California Karpen Sofas Ride the Waves

I found my forever sofas.

Several times a week, I visit my favorite website, Craigslist. I stalk it, actually, hoping to score something great, and I usually do. This buy, however, was the ultimate! When I saw the listing, I fell in love. I had to have these supercool sofas.

I loved the wave-like retro shape and their low height, and snagged these beauties with the intention of reupholstering them for my own living room. Probably last recovered in the 1970’s, they were difficult to sit on as-is because the foam in the cushions had hardened to a crumbly crust, which leaked out everywhere in the form of orange dust. The off-burgundy diamond-plate fabric had lost every bit of its luster and was scratchy. The seller knew what they were, so they weren’t quite the bargain for me. But I knew that I could make them beautiful again, for my own living room. Who else has sofas this cool?!

Here’s the before:

Karpen of California Sectional Loveseat Sofas Before

Karpen of California Sectional Loveseat Sofas Before


But the bones were very, very good!

Stripped down to the frame, I found the date stamp: 1956! Made by Karpen of California, the solid, well-built frames needed only minor repairs to make them last another 62 years, at least. The backs were layered in rubberized horsehair over burlap and sinuous springs, all of which was in great condition and didn’t need to be replaced. No deterioration had occurred there, and they were contoured perfectly. Just needed all-new cotton covering it. The seat foundation of each consists of two spring units, which are a network of many smaller coiled springs contained in individual canvas bags. These were also in great condition and there was no need to replace them. No webbing, either, just a strong metal mesh screwed in place at the bottom that held up the springs. I did cushion under the spring units over the metal mesh. Great workmanship makes an upholsterer’s job a little easier!

I always cover my foundational work with muslin to keep any fillings from shifting, below. Over this went a layer of padding and then the final fabric. This muslin covering allows me to nail the shape without worrying about overworking the cover fabric.


The inside back is done! A carpenter’s level was my friend here, to make sure the weave was plumb and level all the way through the curvy back.


Then there’s the deck…….

The deck, consisting of the front piece attached to the fabric that the cushions rest on, was a supreme challenge. I had to make an attached pillow with specially cut and shaped foam, and cover it with specially measured and cut fabric pieces so that the shape would follow the curve of the sofa, but the weave would be straight. Geometry came in handy, as well as a great deal of other math!

This is before I anchored the arm cushion and the frontpiece. It looks wonky right now, but I assure you it will be level!

This is before I anchored the arm cushion and the frontpiece. It looks wonky right now, but I assure you it will be level!


This one, below, is definitely on the home stretch! You can see where I drew on my old faux marbling skills to paint over the beige formica tabletops at the end of the sectional. It was a decision made to keep the original material, but make it go with the newly black satin legs. Sagless burlap and padding went over the table sides before the cover fabric.


These pieces required quite a bit of hand stitching to close up the various sections. I believe it’s the best way to achieve a seamless, smooth finish with no interruption to the way the fabric lies. Sometimes products with metal teeth can disrupt the look and feel of the upholstered piece. This is the back of the arm section, below. The entire outside back is padded and hand stitched on, using an invisible ladder stitch.


And then they were done!

Although not that quick (they took about three weeks), I loved every minute of working on these pieces, and to know that I have done the best job possible is very rewarding! I am often asked if they are for sale. Weeeelllllll….., if someone offers the right price, isn’t everything for sale?!


Follow my furniture adventures here. Did you know City Girl Arts is on Instagram and Facebook? I also have a vintage furniture studio in St. Petersburg, Florida. Scroll down for the location. Message or call me if you’d like to visit, see my collection of “befores”, and purchase your own City Girl Arts chair. I’d love to see you and make you a chair!