How to Reupholster a Chair

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When I decided to try my hand at reupholstering a set of antique chairs, I feared that it would be way more trouble than it was worth, but I was willing to try, hoping that after I invested the initial time to learn the process, it would result in some fun, future projects.

I set to work watching YOUTUBE videos, googling step-by-step instructions and picking the brain of an expert friend who had done quite a few pieces. In the end, it wasn’t easy, but the tips saved me a ton of frustration and the end result was really rewarding. If you are thinking of reupholstering a piece, here are the steps and tips that helped make my experience relatively painless.

1. Buy cheap – Antique chairs are on trend and many resellers have adjusted their prices accordingly. In many cases, this means that it might not even be cost-effective to reupholster an old piece. I purchased these chairs for $40 each. They were in great condition despite their age and their shape was really unique. They were also really comfortable. Your costs can get a bit out of hand if you have to fix the chair frame, cannot reuse the foam/padding or have to refinish the wood.

Where to shop:

My two favorite Chicago spots are Brownstone and Mercantile M, where I purchased these chairs. Both places offer very fair prices and great delivery rates if you are buying bigger pieces.

Craigslist, Goodwill, Salvation Army and are also gold mines, but you usually have to arrange your own delivery.

2. Get a quote from a professional reupholster or two – I was quoted $250 per chair plus the cost of the fabric, so I determined that it was worth it for me to try to do it myself.

3. Make sure you have the right tools – I borrowed a staple gun and a compressor from a contractor friend after I was told that a manual staple gun wouldn’t produce ideal results, not to mention the fact that it would be hard on my hands. You might be able to rent these items from Home Depot. I was told that you can buy a great staple gun for $100 and add a battery that gives you a power boost that is not as strong as a compressor, but is much better than a manual staple gun for another $100. Probably worth the investment if you like DIY projects.

Tool summary:

–       Staple gun with a compressor or battery pack and staples

–       Pliers (to remove old staples, or in my case about 200 nails), there are also other tools that will make this step even easier.

–       A butter knife – Key for prying the fabric and trim away from the chair without cutting yourself on a staple or nail in the process.

–       Face mask – Old chairs can be dusty during disassembly

–       Fabric glue – I didn’t end up using any, but it is often necessary (or an easier solution) for trim

–       Nails and a hammer – For use in the areas where the staples can’t achieve a secure enough hold. I only used one nail.

–       Fabric shears or really sharp scissors. No need to buy the $30 sheers, but an upgrade to a $5 new pair will make your life easier.

–       A rug, blanket or tarp to protect your floor

–       Fabric and trim– more on this later

4. Choose the right fabric, buy extra and use a coupon – I would highly recommend using upholstery fabric as it is rated to stand up to extra wear and tear. I purchased this blue velvet hexagon fabric from the Joanne Fabrics website (which has a better selection than the stores). It was originally very expensive, but here’s a tip that will save you tons of money – Joann Fabrics has great coupons and if you get a coupon for 50% off one item (which they always seem to have), it’s actually 50% off your entire order of that individual fabric even though it’s sold by the yard. Google Joann Fabric coupons, download their app or simply go to the website where they often post coupons. I was told that I would need 3 yards of fabric per chair, but I actually used quite a bit less (see tips on how to maximize your fabric below).

5. If your chair needs any repairs, do it now. Also, if you want to paint, polish or lacquer the wood, it is much easier to do it now as well so you don’t have to worry about protecting the fabric.

Now you are ready to reupholster your chair!

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Step 1, Disassembly: Take apart the chair, paying careful attention to how the chair was constructed so you can replicate the process. If the seat cushion is removable the process will be much easier (this wasn’t the case for the chairs I chose, of course). Remove all nails and staples that were used to secure the fabric carefully as you might want to reuse the trim (I wrapped the old trim chord in my new fabric to save lots of time). Set aside the foam, fabric and trim, keeping each section together and label them if you have a very complex chair. See a pic of my “naked” chair frame below. There is often a correct order for reupholstering. For example, for my chairs, I need to start with the seat cushion, followed by the front side of the chair back and then the backside of the chair back because the fabric had to be pulled through the back gap of the chair where the seat cushion met the chair back and stapled on top of one and other from the back. Make sure you are on the look out for this as you are disassembling a chair.

ImageStep 2, Cutting the fabric: Once you have taken the chair apart completely, lay the old fabric on top of your new fabric, using it as a pattern. In order to save on fabric, arrange the pieces in a way that allows you to waste as little fabric as possible. Cut your new fabric an inch or so wider than the old fabric so you have a bit more to work with (this is true for all areas EXCEPT the corners, you don’t want to have too much excess fabric here. Everywhere else you can easily trim off the excess fabric once the staples are in place and it will be easier to staple the fabric (and safer for your fingers!) if you have a little excess fabric to grasp.)

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Step 3, Stapling: Start stapling in the middle of each section and pull the fabric taunt, but not too taunt. If you pull it too tight, your chair could look lumpy or the fabric could look misaligned, conversely, if you don’t put it tight enough you will see fabric bunches and it won’t look professional. Do a couple of staples at a time and then check your alignment to make sure the fabric remains straight. This is what the chair looked like before the trim.

