The Parts Couch: Stripping a sofa to save an RV’s seats

Rob Siegel

There are several strikes against my 1996 Winnebago Rialta (a Volkswagen Eurovan with a Winnebago camper body). The primary one is that early ones like this have the 105-horsepower, five-cylinder Audi engine, making them as snail-slow as the VW Westfalia campers of old. Another is that this particular one is a bit, well, ratty. The white paint and the decals on the metal and fiberglass surfaces are in shabby shape, and it’s missing the spare tire cover and the rear bumper corner pieces.

Rialta camper interior seat diy
We like our Rialta, but it does bring the property values down a little. Rob Siegel

However, part of its charm is its interior color scheme. Our Rialta is outfitted with a fabric that Winnebago called “Bauhaus,” which I believe was only available in these early five-cylinder rigs. You can argue whether the artistic term Bauhaus, which refers to a rational functional design aesthetic and is best known from architect Walter Gropius’ minimalist houses, really applies to this fabric or whether it has more of a Picasso-Kandinsky-Miro vibe, but it’s certainly unique.

Rialta camper interior seat diy
The Bauhaus fabric shown in the 1996 Winnebago brochure. Winnebago

Part of the history of my buying the Rialta is that I wanted a small, inexpensive, fuel-efficient RV, but looking at the cheap end of the market means seeing a lot of ads for rigs with dark paneled interiors that look like a meth lab or a porn studio. When I learned about the Rialta, with its lighter-colored European-feeling interior, then found this Rialta and its Bauhaus fabric in my price range, I loved it, as did my wife Maire Anne.

Rialta camper interior seat diy
The Bauhaus fabric on the third seat at the fold-out table, the passenger seat, and one of the wall-mounted accent panels. Rob Siegel

Unfortunately, the RV’s front seats were torn from road wear. Maire Anne is an avid quilter and seamstress, and she looked for replacement fabric, but it appears to be long out of production, so we put seat covers on them.

Rialta camper interior seat diy
My Rialta’s threadbare driver’s seat. Rob Siegel

Plus, the slipcovers on our twin rear mattresses were missing. So what remains intact of the original Bauhaus interior is the seat at the fold-out table, and the accent pieces on the walls and near the ceiling. Still, it’s very cool.

Rialta camper interior seat diy
We have a Tempur-Pedic mattress topper over the slipcover-less mattresses. The Bauhaus chair and accent pieces can be seen on the left. Rob Siegel

Fast-forward six years. A week before this past Christmas, Maire Anne saw a Facebook post on the “Newton Free Stuff” page. It said “Well-used loveseat sleep sofa (full-size mattress). Must be out on Thursday.” She showed it to me, and we both gasped, as the sofa was unmistakably covered in Bauhaus fabric. We both had the same thought—it’d be great if we could cherry-pick the back cushions, as we could use them to lean against when watching TV in bed in the RV. Maire Anne messaged the owner “I hope this sofa-bed finds a home, but if no one else wants it, and you’re going to discard it, I would love the two large back pillows. The fabric is identical to something I own. Thanks.”

Rialta camper interior seat diy
Yup, no mistaking that. Rob Siegel

Two days before Christmas, the owner replied to Maire Anne: “The sofa with pillows is on the curb outside my house. Help yourself!” Out the door I ran.

If I was going to grab the back pillows, it made sense to also grab the bottom cushions as well, even if we weren’t sure what to use them for. I wasn’t sure how big they all were, so I almost drove the Rialta itself, as it’s currently the only large vehicle I own, but it had already become landlocked at the end of the driveway for the winter. So I took my wife’s little Honda Fit, whose rear hatch and fold-down rear seats can swallow a lot.

I drove about 10 minutes to another part of Newton, crested a hill, and there was the sofa, looking like a beached Bauhaus whale by the curb. I wish I’d taken a photo of its unmolested puffy Bauhaus curbside splendor, but I had other Christmas errands to run. The cushions from the loveseat-sized sofa were smaller than I expected and fit easily in the back of the little Honda. I stashed and dashed.

