Headline: Sterling upholstery

Mountain View company

keeps customers satisfied

If your old sofa or chair looks as though it's on its last legs, don't be too quick to bundle it out of the house. The frame and its components are probably better constructed than the product furniture manufacturers produce today.

More and more consumers live through the experience of investing in an attractive expensive piece of furniture only to see it thrown away after five years. Homeowners are discovering that many old pieces have a built-in value you can't buy today.

"People want a quality frame again," said David Cole, owner of Mountain View's Sterling Custom Upholstery Company. "They're tired of buying pine, plywood and cardboard frames. The trend is going back to something they can have redone more than one time."

"There's another reason," Cole explained. "What you purchased for $100 in 1985 would cost $287 today. If you purchased a $1,200 sofa at Breuners in 1985, today it would be worth $3,000. We can reupholster that good piece for $1,000 or less."

Upholsterers can capitalize on the differences between mass-produced furniture often held together with staples and frames that have dowel-pin construction. Working with original furniture frames and components creates a sales opportunity. Sterling Custom Upholstery doesn't attempt to compete with mass retailers, but expands on what they do best: offering good quality at a good price, Cole said.

Sterling Custom Upholstery will work on a piece as small as a foot stool or work on an entire household of furniture. Their customer base extends from San Jose throughout the Peninsula, but the majority of the repeat customers are from Sunnyvale, Los Altos and Palo Alto.

The store and production room has been at the same location in Mountain View for 28 years. Cole employs cutters, sewers and upholsters.

"That's the key to our success. It's the workmanship that we do on a professional level," Cole said. "There's a dedication to the trade that many upholsterers believe is dying out. The materials and methods may change, but the skills and craftsmanship are as good as ever."

In the furniture-assembly world, a person can spend all day putting a part in a larger piece or staple a component to wood. In a custom shop, workers do the complete job and at the end of the day they stand back and admire their work. There is pride in the finished product and, according to Cole, that craftsmanship is dying out in mass-production manufacturing.

As far as advising customers on what style of furniture or material to use, Cole said there's no one style that stands out. "It's kind of funny, but it's everything. There's no one thing the customer is looking for. We don't push the high end. There are other places that can do that My niche is good quality at a good price and that will keep me and my workers busy."

Cole also uses a truck to visit his clients in the field. That truck has so many samples hanging on the sides that there is little room for the driver. Because of the experience and background in the industry, Cole tries to give helpful advice and helpful hints on the right match and the right fabric.

An important thing that upholsterers have to keep in mind is cost. According to Cole, the price of raw materials is on the rise and tapestries are the most vulnerable. Prices can deviate from $40 a yard for a domestic tapestry to over $230 for an import. Cole uses many first-quality order books that average $40 a yard.

Providing the look and material a customer wants is the first priority for an upholsterer. Satisfying the customer comes first with Cole, and hanging on a wall in the office is a sea of testimonials from satisfied customers over the past 20 years.

Sterling Custom Upholstery Co. is located at 1243 W. El Camino Real in Mountain View. For more information, call 961-8700.

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