift stores for a couple of cheap end tables to flank each side of the couch. Get rid of bad lighting and put in some bulbs that are closer to natural light (the newer CFLs and LEDs have much friendlier color spectrums than older generations). Put up some picture frames and bookshelves (again, hit thrift stores for frugal finds), and hide stacks of DVDs and nests of power cords. Use what you already have in your home, but rearrange it until it feels better.

Power Clean

If your couch has unsightly stains, a deep clean will do a world of good. Be sure to read the labels attached to your couch for cleaning instructions. Vacuuming, shampooing, and steam cleaning are all options. If you can remove the covers for the cushions, you may be able to throw them in the washing machine or get them dry-cleaned. If you have a microfiber couch, this method using rubbing alcohol can help get out grease and water stains.

Accent With Accessories

Break up the ugliness of a crappy couch using fun accessories like pillows, blankets, and throws. You can make your own throw pillows out of a fun fabric, or pick some up for affordable pieces at IKEA or Homegoods. Put a unique patterned throw over the back of the sofa — it will cover the bulk of the ugliness. (See also: Find the Best Stuff at HomeGoods)

Embrace the Vintage Look

"Granny Chic" is actually a look now. Just check out Etsy and popular blogs like A Beautiful Mess for ideas on how to style your room and make your '70s or '80s couch work for you. Decorating your room with vintage Pyrex, knitted doilies, old typewriters, and dumpster finds all go into creating a vintage thrift store chic look in which your old sofa might seem right at home. (Hint: Paint the walls white, and let Grandma's chintzy floral sofa take center stage.)

Replace the Foam

Short of a complete upholstery job, replacing the sagging foam in the couch cushions can be a budget-friendly way to keep your couch going longer as well as improving its looks.

You can buy upholstery foam online and at retailers such as Home Fabrics, Joann, and even Home Depot. Zippered couch cushions make it easy to replace the foam — cut the foam slightly larger than the cushion cover (or use the old foam as a template) and stuff it into the cover. If your couch cushions aren't zippered, a little extra sewing may be in order if you want to replace the foam yourself (or go to a professional). (See also: Build Your Own Furniture)

Get Slipcovers

If your couch is truly hideous, but the cushions are in good condition, slipcovering the sofa might be a great option. Slipcovers that cover a range of sofa sizes are readily available online — check out Overstock and Walmart for some great frugal options under $100. Choose a more tailored style of slipcover to avoid looking like you just draped a sheet over your couch. Two-piece sets of slipcovers (separate slipcovers for the sofa frame and the cushions) look more like an original couch, but are harder to fit.

If you purchased your sofa at a big box store (like IKEA), check to see if new sofa covers are available for your model either at the original store or on Ebay.

DIY the Details

Sometimes changing up a few details on your sofa can help make it look more updated. If there is a skirt on the sofa, try removing the skirt and exposing the legs. If the legs are all chipped and scuffed, try replacing them with new ones (tapered wooden legs reminiscent of the 60's are really in vogue now). If there are wooden arms or a wooden frame, try painting them a different color. (See also:How to Tell If You Should Refinish Wooden Furniture)

Last Resort: Reupholster

Reupholstering a couch is not cheap. In fact, a good upholstery job may often cost you more than a new sofa. You have to factor in the cost of labor as well as the cost of durable upholstery fabric.

However, sometimes you have a piece of furniture that has sentimental value and you can't bear to part with it, even though over the years it has started to look really ratty. Or perhaps you found a sofa with great lines but awful fabric, and reupholstering it will make it a statement piece that will leave your friends pining with envy. Whatever your reasons, get quotes from several upholsterers and go with someone who has good reviews (either word-of-mouth or online). Reupholstery will often include new foam and stuffing, but may not include replacing the springs or repairing the frame, so the structure of the sofa needs to be in good shape.

Are you living with an old couch (while you save for a new one)? How do you make it look great in your space?

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