How to Reupholster and Refinish a Dining Room Chair

 

Turning something old into something new is one of my favorite ways to decorate my home. Recently, I refinished and reupholstered eight dining room chairs that were handed down to me by my grandparents. While I was thrilled to have a new table and chairs for my empty dining room, the furniture wasn't quite my style. The finish was so shiny that it almost looked like plastic. The upholstery was solid white, and with two kids and a dog, I knew that wouldn't last. I was confident that I could transform the furniture into something incredible with a little work. The rest of this article will highlight the chairs' journey from blah to beautiful. I'll include specific steps for refinishing and reupholstering a dining room chair, so follow along with me. Turn your old chair into a fabulous piece of decorative furniture.

Before...

The chair originally had a dark cherry colored shiny finish with white upholstery on the seat and the back
The chair originally had a dark cherry colored shiny finish with white upholstery on the seat and the back

Planning

 

Choose Your Paint and Fabric

Planning the design of your new chair is a fun and creative part of the project. You'll need to select paint for the chair and fabric to cover the cushion. I chose black paint with a black and white fabric for the seat. Spend some time browsing the aisles of your local fabric store. Most fabric stores have a section of home décor fabrics that are specifically made for upholstering. Upholstery fabrics are significantly thicker than most other fabrics. It is important that the fabric you choose is thick. It needs to stand up to the weight and pressure of all the rear ends it will soon embrace.

The amount of fabric you'll need depends on the size of your seat cushion and how many cushions you plan on reupholstering. I reupholstered eight chair cushions. To start, I only purchased one yard of fabric because I hadn't measured the cushions yet, and I wasn't sure if the reupholstery project would even be a success. When I was confident that I could complete all eight chairs, I bought more fabric.

Each of my cushions required 21 inches by 24 inches of fabric. I bought seven yards of fabric so I would have more than enough. I wanted to have the extra yardage in case I ever need to recover one of the cushions down the road due to stains or a tear in the fabric. Because the fabric was 45 inches wide and I only needed 24 inches in width, I had a long narrow piece left over that I'm going to use to make a matching table runner.

This is the fabric I chose for my seat cushions.
This is the fabric I chose for my seat cushions.
 

Selecting paint is more straightforward than selecting fabric. Paint comes in different colors and sheens. I chose to use Krylon's indoor/outdoor spray paint in black with a satin finish. Spray paint also comes in flat and glossy finishes, so choose what you like best. When you go to the store to buy your paint, take a sample of your chosen fabric with you to make sure they coordinate nicely.

Make sure to buy enough paint for your project. I wasn't sure how much paint would be needed when I started my project, and throughout the four days I worked on the chairs, I had to go to the store three times to buy more paint! In the end, I purchased eight cans of spray paint to finish eight chairs. Try your best to plan accordingly.

When selecting fabric and paint, choose colors that will coordinate with the existing décor in your home. If you're starting from scratch and don't really have a color scheme in your home, then you have lots of options. Choose a color and a fabric that make you feel peaceful and happy when you see them. Go wild with lime green paint and a hot pink floral cushion or keep it calm and neutral with dark brown paint and a solid tan cushion. The possibilities are endless, so choose something you really like.

 

Gather Supplies

Now that you've chosen a design that suits your style, it's time to gather your supplies. You'll need the following to reupholster and refinish your chair:

  • Paint
  • Fabric
  • Fine sandpaper
  • Cloth rag
  • Flat head screwdriver
  • Phillips screw driver
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Staple gun
  • Staples
  • Scissors
  • Measuring tape

Other than the paint and the fabric, I had most of these supplies on hand. Hopefully you do too.

Time to Get Started

Gut the Chair

The first step is to "de-upholster" the chair. Most seat cushions are attached to the chair with screws from underneath. Remove the screws with a screwdriver or drill and take the cushion off the chair.

You can either remove the existing fabric from the cushion or leave it on. Leaving the old fabric on will save time and provide added support to the seat cushion. I chose to leave the existing white fabric on my cushions.

If you remove the old fabric, you can use it as a pattern for cutting out your new fabric. To remove the fabric from the cushion, pry the staples from the bottom side of the cushion using a flat head screwdriver and needle nose pliers. Be careful not to stab yourself when pulling out the staples. Believe me, it hurts!

If you remove the existing fabric, use a flat head screw driver to pry the staples out of the wood seat bottom.  You may need to pull the staples out with pliers after you loosen them with the screwdriver.
If you remove the existing fabric, use a flat head screw driver to pry the staples out of the wood seat bottom. You may need to pull the staples out with pliers after you loosen them with the screwdriver.
 