Rialta camper interior seat diy
The Bauhaus cushions in the back of the Honda Fit. Rob Siegel

When I got home, I transferred the cushions into the Rialta, and marveled at the absolutely perfect match of the fabric. There wasn’t even a noticeable difference from sun exposure.

Rialta camper interior seat diy
Curbside cushion left, existing chair right. Amazing, huh? Rob Siegel

I showed this to Maire Anne, and we were both oddly giddy. While there clearly wasn’t enough fabric to make slipcovers for the mattresses (and even if there was, it wasn’t obvious whether we should cover the original mattresses themselves or the deliciously comfortable Tempur-Pedic toppers we had over them), we began thinking about reupholstering the front seats.

And then, like an old married couple who thinks the same thoughts and completes each other’s sentences, we both wondered if maybe we should go and strip more fabric off the sofa before the truck comes to take it to the big dump in the sky. We should at least pull the big piece off the back.

Now, you have to appreciate that this was two days before Christmas, my wife had cardiac surgery this summer, and while she’s doing great, she rations her energy and chooses her activities appropriately. But there was something about this idea that instantly clicked with both car-guy-me and fabric-girl-her. The owner’s “Help yourself” message could’ve been construed as a green light to strip the sofa (the fact that it was out on the curb meant that it was already scheduled for disposal), but in the tony suburb of Newton, you don’t want to be wrong about this. After all, I’d hate to repay an act of generosity by having someone mad at me for leaving a shredded sofa carcass on the sidewalk with its stuffing blowing in the breeze.

So I messaged the owner and confirmed that we could strip the fabric. Maire Anne grabbed her fabric shears (though not “the good ones”), I took a single-edged razor blade and my Swiss army knife, we jumped into the Fit, and shot back over to the curbside couch.

Rialta camper interior seat diy
My wife attacking the left flank of the sofa. Rob Siegel

Initially I tried to pry the fabric-upholstered panel off the back, but the density of staples that held it on was formidable. So we both began cutting. It didn’t take long to remove the back piece.

Rialta camper interior seat diy
Score! Rob Siegel

At this point, the owners came out of their house. We explained how the fabric was the same as the “Bauhaus” design of our little Volkswagen Eurovan-based RV. They found this interesting, as the wife’s brother was into vintage VW busses. Rather than being annoyed at someone ripping up their old sofa by the side of the curb, they were gratified by the thought that the fabric would live on.

Although we’d ostensibly come just for the big fabric piece on the back of the sofa, the weather was good and the sun was still up, so we kept going, systematically denuding the couch of the other big pieces.

Rialta camper interior seat diy
Rob Siegel: “Hack Mechanic” and sofa skinner. Rob Siegel

The odd thing was that, a few weeks prior, I’d watched the Ken Burns two-part series The American Buffalo about the horrific near-extinction of the bison. Images of slaughtered buffalo stripped of their hides and left to rot on the plains were still fresh in my mind as I reached into the couch’s crevices to cut the inner side pieces. Fortunately, this was the closest I’d ever come to skinning something that’s the last of its kind.

Rialta camper interior seat diy
Our work here was done. Rob Siegel

It’s still likely not enough fabric to make slipcovers for the mattresses, but it’s enough to recover several sets of seats. That’s important because I posted a photo of the curb-find Bauhaus sofa on a Rialta forum, so I’m now not the only one who has interest in the unobtanium fabric.

Rialta camper interior seat diy
The stash. Rob Siegel

Someone on the Rialta forum commented, “What are the odds?” It’s true. Having a) someone local own a Bauhaus-pattern sofa, b) offer it for free, c) Maire Anne see the ad and recognize the fabric, d) her request to take only the pillows acceded to, and e) the owners not balk at our request to strip the fabric off was an astonishingly narrow series of needles to thread.

Of course, looked at another way, absent the Rialta’s connection to the fabric, the odds that owners would tire of a sofa like this, that there would be no takers even for free, and that it would need to be disposed of were pretty high.

But of all the things I’ve parted out, this was the cleanest, the lightest, and the most colorful.

And the only one where my wife was excited to help.



