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.
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.
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.
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:
- Fine sandpaper
- Cloth rag
- Flat head screwdriver
- Phillips screw driver
- Needle nose pliers
- Staple gun
- 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.