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Decorate Your Dining Room Using Mismatched or Eclectic Chairs and Save a Bundle!

Updated on August 10, 2014

My introduction to Shabby Chic was a total accident

There is a growing trend in the world of decorating today to utilize the Shabby Chic or Eclectic look using distressed furniture pieces, a more personal collection of what works for you and a disregard for the once necessary matched or theme setting.

Some say the look was born of a desire by young couples to decorate on a budget, others as a result of the very popular and growing refresh, reuse, recycle movement. Still others say that it was the brainchild of a group of unaffiliated and thus unwitting decorators. Who by first using the look at beach homes, lake front properties and mountain retreats began to appreciate it's unique style and fresh and unusual look and as such made the conscious decision to take the look more into the mainstream.

I tend to align my thinking more so with hypothesis number three based very heavily on one experience that I had on a trip to Hauge Pointe, a beautiful yet quite quaint ocean side retreat on Dafuskie Island off Hilton Head, S.C. some fifteen years ago. My daughter and son in law had a family place there and invited us down for the weekend during which they treated us to dinner at an iconic local restaurant known as Marsh Side Mama's. The food already legendary was to die for but what struck me as equally impressive was the way the place was decorated.

To say that it was done in a Shabby Chic or an eclectic manner would definitely be an understatement and yet as I looked around the room I fell immediately in love with what I saw and was totally put to ease by the overwhelming impression that this was a place where you could really relax, be yourself, and as is quoted on the legendary T-shirts sold at the establishment, "leave the drama at the door".

The building was small, two dining rooms and a kitchen area with a large deck out back overlooking the river and the marsh. There was a tin roof and the ceiling was partly enclosed and partly exposed trusses and beams. Those, having been intertwined with various and sundry Christmas lights that burned year round, gave the wide opened space a somewhat magical look.

The walls, old and painted sheet rock, were adorned with a little bit of everything from old records to old posters, to a couple of college flags and a giant swordfish, as well as an assortment of cooking utensils and framed photos, paintings done by local artists and even some, more than likely, cheap reproductions of the classics that gave the obvious impression of having come from a yard sale or someone's grandmothers attic

I don't think there was a single matching chair or table in the place and we were served our meal on what I can only assume was a totally mismatched set of dishes, glasses and silverware. Yet and still as I sat quietly and looked around the room and soaked in the ambiance that exuded from this wide array of unassociated items, this hodgepodge of thrown together pieces that in many circles would have at that time been considered to be horrendous, I couldn't help thinking to myself, "now this is a cool place!"

After some brief conversation with one of the managers, I learned that the building had been decorated by the owners and was as such a sort of work in progress and that even still new items kicked up and purchased anywhere and everywhere were brought it from time and after locating a few inches of empty space on a wall somewhere took their rightful place among the others adding to the already rough and tumble collection.

The owners obviously not giving a good damn about convention had unknowingly introduced me to a look that I found compelling, having no idea whatsoever how popular and ultimately mainstream it was to become. All I knew at that time was that I liked it, it felt relaxing and had and unusually homey look about it, sort of the comfort food of furniture if you will

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Marsh Side Mamas, Dafuskie Island, SC

Building exterior, quaint to say the least
Building exterior, quaint to say the least
Interior Shot of eclectic decoration
Interior Shot of eclectic decoration

Coming around to the look can take some time. It did for me!

I wish that could say that I returned home and immediately embraced the look advocating it to my customers and using it in my own home. To do so however would simply be an untruth. I reality it was years later when my girlfriend and a good friend of hers who wanted me to do some pieces over for her and accomplish the look specifically that I was reintroduced.

At the time, I was unaware that the look had become very popular among some high end decorators and the friend who stays abreast of that sort of thing brought along some magazines to emphasize the look she was hoping for.

