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Give new life to old chairs
I was given a set of old chairs... the natural wood was painted with a thick white paint, and the seats were upholstered with white oil cloth.

After a few years of sitting in a shed, they accumulated a couple layers of dust and dirt, and the paint and wood started to chip. The seats got cut up. Thankfully, the foam was in okay shape.

Moving into a new house soon, though, I jumped at the chance to save on dining room furniture by refurbishing the chairs. Even at thrift stores, I would have dropped at least $60 for a set of 4 chairs! My approximate cost to do all 4 chairs is $23--$3 for a BOLT of fabric at a junk shop, and about $4 for each can of spray paint (I used one can and a little extra for touch-ups for one chair).

Time listed is for 1 chair. The black and green is the "after" picture of this process. I like it!

Posted by Monika Gottindottir from Worthington, Minnesota, United States • Published See Monika Gottindottir's 255 projects »
  • Step 1

    Clean your chairs before sanding.
    Sanding a chair is a lot easier when you just have paint, and not a lot of dirt and dust, to sand off. Use warm water with a bit of dish soap and an old rag to scrub away dirt and debris. You'll probably also have to wipe away your fair share of dead bugs and spiders. (eek!)

    This is a good time to wash and dry the fabric you'll be reupholstering your chairs with. It will let the fabric shrink and will remove the factory sizing, and it'll make it smell nice! Use upholstery fabric or a heavy weight fabric. After washing, I ironed and sized my fabric to make it smooth and easy to work with. If you want a stain-resistant seat, use oilcloth but don't wash it.

  • Step 2

    Take the seat off. Undo any screws keeping the seat portion attached to the chair frame. Save the screws if they are in good condition. If they're rusty, invest in a box of new screws in the same sizes.

  • Step 3

    Using a flathead screw driver, pull up any staples keeping the old upholstery tacked to the seat bottom. It may require pliers to remove some of the more stubborn staples.

  • Step 4

    Measure your seat bottom so you can figure out how much fabric you need. Always err on the side of caution and get fabric pieces bigger than you think they should be.

    My seats were 16" across. To accommodate for 1" furniture foam, I decided that 24" was a good size to cut my fabric pieces.

    You can always cut the excess off when you're done, but you can't add more on easily if you cut too small a piece.

  • Step 5

    With your fabric on the floor (or hard work surface), wrong-side-up, position your seat foam-side-down on the fabric. Begin stapling the fabric to the back of the seat, about 1/2" away from the edge. Pull the fabric tight as you go and remember to work on opposite sides as you go around. Left then right, top then bottom, then left then right again, etc.

    To make it easier to upholster a round seat, Cut your fabric into a circle, then use a basting stitch the whole way around. Cinch it around the cushion tightly, then staple.

    Because I had a directional print fabric, I pinned the center of the design into the chair foam to keep it in place while I moved the whole piece around for stapling.

  • Step 6

    Cut off excess fabric from the seat bottom. If any of the screw holes are obscured, uncover them by cutting out a section of excess fabric.

  • Step 7

    Now the hard part: Sand your chair. Using sandpaper, a sander, or a sanding block, remove old paint and stain. Get into difficult spots with a small strip of sandpaper, or an emery board.

  • Step 8

    Dust any sanding residue off the chair. If you are staining the chair, you can start brushing the stain on and buffing it as you see fit.

    If you want to spray-paint the chair, spray in light, even coats. I used a paint & primer in one because I wanted to save time.

  • Step 9

    Allow the stain or paint to dry completely between coats.

    After you feel the color is perfect, let the stain or paint dry completely again.

  • Step 10

    Put your seat and cushion back on, and admire your handiwork!

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