In addition to upholstered cushions, my chairs had white upholstery on the backs. I removed this upholstery and decided I liked the chairs better without it. I left the backs open instead of reupholstering them. In addition to liking the chairs better this way, it really simplified the project. My chairs also had a decorative trim that was glued on all the way around the bottom edge of each cushion. Since it was attached with glue, I removed this easily by just pulling it off.

Removing the upholstery from the chair back was quite a chore.  There were two rows of staples around the entire space that had to be pulled out with pliers.
Removing the upholstery from the chair back was quite a chore. There were two rows of staples around the entire space that had to be pulled out with pliers.
Four of the eight chairs completely de-upholstered.  Half way there!
Four of the eight chairs completely de-upholstered. Halfway there!
 

Sand the Chair

Once the cushion is removed, all that remains is the wood frame. Sanding is the next step in preparing the chair for refinishing. I recommend doing this part of the project outside because it gets dusty and messy. Wear old clothes too.

Start by lightly sanding the wood with a piece of fine sandpaper. I used 220 grit sandpaper for my project. Sand the entire surface of the chair using soft, gentle strokes. Sanding the wood lightly creates a rough surface for the paint to stick to.

Sanding too much can damage the wood's integrity, so don't overdo it. There's no need to completely remove the old paint or finish. After the whole chair is sanded, wipe the wood down with a damp rag to remove any dust.

Notice the finish has been sanded all over.  Wiping the chair with a damp rag removes the dust left from sanding.
Notice the finish has been sanded all over. Wiping the chair with a damp rag removes the dust left from sanding.
 

Paint the Chair

Now the chair is ready for a new paint job. Like the sanding, it is best to do the painting outside wearing old work clothes. You can apply paint with a paint brush or use spray paint. I recommend spray paint because it is inexpensive, easy to use, leaves no brush strokes, and leaves little clean up. Spray paint looks best if multiple light coats are applied. If you choose to use spray paint, make sure it's not windy outside when you're ready to paint.

Follow the directions on the paint can for application. Spraying the paint on too thick will cause dripping, which will have to be sanded and repainted after drying. Avoid extra work later by only applying two or three light coats of spray paint. This should achieve a smooth even finish. Make sure to let each coat dry completely before applying the next coat. Extra coats may be needed if you're using light paint on a dark surface. After the final coat of paint dries, this step of the project is complete.

I set the chair on saw horses to spray paint the back and sides.  When the final coat was dry, I set the chair upright and painted the front.
I set the chair on saw horses to spray paint the back and sides. When the final coat was dry, I set the chair upright and painted the front.

Time Saving Tip

If you're a multi-tasker, work on upholstering your cushion while the paint is drying in between coats. Just make sure not to get paint on the fabric!

Upholster the Cushion

Now that the painting portion is done, focus on upholstering the cushion. If you took the existing fabric off your cushion, use it as a guide for cutting the new piece of fabric. If you left the existing fabric on, estimate how much fabric you'll need by laying the cushion top down on the back side of the fabric. Pull the fabric up over the edges of the cushion, and make a note of how much will be needed. Depending on the thickness of the cushion, you may need an allowance of 2-6 inches on each side. Always measure before cutting. I repeat...always measure before cutting. When you are sure you've measured enough fabric to wrap around the edges of the cushion on all sides, cut the fabric.

Wrap the fabric around the cushion to measure how much fabric you'll need for each seat.
Wrap the fabric around the cushion to measure how much fabric you'll need for each seat.

After cutting your fabric, line up the cushion on the center of the wrong side of the fabric. Begin by wrapping the center point of the fabric over the front edge of the cushion. Attach the fabric to the bottom side of the cushion using a staple gun. When the front is stapled, do the same on the back side of the cushion, making sure to keep the fabric centered on the cushion. If your fabric has a pattern, make sure the pattern is straight on the cushion after the anchoring staples are applied to the front and back of the midline of the cushion.

Staple the fabric to the front of the center of the cushion first.
Staple the fabric to the front of the center of the cushion first.

From this point on, pull the fabric over the edge of the cushion and staple to the chair, all around the cushion. Make sure the fabric is smooth and taut across the seat of the cushion. The corners will require small folds, or pleats. It may be difficult to make the first pleat, but it gets easier with experience. Just play around with the fabric and try folding it in different ways until you find a way to make the pleats look just right. Remember that you can always remove the staples and make changes, so don't worry if you don't achieve perfection the first time.