What ensued for me was a period of trial an error, working specifically with certain looks and the best way to accomplish them and a continual learning process to try to stay ahead of the curve so to speak. One of the important things that I learned early is that the look is continually evolving and given the amount of latitude that the look provides in order to accommodate personal styles and tastes, there is really no right or wrong way to do things. In short, the Shabby Chic look is a sound bastion of self expression and open to the concept "If you can think it you can do it."

It is that freedom of expression that has spawned multicolored and distressed chests of drawers, mixtures of industrial metals and wood, coffee tables made from old warehouse pull carts, stacked antique suitcases as end tables and old doors having been converted to tables occupying dining areas.

In no area of the movement however is that freedom of expression more prevalent and widely celebrated than in the area of chairs. Desk chairs, single chairs, rockers, occasional seating pieces, sets of 2, 4 and 6, even 8 (when you can locate them), outside, inside, you name it. Each category offers scores of opportunity for you to create something that is unique to your taste, one of a kind and at and a price that won't require you to take out a second mortgage on your home or spend you children's college fund.

I became drawn to chairs early on when I realized that they could be picked up at yard sales, thrift stores and through Craigslist in singles, mismatched or broken sets, old and one of a kind pieces at prices cresting at $10 or less, usually around $5 and sometimes as low as $2. Naturally buying at those numbers offers potential for profit.

Since we are not writing about business here but rather how to save you money, let's get back to the matter at hand. In considering utilizing mismatched, partially mismatched or a traditional set of chairs redone in multiple colors in order to give them a new look, there are a few things to consider.

How many chairs do you need? Do you want a totally mismatched eclectic set which is a growing trend? Do you want a partially mismatched set, for example a matching set of two different from the rest located at the end of the table? Do you want solid wood chairs or wooden chairs with fabric bottoms or a combination of both?

We will explore all the options and offer our advice in the next segment

Help us by taking a quick poll

What is your opinion of the Shabby Chic look?

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Decide what you want and need then get busy pulling it together.

Once you have answered one or more of the questions in our last segment, you should have a better idea of where you are headed. For example if you want 8 chairs and you prefer a totally eclectic set. Then it is time for you to start looking for odd chairs that you like in the style you want that can be picked up here and there until you have amassed the 8 that you need.

Here is a quick recommendation although it certainly isn't set in stone. Realizing the your chairs in this situation will be mismatched, make the attempt if possible to keep them inside the same general element. For example if you find a chair you like with a fabric bottom that will need to be recovered, find 7 more with fabric bottoms that when recovered will pull the set together even though it is still obviously eclectic. It is also a good idea to look for chairs of roughly the same height. Finally if you find armchairs that fit the bill, decide if you want two one at each end of the table of you wish for the total set to have arms. If so be sure to measure to make sure they will fit under your table because arm chairs tend to be a little wider.

Once you have decided what you want, found it and gotten it home. It is time to begin the process of making them over. We will cover that in our next segment.

Eclectic opens a world of possibilities. Remember if you can think it or close your eyes and see it you can do it!

A mixture of fabric and wood is an often used idea
A mixture of fabric and wood is an often used idea
Painting a mismatched set in the same color pulls it together without hiding the obvious!
Painting a mismatched set in the same color pulls it together without hiding the obvious!

Top Tips

1. Know what you want and need before you go out looking.

2. Although utilizing mismatched pieces still look for those with similarities IE: Height, width arms and fabric seats.

3. Don't overpay! You should not pay more than $10 for a single chair on average

4. Don't give up. If you don't find what you are looking for right away, keep looking, you will!

Taking your time is important, slow and easy wins the race in this situation.

Chairs home, colors and fabrics chosen (here are two tips, look for fabric in the remnants section in order to make a better buy and you will need 1/2 yard of fabric per chair plus 1/2 yard added to the total to do the job adequately) you are ready to start your project.

If the chairs have fabric bottoms, remove them by turning them over and loosening the four screws that hold the seat, one in each corner. (place the screws in a cup or coffee can for safe keeping until you need them again at the end of he project.) Bottoms gone, using light grit sandpaper 100 or higher lightly sand each chair slightly scratching the finish, this will help the paint adhere to the existing finish, the newer and more glossy the finish the more sanding will be required.