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    Dear Mr. and Mrs. Hack
    1) absolutely a score (whether that fabric design is “cool” is a VERY personal preference, one which I’ll not address)
    2) reduce-reuse-repurpose: you are this week’s winners for certain!
    3) the comparison to skinning a bison carcass, while apropos I suppose, will disturb my slumber tonight

    However, there is a nagging question that you came oh-so-close to hitting on near the end, but then left us hanging – – – how much change (and what else) did you find down in those couch crevices? 😉

    This score is on par with one I had last summer. Stopping at a neighborhood rummage sale, I scored brand new King Ranch front floormats to replace the worn originals—for $3!!!! Sellers hubby put in Weathertechs. I was looking on ebay for these–cheapest $150/ea used. Had a smile just like you have in the pic Rob. Have a great day all!

    Three bucks is a score on ANYTHING nowadays for sure! But to get an item that’s otherwise selling for $150? That’s a massive win! 👍

    Whoever decided to call that fabric “Bauhaus” is either willfully obtuse or a practical joker. It is the least Bauhaus-like fabric ever. “Picasso” would be much better.

    Rob, happy for you and Mrs Hack Mechanic for finding your matching fabric. But were you not embarrassed in the least stripping a sofa on a surburban side walk in midday. Gee why did you not just slide the love seat into the back of your wife’s car and take it home and do the stripping of the fabric there? You could then put the skeptical remains in the trash.

    Great story. We need the part two of what you end up doing with the fabric.

    Being a quilter… Maire Anne could use some strips of the Bauhaus fabric to make a border on a black quilt. Or you could really own it and get a picture of the Rialta put on some material for the centre of the quilt (or the Rialta logo I suppose –or the 1921 Bauhaus logo if you want a real conversation piece???). Something that uses a bit of the Bauhaus to tie in the new with the old and make the whole interior play off itself.

    Doing the front seats makes sense.

    The quilt ideas are great, snailish! Something to tie into the Rialta “theme” would be very unique, and add a personal touch. They can use it to cover up with while laying on those pillows to watch TV (while camping at the beach, I presume)!
    Mrs. DUB6 is also a quilter. She made me a special quilt to carry in the classic as we sometimes use it to go to youngster’s games (’cause it always has chairs in the trunk, I guess), and it’s often brisk for football and soccer and even softball.

    As someone on a long-term hunt to complete an interior upgrade on the cheap, I love this! What a fantastic lining up of events.

    In chicken v. egg fashion, this makes me wonder: what came first; a furniture manufacturer having excess bolts of an unpopular designed fabric, or Winnebago (I suspect the former)?

    That is a pretty good score. You should have bought a Lotto ticket to see how far the luck ran!

    It looks good as an outfit also, rock it!

    Rob, we’re fellow repurposers. While trying to change the blade on a recently acquired 70s vintage circular saw, I found I needed a 1 1/4″ very thin spanner wrench to loosen the blade’s retaining nut. It was unobtanium. At the local thrift store I spotted a sturdy stainless steel BBQ hamburger flipper for $2. Several Dremel cutting wheels later, I had my spanner.

    Years ago there was a question here asking what one item do you wish was easier to source and my reply was “Seat Fabric” and many agreed, thank you for proving me right once again.

    Absolutely nothing to do with vehicles, but I was gifted a condo full of furniture when I bought my first, very empty house. The sofa had an appalling fabric, that could have only been made in the ’70s. To verify it’s unspeakable covering, I realized it was the exact match to the multiple plot-line recliner used on the TV show, “Frazier”!

    When I got my first appartment after returning home from Africa in the mid ’70s I bought a “3 room grouping” of furniture from a local dealer for $399 – plus $1 for the lazyBoy recliner (pleather). Years later , after getting married and 3 moves, we discovered 2 couples who became good friends had purchased the EXACT 3 room grouping – Same bedroom set, same living room set and dinette and end tables – right down to the same orange shag rug!!! (and dinnerware and flatware!!!)

    In college in the 90s my apartment furnishings consisted of grandparent hand me downs covered in fabric I believe burlap bag manufacturers rejected for being too rough.

    HelenC, my thoughts exactly until I noticed that it appears to be a pull-out sofa bed. We had one once – very heavy.

    What are the odds of that happening? But wait. You didn’t empty the Fit before you went to salvage what you could of the sofa?

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