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Step 4, Adding the trim: You can often buy trim at a fabric store, which is definitely the easier way to go. If you can’t find a trim that matches or provides the look you want, the next best solution is to use the same fabric to make the trim. In this case, I wrapped the old double-cord trim in my new fabric, stapling it in the middle so you can’t see the staples. The hard part was making sure that the middle staples went through the ends of both sides of the fabric in the back as well.
Step 5, add embellishments: The final optional step is to add some extra embellishments to jazz things up. I chose removable Peacock feathers (purchased at Michael’s) for a touch of playful opulence and color. They are just taped to the back of the chair in this case. You could also add fringe to the bottom of the chair or a cute pillow (stay tuned for my post on DIY no sewing required pillows).

ImageIt took me about 4 hours to do my first chair from start to finish, mainly due to the learning curve and the fact that the previous upholster used a ton of nails, which proved to be very difficult to remove. I also took lots of stretching breaks as it was quite hard on the back. I figure I will be able to do the second chair in less than three hours. The total cost, including the purchase price for the chair, came in at $100/chair. Not bad for a unique, comfortable chair and bragging rights :)

High/Low: Pharmacy Cabinets

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Well, the home remodel continues and so does my battle to not procrastinate by day dreaming about decorating (it should be obvious from this post that I’m currently losing that battle.) Some battles just weren’t meant to be fought, so I indulged myself with a trip to Ikea over the weekend. Truth be told, I was there to buy the curtain rods and curtains that I had meant to purchase and install five years ago (an article that claims that your sleep quality is reduced by up to 40% when light filters into your room finally roused me to action….so please excuse my past fives years of whatever due to poor sleep :)).

Ikea’s curtains and shades are a steal and the quality is good, so be sure to make a trip there before shelling out a ridiculous sum somewhere else. We were also really impressed with the new items from their fall catalog and my jaw dropped when I saw this Fabrikor pharmacy cabinet for $179. This is surely the same cabinet I was drooling over on the Restoration Hardware site for $895 (it’s currently on sale for $535 for a limited time – they must subscribe to the Ikea catalog as well.)

The color sections are a bit different (White and Black for Restoration Hardware and green, dark gray and off white for Ikea), but you could always paint it anyway. My only complaint about the Ikea version is having the key in place of a handle closure. I would probably add a handle as well. I prefer the straight legs of the Ikea model though. Watch out RH; Ikea has your number!


DIY Custom Ikea Borje Chairs: Phase One

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I have always been a huge fan of Ikea. The Swedes know good design and you can’t beat the prices. Our Ikea Borje Chairs ($49 each) have held up really well over the last 6 years, too well for me to justify the purchase of six news chairs……sigh. But they are boring me to death…..double sigh…… So I decided to do what every good blogger would do: Turn them into a DIY project!

This is phase one of a two-phase DIY project. The first part involves painting the wood frame. I decided to only do the center bars of the chair in a gold color. Armed with my gold paint vision, I headed to Home Depot to secure the supplies. I settled on Martha Stewart Living Metallic Paint in Vintage gold ($5.48 for 10 oz which is enough to accent 10 to 12 chairs). I also bought a cheap paint brush ($.91, a better brush would have made the job easier and I suggest spending a little more here) and ScotchBlue Multi-surface Painter’s Tape ($2.97 for a 30 yard roll). Total cost for phase one: less than $10! Now on to the painting!

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Step 1: Place Painter’s Tape around the areas that are being painted and press down firmly so paint cannot creep under the tape. Cover the chair cushion with an old t-shirt and place newspaper on the floor under the chair. Keep a plastic cup filled with water handy to wash the brush between coats and a rag or paper towels to dry off the brush.

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Step 2: Sanding or priming might be recommended, but I decided to jump right into painting. Put the first coat on using horizontal brush strokes because they will result in better coverage.

Step 3: After the first coat has dried (I recommend waiting at least 30 minutes between coats), add a second coat using vertical brush strokes. Make sure the paint is smooth. If you aren’t careful and you use too much paint, a bumpy ridge of paint will form on the adjacent side of the surface you are painting. If this happens, just smooth it out with a light brush stroke before it has a chance to dry.


Step 4:  After the second coat has dried, repeat step 3 and add the third and final coat.

Step 5: Once the paint has dried thoroughly remove the tape. If any paint has seeped under the tape or been pulled off by the tape, use a small instrument, like a toothpick, to gently scratch it off or dot on a little paint.

And here is the finished product. I love how the chairs now pop at night!

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Next up – reupholstering! What color and type of material do you think I should choose? Green velvet? A geometric pattern? Decisions, decisions….stay tuned for phase two!

Check out more of our DIY projects here.

Bringing Home the Twins

Twin chairs that is…..but given my recent obsession with decorating I can’t help but think that I have caught a bit of the nesting bug from my friends who are bringing home actual little ones. While we don’t have plans to expand our family in the near future, I love the process of making a home feel like a home. I’m on a never-ending quest to achieve the right balance of coziness and modern style in my loft, so when my friend Neeti mentioned that she had heard about a furniture store located at Montrose and Ravenswood in Chicago that sells unique pieces at wholesale prices, I was definitely game to pay it a visit.

Nadeau has an amazing selection and the staff mentioned that they receive around 1,000 new pieces each month. Their tag line is “furniture with a soul” and I have to say that it kind of rings true. I immediately gravitated to these chairs and after a quick text to the hubby to make sure he was in agreement, I was loading them into the back of my SUV.

I had originally envisioned them at the ends of our long dining room table, but for now I think they will be part of our living room.

I will certainly be back to Nadeau for more furniture shopping in the near future and if you live outside of Chicago don’t fret, Nadeau has 18 store locations across the country where they import their exquisite furniture from Indonesia and India. Happy nesting!