When the chairs have all been sanded, wipe them down with a clean damp cloth to remove the dust and let them dry thoroughly. You are now ready to begin painting. You will apply one coat of primer and one or two coats of finish depending on the color you choose. Darker colors, red, greens and black cover more easily. Lighter colors whites, yellows, pink and pale blue tend to require more coats in order to cover.

We strongly recommend the use of spray paint as opposed to brush and can. It is easier, goes on better and requires little or no clean up. If you desire to brush however, feel free to do so. When it comes to which paint to use we suggest Ace Hardware's store brand of satin finish. it is less expensive, goes on smoothly and covers well. For primer, we recommend the same, grey or red oxide for darker colors and white for lighter colors. Priming is important and should not be skipped in order to save time or cut corners. Primer has different bonding agents than top coats and dries flat making for a much better looking job when the satin finish is applied. Should you not have an Ace Hardware in your area, our second choice would be Rustoleum, available at K-Mart and all the Big Box stores.

To apply both the primer and finish coats, shake the can well. When you feel you have shaken it enough, shake it some more. You cannot shake it too much and the shaking will avoid clumping and thus running as the paint leaves the can. In a fluid, left to right motion of about 14 inches or so begin to apply the paint in light, smooth and even coats. Do not be concerned if the paint appears not to cover, you would rather apply more coats and have a professional looking job than to cover in one coat and look like your child did it. Allow the paint to dry completely between coats, we recommend a minimum of 1 hour.

When all the coats have been applied, and the chairs are dry, if the chairs are solid you are ready to put them in there rightful place. You might have a strong odor from the paint for a day or two but don't worry it will dissipate quickly.

If you have fabric bottoms to cover you have a choice, do it yourself or have a local upholsterer do it for you. If you choose the latter you need no further instruction. If you decide to do it yourself it is a fairly easy process.

You will beginning by cutting the fabric into small workable pieces sufficient to accommodate the chair bottom with a 3 to 4 inch overhang all around. If the fabric has a pattern, especially a large one make sure the pattern lines up similarly on each chair bottom. Using a staple gun (not a desk stapler) fold the fabric over one side of the seat bottom and pulling it tightly with one hand staple every 2 inches or so along the entire edge, repeat the process on all four sides stopping to fold and tuck the corners as you round each one. Repeat again the process for each chair until all are complete.

It is important to remember that if a problem arises in covering the chair bottoms simply return to the point of the problem and removing the staples redo it until you get it right. Be careful in cutting out your pieces that they are large enough, as long as they are, you should not have a major difficulty in covering the seats. It really is pretty easy.

Seats covered again you are ready to display your new, different and beautiful chairs. If this is your first project use it as a confidence builder for future endeavors . Please feel free to visit our Facebook page, Middle Georgia Furniture Brokers, Macon, GA with questions or comments, we will do our best to get back to you quickly. Feel free to post pictures of your finished product, we would love to see them.

Good luck on completing that new and beautiful dining space, You can do it!

The finished product will be something you can be proud of making it well worth the effort

Show off the fruits of your hard work
Show off the fruits of your hard work


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    • klw1157 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kevin Washburn 

      3 years ago from Macon, GA

      Thanks again Skye, Using mismatched or eclectic chairs is a good way to save some money while furnishing your dining space in a very personal yet popular manner. The Shabby Chic look appears destined to be with us a while. I appreciate your read and your comments.

    • skye2day profile image


      3 years ago from Rocky Mountains

      Fantastic idea! Thank you for sharing chair décor! I was drawn here by the title of your hub. I have never heard the word 'Eclectic' before. I was curious. I do not have much patience for chair remodeling but I truly like the look. Love the pictures. Glad I stopped into your neighborhood. God Bless you bro. Skye


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