Update Your 90s Sofa With a Fresh Look

Give your 90s sofa an updated look without spending a dime!

Neutral sofas have been the trend for the past decade (or two?). I love a white or beige couch that can be adapted to any color scheme as tastes change. I have one in my family room. But there is something warm and cozy about a rich pattern or a warm plaid that is inviting. They seem to scream grab a book, a comfy throw and a cup of tea and settle in for awhile. Maybe this is why pretty fabrics are making a comeback.

Searching for vintage pieces at flea markets and antique malls has become a popular trend. The interest in older, more traditional furniture and decor has given birth to the new grandmillenial style of decorating that is becoming more prevalent.

If you’re not familiar with grandmillennial style, it’s an updated take on traditional style. Among other elements, such as antique wood furniture and classic decor, it incorporates print and patterned fabrics in furniture, curtains, table skirts and more. Modern elements are mixed in to give it a fresh look.

If you happen to have a dated sofa that is upholstered in a beautiful fabric that you love, now is the perfect time to make some easy updates to bring it into the current decorating trend. 

Plaid sofa from the 1990s

I have such a sofa. The before picture of my 1990s gem is above. Please excuse the bad old cellphone pic. I’ll explain why I didn’t take a good “before” photo as I take you through the update project. Hint: a dog was involved.

My sofa had ruffles galore. The seat-back pillows were trimmed in ruffles and, while it’s not real apparent in the photo, the skirting corners were gathered and appeared to be ruffled.

According to what I have read about grandmillennial style, ruffles and sofa skirts are being embraced. I’m pretty sure that when these accoutrements find their way into the homes of thirty-somethings, they are of the elegant variety. My ruffles definitely were giving off a country vibe. While I love the plaid fabric, there was quite a bit of it, which also made it lean toward a country style.

So, my journey in updating this sofa began with a visit from my daughter, Molly, and her beloved dog, Sadie. Sadie is a fabric eater. You see where this is going. During a visit last year, Sadie helped herself to a pretty big chunk of the sofa skirt. I was more concerned about Sadie than the sofa, and figured I would just patch the hole. Honestly, the sofa is pretty old, and I thought it might finally be time to replace it.

Remove the skirting

Once Molly and Sadie headed home (Sadie was fine), I couldn’t stop looking at the hole. The sofa had been lightly used and it is exceedingly comfortable, so I thought maybe I should try to salvage it. I figured that I had nothing to lose. In an inspired moment, I decided the sofa, sans skirt, might be a good look. I grabbed a pair of pliers and a screwdriver and got to work. This blog thing is new to me and snapping a photo first didn’t occur to me–hence the bad before photo. I won’t make that mistake again.

Skirting is attached to the bottom of sofas with staples. Most sofa skirting is topped with piping–mine was. To remove the skirting, I wedged a flat-head screwdriver behind the piping until I loosened a large enough section to grab by hand, and I started pulling. If you do this, pull gently, using the screwdriver to loosen staples as you go. You may need to pull some of the more stubborn staples with pliers. Be careful not to damage the piping as you’ll need it later. 

The picture, below, shows the sofa without the skirting. (Another bad cellphone shot–it gets better, I promise.) I already liked the sofa better, but the bottom edge was a little rough, and the ruffled pillows seemed out of place and very country. 

De-ruffle the pillows

I decided to remove the ruffles. I would not call myself a seamstress, but I have a sewing machine, and I know how to sew. A lot of 90s sofas have ruffled pillows. If you have a similar situation with your sofa, and you don’t sew, you could search for replacement pillows. There are a lot of 20″ x 20″ options out there. I liked the fabric on my pillows, and, since removing the ruffles was free, I decided to go for it. Some pillow covers will zip off, which would make the job easier, but mine didn’t have zippers.

This step was pretty straightforward. I simply got a seam ripper and carefully ripped the seams the entire way around the pillows. Conveniently for me, my parents were visiting, and I happen to have two seam rippers, so my mom helped me make fast work of this step. Once we separated the two halves of the pillow cover from the pillow insert, we discovered that the ruffle was sewn to one side of the fabric covering. Another trip around the pillow with the seam ripper was required to completely remove the ruffle. 

Once all pieces were separated, I put the right sides of the front and back pieces of the pillow cover together and sewed around all sides, leaving an opening large enough to stuff the insert through. Once the pillow insert was back inside the fabric, I top stitched the opening. 

Replace the piping

The final step was to replace the piping. It was attached to the sofa skirt, so more seam ripping ensued. 

Piping being removed from sofa skirting

I found the seam between the piping and the skirt and went to town. After the piping was removed, I cleaned it up by trimming the excess thread that was attached to the piping.

Sofa piping

Finally, I attached the piping to the bottom edge of the sofa using a heavy duty staple gun. I tipped the sofa on its side for easy access to the underside of the sofa. There were some loose pieces of piping on the arm that resulted from pulling off the skirt. I simply tucked these into the piping and held everything in place with the staples. I kept pulling the piping taut as I worked and placed a staple every two to three inches. 

I’m very happy with the results of these updates. The sofa looks more current, and the fabric and oversized cushions and arms fit well with the old world style of my living room.  This room came together with a lot of vintage and thrifted pieces. There are a few modern elements thrown in for balance. You can see how I pulled together the gallery wall here.

I got lucky, and this sofa had some nice legs hiding under its skirt. If the legs on yours are better left covered, you can find sofa legs online. (My dog, Steve, is looking a little sinister under the coffee table. Don’t worry–he doesn’t have a taste for fabric!)

Try this at home!

Your 90s sofa might not be exactly like mine, but I bet it has some of the same elements. I’ve listed ideas for updating your sofa, below and included a roundup of pillows and sofa legs.

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• Remove the skirt and replace the piping (you’ll need a flat-head screwdriver, a pair of pliers and a heavy-duty staple gun

• Remove ruffles or replace ruffled pillows

• Add throw pillows in a solid color to tame the pattern and add a modern touch

• Add updated sofa legs

If you want to embrace the grandmillennial style:

• Replace ruffles with fringe or pom-poms

• Add fringe or trim to the bottom edge of your sofa

I’ve rounded up some sofa leg and replacement pillow options below. Click on the text listed below the photos for the links. The pictures are not clickable.

Roundup of sofa pillows

Hi! I’m Erin. As life evolves, so does a home. Join me as I share DIY projects to update, renovate, decorate and improve my home to complement my empty-nest lifestyle.

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