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How to start a business as an upholsterer

If you enjoy working with your hands and problem solving an upholstery business might be for you How to start a business as an upholsterer

Cheap furniture has meant that people are more likely to buy a new settee or chair than repair it, but that doesn’t mean a good living can’t be be made as an upholsterer. An upholsterer works with the soft parts of chairs, stools and settees, such as the springs, padding and covers – and though the demand may be relatively small, the supply of professionals is even smaller. Fewer and fewer people are training to go into the business, and as existing upholsterers retire, they often leave a raft of clients behind them wondering where to go. So if you enjoy working with your hands, problem solving (every piece of furniture is different, so needs a different approach) and have good attention to detail, an upholstery business might be for you.


You don’t need any qualifications to become an upholsterer, but training will help you to learn the appropriate skills. It will also give potential clients confidence that you know what you’re doing and won’t irretrievably damage Aunty Ethel’s heirloom chaise longue. There are lots of courses – look for ones approved by the The Association of Master Upholsterers and Soft Furnishers. You could also train on the job as an upholstery apprentice. You’ll also need tried and tested experience as an upholsterer, but it isn’t crucial to work in employment to get this, though it may help. You could work on your own projects until you feel you have the skills you need to start charging other people – but you will learn a lot more quickly, and pick up far more tips, if you work alongside others first Volunteering at an existing upholsterers can be useful. This will also give you a good insight into whether you really DO want to work as an upholsterer.

Hard essentials

Set up costs needn’t be huge. You can start out small and if it suits you, keep it that way – or expand as your client base builds. In terms of equipment, to start you’ll need a set of upholstery tools as well as a commercial quality sewing machine. These can often be bought second hand. A space to store and work on projects, which needs to be big enough for a large table to work off, is also crucial, though this could be in your house or garage. Investment in various upholstery materials such as different kinds of stuffing, tacks and coverings will be ongoing. Clients might provide their own fabrics, but you would do well to offer a range of choices. You’ll also need a van to pick up and deliver furniture. You’ll also need the relevant commercial insurance. Charge for work on a piece-by-piece basis - phone a few local upholsterers to see how much they cost, and use this as a guide on price.

Getting the work

A website is crucial. It should show samples of your work and reflect the market into which you wish to sell. A lot of work you’ll be given will be on antique furniture, but not all. Nightclubs, pubs and restaurants will also hopefully be a big share of your client base, so ensure you can also attract these sorts of clients. Network interior designers and second-hand furniture dealers – they will always be on the lookout for an upholsterer. Social media will be your friend, as will antiques fairs and design shows. When times are quiet, working on your own projects and selling them through the likes of ebay will help to boost your income, as well as help to market your upholstery services. Read more like this

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