Making the corners look smooth is the hardest part of upholstering the cushion, so be patient and don't get frustrated.  You'll figure it out.
Making the corners look smooth is the hardest part of upholstering the cushion, so be patient and don't get frustrated. You'll figure it out.
Once the fabric is stapled to the front and back of the cushion, work your way around the sides of the cushion, stapling as you go.
Once the fabric is stapled to the front and back of the cushion, work your way around the sides of the cushion, stapling as you go.

Re-assemble the Chair

Once your fabric is attached to the cushion, trim the excess fabric off if you want to. This isn't necessary unless there is so much excess that it is visible under the chair when the cushion is in place. Place the cushion back on the newly painted chair frame. Screw the seat cushion back onto the chair using the screws you removed at the beginning of the project. A power drill will be helpful during this step but is not absolutely necessary.

New chair and old chair side by side.
New chair and old chair side by side.

Project Complete

That's it! With a little work and even less money, you've transformed your old chair into something beautiful and new. If you're looking for an even easier way to update your dining chairs, choose to either reupholster or refinish. You don't have to do both to achieve a new look. You may want to paint your chairs but leave the cushions the way they are. Similarly, you might really like your wood chairs, but you're not too fond of the cushions. Doing only one part of this project takes much less time and still changes your furniture dramatically.

Transforming eight chairs was more of an undertaking than I expected, but I am so glad I did it. This was my first reupholstery project, and I am so pleased with the results. The chairs match the rest of my home's décor now, and I love the way they look. I want to thank my best friend Rochelle for inspiring and helping me with this project. It took us about four days off and on to revamp eight chairs, and I couldn't have done it without her. I plan on refinishing my dining room table to match the chairs as soon as the weather gets cool. I'll post an update with pictures when it's done.

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Comments 44 comments

DarleneMarie profile image

DarleneMarie 8 years ago from USA

Great instructions and I love the new look of the finished chairs!


Amy 8 years ago

I just "reupholstered" my throw pillows in the same damask print! Mine is red and tan! Good taste, Shawna!:)


Ryan Hupfer profile image

Ryan Hupfer 8 years ago from San Francisco, CA

Wow, Shawna - I had no idea that someone would answer with a Hub this awesome! Great step-by-step information...it's super easy to follow. Keep up the amazing Hubbing!


shawna.wilson profile image

shawna.wilson 8 years ago from Arizona Author

DarleneMarie-Thanks, I love the chairs too...I can't wait until the table is done too.

Amy-what a great idea to make new covers for old pillows. I'll have to keep that one in mind!

Ryan-I have been meaning to write a hub about this project for the last couple months, and when I saw your request about upholstering furniture, I figured I better write it before another fabulous hubber beat me to it! Glad you enjoyed reading. Thanks for your supportive comment!


starcatchinfo profile image

starcatchinfo 8 years ago

CHANGES KEEP A PERSON HAPPY


shawna.wilson profile image

shawna.wilson 8 years ago from Arizona Author

Starcatch-I like change. Otherwise things get kind of boring. Thanks for reading :)


patsy 8 years ago

I'm thinking about refinishing my dining room set, your results are great!


UNCLE BILL 8 years ago

Nice work!


shawna.wilson profile image

shawna.wilson 8 years ago from Arizona Author

Patsy-go for it! It is a big project, but it's so fun to see the transformation!

Thanks Uncle Bill :)


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

Having reupholstered a sofa and chair or two through the years, I can really appreciate the quality work you put into this project. Anyone reading your Hub will have all the instructions and confidence they need to do a beautiful job.

Thumbs up!

Oh, out of curiosity, did you need to fill in all the staple holes from removing the upholstered panels from the chair backs?


shawna.wilson profile image

shawna.wilson 8 years ago from Arizona Author

Good to hear from you Sally :)

The fact that you asked about the staple holes tells me you know a thing or two about reupholstering furniture! There are staple holes in the wood from removing the bzillion staples that held the upholstery on the back of the chair. At first I planned on filling them in, but since I used black paint, they are not very noticeable. The holes are in a groove in the wood too, so that makes them even less visible. I also sanded that part down really well to smooth it out. I thought about putting some decorative black cording in that groove to completely cover the holes, but I decided against it. I think I'm probably the only one that notices the staple holes. Anyway, long answer!


Mom 8 years ago

I am so glad that you have inheireted the family "do it yourself-ness" and creativity. Your chairs look lovely. The table runner we will make will tie everything together, too.


