It is a hazard of the couch-doctoring business that other businesses—couch-delivering businesses, for instance—can affect the schedule. So it was that a reporter found herself rerouted at the last minute, after a furniture company failed to deliver the couch that was to have been taken apart and reassembled at a Brooklyn Heights apartment by the New York Couch Doctor, whom she was endeavoring to write about. Inventory problems, the doctor, Sal Giangrande, said.
Thus, on the first truly glorious spring morning of the year, the reporter was instead directed to a light-filled two-bedroom apartment on lower Broadway in Manhattan. There, the owner, surrounded by moving boxes, antique globes, a couple of gleaming Emmys on a carved wooden table, and a cloud of stress, notified the reporter that he had no idea who she was or why she was there. She explained about the article on Couch Doctor. He noted that Couch Doctor’s guys, Francisco and Rob, were there, though they were decidedly not taking the couch, a tawny leather Restoration Hardware Kensington 108 model, apart.
“We’re waiting for Sal,” they informed the reporter and the owner, inspecting the myriad brass upholstery tacks.
A photographer arrived and the owner greeted him with slightly less suspicion and annoyance than he had the reporter. The owner told them that he and his wife had moved in eight years before and found that they couldn’t get the couch in the door. “Couch Doctor’s guys came and took out, like, 500 tacks. I watched them do it last time. It was very impressive.”
Sal arrived. “Is anyone else coming?” the owner asked. “Like the movers?”
Francisco and Rob got to work. They turned the couch over, ripped out the upholstery staples, and removed the leather, exposing its undercarriage.
“We first need to open the couch and see how it’s put together,” Francisco said.
“It’s like exploratory surgery,” suggested the reporter, who felt she was having some kind of Freudian keyhole experience, but for furniture, laying eyes on things couch owners are not supposed to see: the jagged plywood, ratchet straps, and frayed leather haphazardly holding it together. It looked so fragile that way. It looked so unwholesome.
Asked what the tools of the trade are, Sal noted that it was different for each technician—he prefers a pliers and a heavy-duty staple remover, but Francisco was using an awl to pop out the upholstery staples and a Sawzall to cut open the seat deck, the part of the couch that holds the seat cushions. Francisco turned his on and its angry whir filled the room as he sliced around the entire bottom of the couch. Later he would fasten the pieces back together with metal plates.
“Some customers freak out when they hear that sound,” Sal said, though the owner’s freak-out plate was already plenty full. Plus, he’d seen it all before.
Giangrande got his start 25 years ago at Castro Convertibles, where he learned that, like the common cold or binge-watching addictions, the can’t-fit-the-couch-through-the-door problem is universal, even in regions with larger homes. “It’s the most common thing that the couch doesn’t fit,” Sal said. “Everyone has a need.” Maybe it doesn’t fit in the elevator of a fancy
Manhattan building, or maybe it doesn’t fit in the finished basement door of the humble split-level ranch. “It doesn’t matter how big your home is if there’s a quirky turn that prevents you from getting a piece of furniture in.”
He charges anywhere from $250 for a simple job to upwards of $1,000 for something custom made or complex. Sleeper sofas, perhaps surprising to the uninitiated, tend to be easier, since the entire mechanism can pop out once exposed.
Most couches take between one and three hours to disassemble, and less time to put back together. “Getting the upholstery off is the hardest part,” Sal said. For an additional charge, New York Couch Doctor can pack up and move the couch and reassemble it at the new location. Sometimes people hire them just to take it out and ditch it. Also, New York Couch Doctor doesn’t just do couches. Armoires. Built-ins. “Whatever doesn’t fit, we can take it apart and put it back together,” he said. Recent furniture trends, and perhaps the open floorplans that accommodate them, have been good for business. “All these furniture companies are making such big furniture.”
Giangrande and his technicians have dismantled and reassembled the couches of regular New Yorkers—and people in the tri-state area, Florida, and Colorado—and celebrities alike. Like Phil Collins. And Ethan Hawke. And Uma Thurman.
“Before or after the divorce?” the reporter asked.
“After,” he said. “They each contacted me separately. They’re the nicest people.” Certain celebrities, whom he would not name, were not the nicest people, but had used New York Couch Doctor many times.
After about 10 minutes, the seat deck was removed and the couch was in two pieces: the U-shaped frame and the seat deck, lying sadly next to it. “You want us to wrap it for you, or do you want the movers to do it?” Francisco asked the owner. The owner didn’t care if they wrapped the couch. He cared that the movers had not showed up.
“You didn’t take all the tacks out this time,” the owner said. Giangrande explained that they had taken it apart a different way this time, so that the tacks would not have to be removed again, and could remain in their perfect formation. “When you take it out you can damage the nails,” Francisco informed him.
Tomorrow, they would go to the owner’s new apartment—a rental, the owner lamented, noting that it took forever to sell this apartment (it has now sold), even though it was written up in the Times. “The market for two-bedrooms is very soft right now,” he explained to the journalists from the real estate website.
Just as they were packing up to leave, the movers arrived. They would pack the couch themselves.
Lisa Selin Davis is the author of two novels, Belly and Lost Stars, and a freelance writer based in Brooklyn covering almost everything.
Editor: Sara Polsky