Upcycling old or unloved furniture is so satisfying. You get to bask in the virtuous glow of having saved a piece of furniture from the scrap heap as well as ending up with something totally unique and bespoke for your home. And it’s fun. So, when faced with this lovely retro chair that was beautiful but not quite right for my home (see below for the before picture) I decided to give it a fresh new look, to fit in with the rest of my decor. As I am sure you’ve guessed, I am not a professional upholsterer (nor am I even an amateur one!) I’m afraid I don’t have the tools, the skills, or the patience for it and would always leave that to the experts. So this is not going to be an upholstery DIY. But I am an enthusiastic DIY-er so this is a quick and easy makeover project that only took a couple of hours (with paint drying time in between). All I used for this was a tin of regular matt emulsion paint, some fabric off-cuts and a staple gun.
As you can see from the before photo the chair was a lovely, retro (1970s) chair that my parents gave me. As with a lot of dark wood furniture, it was really well made and sturdy, but just a bit too retro for my taste. You can pick up lots of so-called ‘brown’ furniture at very cheap prices in second-hand shops these days for precisely that reason, so if you’re looking for a well made piece of furniture to upcycle, take a look and see what you can find. My chair was a lovely shape and size so I decided it just needed a bright new coat of paint and some new fabric to bring it into line with the rest of the furniture in my home.
The first thing I did was to take the seat and the back rest off. These were upholstered in a leather-look fabric which was really sturdy and smart but I wanted to brighten it up and add warmth so decided to cover them in a piece of textured pink linen that I had left over from a photo shoot many years ago and had been waiting for an opportunity to use. I covered the top section with the fabric first – I used the existing wooden frame and stapled the new fabric over the top with a staple gun (warning – these things are dangerous! it’s so easy to staple a finger by mistake.) But I found it really tricky to tuck all of the fabric into folds at the side and underneath, which is why the finish is a little looser than I would have liked. I’m sure there was a knack to doing it but I struggled to find out how! Fortunately the seat cushion was much easier to cover – I kept the existing foam seat pad and just pulled the material tightly across it and fixed underneath with the staple gun.
While these sections were off I then painted the frame, after first lightly sanding it down, with three thin coats of white paint. I intended to use chalk paint, but when I opened the tin I realised I had used it all up on another project so I actually ended up using some Dulux Brilliant White emulsion that I had left over from a previous job and it worked fine. As always though, the trick is to keep layering up several light coats rather than trying to cover it too thickly.
Once this had dried it was time to reassemble it. The top section was held in place by four screws which had little caps to cover them and look neat. Confession – I lost the caps. So when reassembled, as you can see above, the chair looked a little bit more ‘shabby chic’ than I had planned! I love the texture of the new pink fabric though and it’s much warmer to lean back against than the cool leather-look fabric before.
The only thing left to do then was find replacement screw caps to neaten up the top section (yes these are brass drawing pins – I told you I ended up with a shabby-chic finish!) and it was ready to bring into the dining room and join the rest of my motley crew of rescued – and well loved – dining chairs.
So that’s my chair makeover – i’d love to know what you think of it, or if you’ve tried anything similar?
All photos: Victoria Harrison