Margie Freeman 7 years ago

Way to go! Beautifully done and well written. You amaze me Shawna


shawna.wilson profile image

shawna.wilson 7 years ago from Arizona Author

Thank you, Mom and Margie :)


RGraf profile image

RGraf 7 years ago from Wisconsin

Looks great! But I just don't know if I could do it. But you do give me hope :)


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

Terrific hub with the instructions and photos leading us through your step by step transformation. Think I'll try it sometime!


shawna.wilson profile image

shawna.wilson 7 years ago from Arizona Author

RGraf-Try it on an old piece of furniture that you don't like...that way you can just throw it out if the project doesn't turn out like you hoped. If it does turn out, then you'll have a brand new piece of furniture that you love! You can't lose.

Peggy W-Go for it! Thanks for stopping by :)


mandybeau profile image

mandybeau 7 years ago

Brilliant Hub shawna I m a fan


shawna.wilson profile image

shawna.wilson 7 years ago from Arizona Author

Thanks Mandy. I hope to get the table done this weekend, so look for another hub when that's done!


shawna.wilson profile image

shawna.wilson 7 years ago from Arizona Author

Well, the table is complete. I didn't take any pictures though, so I probably won't write a hub about it :( Glad to have that project out of the way!!


Sarah 7 years ago

Hi Shawna! I stumbled here while looking for the best method to spray paint furniture, and what luck! Here you are, doing exactly what I want to do. I also want to spray paint an old dining set black and it looks like a great project. I wanted to ask if you remember what kind of paint you used. I notice that you like Krylon, but what kind of finish did you use. Your chairs look perfect! Just the look I want to achieve. Thanks!


shawna.wilson profile image

shawna.wilson 7 years ago from Arizona Author

Hi Sarah- I used a satin finish, and it turned out great! Good luck with your project.


Arshad 6 years ago

I wish you all the best with your project. Seems like a new inovation.


Tom Silver 6 years ago

Looks like you are doing a briliant job - there is some satisfaction when you have finished all your chairs. Well done.


Upholstered Dining Chairs 6 years ago

Wonderful job, i love it.


Kristin 6 years ago

I just refinished our dining room table, though I used an oil stain. My first time doing a project like this and I loved it. Ended up doing a coordinating bench. So much fun!


Glo 6 years ago

Shawna, how is that satin table top holding up for you? I'm about to purchase some spray paint, but am not sure if the paint will chip off after repetitive washings per day. Any complaints yet?


http://www.upholstereddiningchairs.net 6 years ago

Great job Shawna!


shawna.wilson profile image

shawna.wilson 6 years ago from Arizona Author

Glo-my table is in the formal dining room, so it doesn't get washed very often, mostly just when it gets dusty. I haven't noticed any chipping at all. I do take comfort in knowing I can just haul it out to the backyard and add a coat of paint if I ever need to! Enjoy your table!


nightstalker 6 years ago

Definitely, this is a very good hub. In my humbled opinion, the new chair is better than the old one.


shawna.wilson profile image

shawna.wilson 6 years ago from Arizona Author

Thanks nightstalker, I completely agree :)


Heather  6 years ago

This is a silly question but I'd really like to give it a try... my problem is, sometimes its hard to tell the "cheap" wood for the "real" stuff. Any suggestions?


designer upholstery fabric 6 years ago

I'm helping my mother reupholster her kitchen chairs right now. Thanks for the great directions. I agree with nightstalker, the new chairs look great!

I hope the family chairs turn out as well as those did!


shawna.wilson profile image

shawna.wilson 6 years ago from Arizona Author

Thanks! Have fun with your project!


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors

What a great how-to hub! I have done this with dining room chairs a few times too, but last time I just pulled the cushions off and covered them with a layer of vinyl. I really like the fabric you chose. Keep hubbing and maybe I'll see you around town? :)


shawna.wilson profile image

shawna.wilson 6 years ago from Arizona Author

Yes, maybe we'll cross paths sometime :)


Kamruddin 6 years ago

If U face any problems related 2 make a chair just email me


Amanda 6 years ago

I really like that damask pattern...good job on the chair face-lift!


Kanya 5 years ago

Dear Shawna,

You done such an amazing job. Dare to do and it's look Fantastic! Ok I have to get going as I have about 3 chairs to do now!

;-)


shawna.wilson profile image

shawna.wilson 5 years ago from Arizona Author

Thank you kanya! Enjoy your project!


Kristie 5 years ago

Thanks for the tips - your chairs look great!


shawna.wilson profile image

shawna.wilson 5 years ago from Arizona Author

Thanks Kristie!


hi 4 years ago

Can I follow the same process for my metal dining table and metal chairs


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 3 years ago from sunny Florida

Great directions...photos are so helpful. I have wanted to reupholster a wing back chair for several years but have been uncertain how to proceed. The process will be different from this I am sure but I wanted some idea of what was involved.

thank you for sharing.. Pinned

Angels are on the way to you today ps

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