10 Hacks to Give an Old Sofa New Life

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Your sofa is usually the biggest and most expensive piece of furniture in your living room, so when it begins to show its age, it can cast its shade over the whole room. The ultimate solution is to get a new sofa or to reupholster the old one, but those are both relatively costly options. There are dozens of ways to freshen your sofa's look with a lot less money or effort. Here are 10 of our favorites.

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1. Refill Worn-Out Cushions

Often, the first thing to wear out on a well-loved sofa is the seat cushions, which of course take all the wear and tear. The fabric covers on the cushions typically unzip and can be removed, so this is relatively easy to fix. One option is to buy a new slab of dense foam and use your old cushions as a template to cut new ones. Alternatively, you could wrap the original cushion with quilted batting or simply plump it up with handfuls of loose fiber-fill product from a craft store. Any of these options will quickly restore the look (and comfort!) of an otherwise functional sofa.

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Seat cushions often wear out before the rest of the sofa.
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2. Play With Exposed Wood Surfaces

Most sofas have a frame that's wholly or partially made of wood, though that frame is often concealed beneath the upholstery. If you're lucky enough to have exposed wood, this offers several options for quickly upgrading the look of your couch. Changing the stain from dark to light or light to dark can quickly change the look of your furniture. You could apply a whitewash to freshen and tone down dark wood. Wooden accents can be hand painted to bring out their details or to help them coordinate with updated decor elsewhere in the room. Use your imagination and go wild!

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Painting, staining or distressing exposed wood frames or details is a quick option for a makeover.
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3. Use Colorful Throw Pillows

One of the quickest, easiest and cheapest ways to refresh the look of an old sofa is to augment – or replace! – the existing seat-back cushions with a selection of colorful throw pillows. Choose colors to complement or contrast with the sofa itself or with the rest of your room decor. Better yet, use a handful of pillows in bold patterns and colors to make the whole room more vibrant. If you opt for pillows with zip-off covers, you can change them seasonally (or even more often) so the room always feels fresh and intentional.

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Colorful throw pillows can quickly update the look of a sofa (and your room).
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4. Create a Tufted Effect

If your sofa's seat-back cushions still look good but lack pizazz, color isn't your only option for adding visual interest. Another option is to upgrade them so they replicate the look of a tufted couch. You'll need six or eight buttons for each cushion in an appropriate color (a perfect match might be hard to find, but if so, you can go with a contrasting or complementary color) along with a long needle and some sturdy thread. Pull the thread through the pillow to create the characteristic dimpled appearance and then finish each faux tuft with one of the buttons.

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Capturing the look of a tufted sofa is a surprisingly easy DIY project.
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5. Add Some Nailhead Trim

If your sofa seems to need a little something, another relatively simple way to add it is with an accent of nailhead trim. It's often used on leather couches, where it gives a relatively formal appearance, but the effect can be light and playful on furniture with clean lines and a neutral color. Craft and upholstery stores carry suitable tacks in a variety of colors, and the only piece of equipment you'll need to apply them is a hammer. What could be easier?

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Nailhead trim is a common decorative accent on leather couches.
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6. Perform a Leg Transplant

Would your sofa fit better in your mid-century living room without its chunky legs? Would your couch be more comfy if it was taller or shorter? Here's good news! Relatively few sofas have their legs permanently built in as part of the frame. Most are easily replaced through the simple expedient of unscrewing the old ones and screwing in new ones that better fit your personal sense of style. It's a super-easy upgrade that is surprisingly effective.

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Legs on most sofas are easily replaced.
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7. Make (or Fake) a Custom Slipcover

A custom slipcover is just about the most complete makeover you can give your sofa short of reupholstering it. It's a significant project, but if your skills aren't quite at that level, you can still fake it. Instead of stitching corner seams, for example, you can sew (or even hot-glue) colorful ties at the corners, where they'll add a decorative element. Iron-on (fusible) bias tape is another excellent "cheat" that can help create a custom appearance, or you can purchase an inexpensive tool and a few packages of crimp-on snaps. The simplest slipcover of all is just a large piece of fabric draped over the sofa and tucked in. It's not especially elegant, but it's simple and effective.

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Custom covers can give your furniture a whole new look.
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8. Dye Removable Covers

If your sofa is sturdy and well-made and it's just the drab upholstery that leaves you itching for something more exciting, dye might be the solution for you. The covers on many sofa cushions unzip for easy removal and cleaning, so dyeing them while they're off is a relatively easy upgrade. First, test the dye on an unobtrusive corner so you'll know whether the fabric will even absorb it. If it works and you like the effect, go for it! Just be sure to choose a color that works with any portions of the couch that can't be removed for dyeing.

Drab upholstery can be vividly refreshed with dye.
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9. Use Fabric Paint

If your sofa's fabric won't take dye or if large portions of it have nonremovable upholstery, then fabric paint may be a better option. You can purchase it ready to use in a variety of hues or – for a limitless selection of colors – DIY your own using textile medium and off-the-shelf latex paint. When sprayed or brushed on thinly, it gives your sofa a durable new look without noticeably changing the way it feels to the touch. Pro tip: There are also specialized paints available for leather furniture.

You probably won't go to this extreme, but fabric paint can quickly brighten a drab sofa.
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10. Work Around the Sofa

Sometimes, your best move isn't to change the sofa but to work with its surroundings. If yours is a "perma loan" from a relative, for example, or if you rent a furnished suite, altering the sofa itself isn't an option. Similarly, if your sofa is a step below the rest of your furnishings, calling attention to it is the last thing you want to do. Instead, deploy a few cushions and maybe a throw blanket to conceal/complement the sofa itself. Then, position lamps, plants, decorations, wall art or other items of decor to give that end of the room a fresh, intentional look in spite of the sofa.

Sometimes, changing the surroundings rather than the sofa is your best move.
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