Under cover

Whether you want to add high style to a room or just protect your furniture, slipcovers have, well, got you covered

November 01, 2008|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,elizabeth.large@baltsun.com

At the High Point, N.C., wholesale furniture market that ended last week, Century Furniture introduced a wing chair with a 100 percent wool slipcover that will retail for about $7,350.

And you thought slipcovered furnishings were for the economy-minded?

They are. That's the thing about today's slipcovers: The range of prices and styles is all over the map.

In the current economy, says Hugh Rovit, CEO of Sure Fit, which makes ready-made slipcovers, "We're having a record year. When dollars are tight and people spend more time at home, we're the lower-cost alternative to redecorating."

For as little as $100 you can refurbish an old piece of furniture that might otherwise have to be discarded. But when the time comes to replace the slipcover on that $7,350 chair - well, let's just say it won't cost $100.

Slipcovers can protect good upholstery from boisterous kids and pets, or add high (and expensive) style to a beautifully designed room. The look can be super-casual or elegantly tailored.

When Emily Rill, 22, and her two roommates moved to a rowhouse in Federal Hill, they found the walls and draperies of their living room were cream and green. Their sofa was red.

"The sofa was a little bit old, but it was OK," Rill says. "It just didn't match the room."

The stretch slipcover she ordered from Sure Fit is off-white and was, she says, easy to put on. "It doesn't even look like a slipcover. It freshens up the room, and it makes the sofa look new."

With the holidays approaching, some people are buying ready-made dining room-chair slipcovers in garnet or sage so that mismatched and folding chairs will look as if they go together around the table. The cost can be as low as $10 apiece.

Slipcovers are practical, good-looking and versatile, but they don't always get the respect they deserve.

"They lengthen the use of the piece," says Jackie Hirschhaut, vice president of the American Home Furnishings Alliance. She points out that one of the important trends at the October High Point market was more personalization for consumers. Slipcovered pieces, from sofas to outdoor furniture, were a frequently seen example.

"If they are done in a loosely woven fabric or one with a ticking stripe, they might be more casual," she says. "A tighter weave and more fitting gives a more formal look."

At one time, slipcovers were something you put on your good sofa in the summer months to protect it from (how to phrase this delicately?) perspiring visitors. Often they were made of clear plastic, which was definitely considered declasse.

Slipcovers started being a design statement in the 1980s, when shabby chic made its appearance on the interior-decorating scene. You, too, could have a living room that looked like it belonged in an English country home - worn and a bit faded, perhaps, but in impeccably good taste.

With today's stretch fabrics, a fitted slipcover can offer the look of good upholstery, among many other looks; but a spill can be dealt with more easily, or at least more cheaply, by removing the cover and putting it in the washing machine.

"We've gone from being a means to cover up something ugly to being a way to redecorate," says Rovit of Sure Fit.

If, in this economic meltdown, you're rethinking buying that new sofa you had your eye on, or if you're just starting out and want to brighten up a hand-me-down chair, there are plenty of inexpensive ready-made covers available in all sorts of fabrics and colors.

"Slipcovers are a Band-Aid," says designer Frank Fontana, host of HGTV's Design on a Dime, referring to ready-mades, "but they've become a decorative Band-Aid. There are some very nice patterns and textiles out there."

If you're on a really tight budget, he suggests starting in the clearance section of a discount store like Bed, Bath & Beyond or Wal-Mart. If you're "crafty," as Fontana puts it, you can add a border or fringe to personalize the slipcover you bought on sale.

Even if money isn't the main issue, there are reasons you might want to buy a ready-made slipcover.

"If you're feeling gloomy in the middle of winter, you can brighten a room with a lighter slipcover," he says. There's also the nostalgia factor. "If you're emotionally attached to a piece, don't go buy a new piece. Use a slipcover."

The ready-made slipcovers sold at places like Bed, Bath & Beyond, Macy's and J.C. Penney are likely to be products of Sure Fit, a company that's been around since 1914 and is one of the leading producers of slipcovers in the U.S. It sells covers for sofas, love seats, chairs (including wing, dining room and folding chairs), recliners and ottomans. You can buy them in machine-washable fabrics like faux suede, cotton, denim, damask and jacquard.

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