HiLo Brooklyn’s Upcycled Furniture Can Make Your Vintage Sofa Dreams Come True

For not much more than a mass-produced, mid-range couch, this studio will craft you a one-of-a-kind piece.

Today’s off-the-shelf furniture can seem like it’s built to last a couple of years at best. Sofas in particular are pretty high on the "they don’t make ‘em like they used to" list. Laura Deutsch is trying to change that with her company HiLo Brooklyn, which specializes in reworked vintage seating that’s completely tailored to your space.

Stepping into HiLo’s sunny studio in Dumbo, Brooklyn, it’s hard to know where to look first. The floors and walls are lined with beautiful sofas and chairs, some finished and others waiting to be transformed. The far wall holds several long bars covered with fabric samples, each one better than the one before it. "These are my loves," says Deutsch.

The swatch wall at Deutsch’s studio.

The swatch wall at Deutsch’s studio.

Deutsch, who used to source and sell vintage furniture, pivoted exclusively to seating last year. She takes vintage sofas and chairs, often sourced from Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and estate sales, and completely reimagines them using beautiful fabrics, creative upholstery techniques, and custom frame alterations, working with local upholsterers and fabricators.

The majority of Deutsch’s projects are for clients, but she allows herself one "self-funded" project at a time. Her most recent one, a modular leather sectional with a chrome base, made me gasp as I entered her studio. The sofa’s refinished base was beautifully shiny, making its plush leather seats almost look like they were floating in mid air. What was once sad waiting room seating now seemed so inviting I wanted to sit on it forever. I had already seen it on Instagram weeks earlier and had gasped then too. 

Though Deutsch is based in Brooklyn, her pieces come from all over the country with the help of shippers located in the Midwest. "I search all the way to California sometimes," she says. " And that’s where I win. I don’t think people really go that far because they don’t have the capacity to ship it."

So how does it all work? The HiLo Brooklyn owner let me tag along on an in-progress project to see for myself. Her client, Katherine Lewin, founder of New York "dinner party shop" Big Night, recently moved into an Art Deco-style apartment in Brooklyn Heights with a sunken living room. "I had this immediate dream for a couch that sort of felt like a conversation pit, [one that was] deep and low and that kind of curved around the perimeter of the space," Lewin tells me. "I definitely did my research looking for something like that and couldn’t really [find anything] within my budget." 

A mutual friend introduced her to Deutsch. Lewin was intrigued by the idea of taking an older frame, whose quality might even be better than that of a new sofa, and creating something tailored specifically for her living room.

"While it certainly wasn’t a cheap purchase, I will say I’ve done a lot of scoping around for what couch prices for my size space would cost and it feels like such a better investment to do it this way," Lewin says. "I can feel good about the fact that I didn’t bring a new big-box piece of furniture into the world." (For reference, Lewin’s project cost around $8,000. HiLo’s re-worked sectionals start at $7,500 and sofas, at $4,500. It’s not cheap but it is an investment in a piece that will last you much longer than a cheaper, build-it-yourself sofa that comes with free two-day delivery.)

The Consultation

To organize her thoughts, Lewin put together a mood board for her living room. "I knew I wanted something kind of eighties in shape," says Lewin. "I have a fascination with hotels and I wanted something that felt really like you just want to sit down on that sofa in the lobby bar."

The pair had initially discussed a chunkier, oversized serpentine sofa. Deutsch had a frame in her "bone yard" that seemed like a good match. But once she saw Lewin’s living room, the plans changed. "It was entirely too big for the space," she says.

HiLo’s studio in DUMBO, Brooklyn. The far wall is home to the "bone yard," pieces that are ready for a makeover.

HiLo’s studio in DUMBO, Brooklyn. The far wall is home to the "bone yard," pieces that are ready for a makeover.

The Sourcing

Deutsch then went to Facebook Marketplace in search of a sofa with the right bones for her vision, and eventually found one in New Jersey— a curved sectional that looked like it belonged in the 1980s. You’d think that someone in Deutsch’s position would constantly scroll through online marketplaces, even while not working on a project. "I used to, but I had to stop," she says. "That’s the thing, there’s always another piece out there. Like there’s no need for the emotional like ‘oh god, I just lost it.’ Guaranteed you’re gonna find something else very quickly. There’s just so much."

Laura Deutsch sourced a curved frame for her client Katherine Lewin on Facebook Marketplace. 

Laura Deutsch sourced a curved frame for her client Katherine Lewin on Facebook Marketplace. 

Facebook Marketplace listings are not known for good photos, and I wondered how Deutsch, but especially Lewin, could see potential in a sofa that looked pretty sad. Lewin says she wasn’t fazed by the original state of the sofa because she had been referencing Deutsch’s before-and-afters, and because the cost of the frame was pretty low ($150), she saw it as a pretty low-stakes situation. "You have to trust the process. And like each step feels like it’s building on the last," Lewin says. "So the actual pulling of the trigger on the original sofa was like…you kind of can squint and kind of imagine it." 

The Design 

Many of Deutsch’s projects involve altering the frame to add or remove height, length, or further manipulate the piece’s shape. For Lewin’s sofa, Deutsch left the frame untouched but changed the upholstery style to give it clean lines while still accentuating its curves. The piping and back pillows were removed to make the sofa feel less puffy and more modern.

Once the shape of the sofa is locked in, it’s time to move on to fabric. Fabric consultations usually start in the HiLo studio where Deutsch walks her clients through her swatches. The in-studio swatches are often jumping off points for fabric types, colors, and patterns. After that, Deutsch will take her clients fabric shopping. The pair narrowed it down to five swatches that reflected Lewin’s wants: something bright but luxe.

With this in mind, they went fabric shopping together, and it soon became clear that Lewin wanted stripes—a bit of an issue given the dimensions of the sofa. "The problem is like the max width of striped fabric is 56 inches and [her] sofa is 65 inches," Deutsch says. "And so there’s going to be seam lines…and I don't like seam lines." Determined to find a solution for this problem, Deutsch did some research online and pulled some examples of patterned sofas with seam lines that had been integrated as part of the design. With that inspiration in hand, Lewin chose a bold green-striped velvet and the upholsterers got to work.

The sofa in the middle of its glow-up. 

The sofa in the middle of its glow-up. 

Fabric and labor is where you can expect to spend the bulk of your budget when embarking on a project like this. "Fabric can sort of make or break because we need such large yardage," Deutsch says, adding that most projects require 30 to 40 yards of fabric. As for the labor, she adds, this isn’t an assembly line. "My upholsters take huge care in every detail to make sure that each piece is beautiful and done perfectly." Labor is likely not a factor most consumers are thinking about when it comes to their furniture purchases. Sure, the cost of a handmade piece is often much higher than an Amazon sofa that appears at your doorstep in two days— but which of the two will last you longer?

The Delivery

The process, from consultation to delivery, took about 10 weeks. Not bad for a fully custom piece. "Laura works really quickly," Lewin says. "She wants to see the end result just as much as you do, which is satisfying."

A few weeks after picking out the fabric, Lewin’s stunning new sofa was carried into its new home. "It’s a perfect fit in our space, and it makes me happy every time I look at it," says Lewin. The sofa indeed looks like it was made for that room and, better yet, it can seat more people than the eight-year-old West Elm couch it replaced. "We’ve discovered it seats five people. A space-efficient queen!" Lewin says. "Truly the perfect marriage of style and function." 

The couch in its home. 

The couch in its home. 


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