Give a reclaimed chair new life!

School of Youtube Style

Reupholster Vintag Chair,

Thrifted chair
Thrifted Chair

Last year a neighbor put this chair out at the end of their driveway with a ‘FREE” sign on it. It looked pretty good on the drive by so I grabbed some muscle from the house and loaded it into the car. I thought I could probably work out how to reupholster a vintage chair. After all, if it turned out to be no good it would then be at the bottom of my driveway. After watching a “Big BangTheory” episode where they found a discarded chair that looked good and ended up having something living in it I am always leery of these kinds of pickups but to date they have all been positive experiences. 

The chair seemed in good shape. the varnish was relatively unblemished and shiny. The joints were all tight. The seat springs were nice and strong and seemed well attached also. All in all, it seemed worthy to keep it. The only fault was that the fabric was very worn and there seemed to be little padding.

The chair sat in the garage, occasionally the support for car parts as my son repaired (reduce, reuse, recycle) his old BMW, while I waited for inspiration to strike. …..and waited……

back of old chair
Visible nails attaching chair back fabric!

Eventually, it showed up. I had painted one of the bedrooms a pretty gray. The roman blind is very colorful and busy paisley so I found a gray fabric with a popular “au courant” pattern with white dandelions. Perfect fabric with which to reupholster a vintage chair.

I am an enthusiastic DIYer but have never done upholstery. Thank goodness for the internet. I found a blog by another first timer. Jenna Burger Design. Her experience was educational and informative. Check out her poston how to reupholster a vintage chair. She did an amazing job! Then I found two excellent Youtube videos by professional upholsterers. (At the bottom of this post – very worthwhile!) The array of tools and notions they use to get a beautiful finish is overwhelming.  They have a variety of staple guns, glue sprayers, glue guns, hammers, pliers, and other indescribable tools along with thingamabobs and doodads for attaching stuff to the piece of furniture. I tried to find some such ‘bobs, or ‘dads for attaching the fabric to the back of the chair invisibly. I had no luck. I decided to make do. I started with a flat head screwdriver and a hammer. 

Jenna’s blog mentioned that the biggest job was the staple removal. This chair had no staples. You’re thinking, “Gillie, you lucky amazon you!”

This chair had nails. Buckets of nails!!

several layers of fabric,

This chair had been reupholstered over the older fabric. It took two and a half days to convince all the nails to let go. The most recent recovering had an interesting variety of nails. Some were very long!chair nails,

fabric finish on chair arm
Neat finish at the back of the chair arm.

It wasn’t a bad job. I only tried to put the screwdriver through my finger once! It doesn’t take a lot of brainwork so I could do quite a bit of mental spade work on other projects. Hand fatigue or “gryptonite” was a problem. Fortunately, I am fairly ambidextrous so switching hammer and screwdriver hands every ten nails or so helped. Did I mention that there were a lot of nails?

There was quite a surprise waiting for me beneath the inner fabric. STRAW?!?

straw stuffing
straw stuffing
Just how old is this chair?

Just how old is this chair?

After some research, it seems hay or straw (I don’t know the difference) was used as stuffing until quite recently. The advice was to put it back… I did.

naked chair
Naked Chair

I replaced the bottom burlap then put a cotton sheet on top of it to contain the straw dust.

beginning of reupholstry

I put the old stuffing back in then added a piece of memory foam, cut to shape. How I envied the gentleman in the ALO Upholstery video. His katana-like tool that cut and shaped the foam made it look so easy. This memory foam was reclaimed from a blow up bed that had given up the ghost.

On top of the foam, I put dacron batting cut so that it wrapped around the sides of the chair to give the chair a pouffier look.

reupholster vintage chair,

Following the steps and directions in the videos made this adventure, to reupholster a vintage chair, much easier. Centering the fabric correctly and doing the corners went well.

upholster vintage chair,
Poufy Corners

The cuts to get the fabric around the arms of the chair were tricky. I didn’t quite get those right but not bad for the first time.

I use staples, NOT nails. There are now a lot of staples.

reupholster vintage furniture,
I used more of the old sheet to make the dust cover that goes on the underside of furniture pieces.

I found pretty white french gimp to go around the bottom of the chair. I toyed with making piping but the gimp looked very nice.

The back of the chair was a problem initially. I wrapped the batting around the back as well to soften the edges. The whatchamacallits used in Kim’s video for attaching the fabric smoothly and invisibly to the back of the chair were impossible to find. I folded the edges under and stapled close to the folded edge.

upholster vintage chair,

Then I glued the white gimp over the staples. and added white tacks at the corners. Very satisfying!

reupholster vintage chair,

While I envied the tools and devices available to the professionals I made do with what I had on hand: a claw hammer, screwdriver, scissors, staple gun and a glue gun. Pretty good.

reupholster vintage chair,

If and when I reupholster a vintage chair again. I will be better prepared for those cuts to get the fabric around the arms and maybe by then I’ll have found the attachment whachamacallits.

reupholster vintage chair,

I enjoyed this project and once the nails were out it went very quickly. Another Fearless DIY. The gorgeous side table is another fearless DIY project. (Chalk Paint project click here)

Grab that discarded chair (making sure it is uninhabited!) and give it a go.

Kim’s Upholstery


upholster vintage chair,

22 Replies to “Reduce, Reuse & Recycle. Reupholster a Vintage Chair.”

  1. Great Job! I have really been wanting to reupholster a chair, but lack the courage!! I'm just going to bit the bullet, find a chair and do it!! Thanks for the inspiration and the tips.
  2. Your chair looks great! I’m always looking to refurbish furniture for my classroom. I have two chair/stools in the garage in need of paint and a cushion. You’ve given me the inspiration to get started on the project:)

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