I picked up this set of chairs on Craigslist a few months ago, and they’ve been skulking around my dining room waiting for their facelift ever since. Finally, finally, their time came, and they went from kinda sad to:
…rather sharp, if I do say so myself! This was just one of those projects where a simple coat of paint and new fabric made all the difference in the world. I mean, have you seen the price of dining chairs these days? It’s not uncommon for a single chair to cost upwards of $250. And while a good set of chairs is certainly worth investing in, if you don’t have a spare grand at the moment, it’s nice to know you can come up with something pretty decent for a fraction of the price. I’ve now got solid wood chairs with perfectly good bones and new upholstery, probably for less than $200 for the whole set.
There are tons of chair DIYs out there in the world, so I won’t go into a full how-to thing, but here are the basic steps I went through to makeover these chairs. First, I removed the existing seat cushions which were attached to the wood frames with screws. Then I gave the wood a light sanding just to rough it up, and I filled in any chips or bad spots with wood filler, sanding it after it dried. Then I wiped all the wood down with a damp cloth and applied a coat of oil-based primer followed by two coats of black semi-gloss latex paint. I probably should have followed that with a coat of poly but I just didn’t want to bother. If the paint job doesn’t hold up, I can always go back and fix it.
So after the painting was done, it was time to spiff up the cushions. The existing foam on the seats was really flat, so I decided to just remove it and add new foam. (But if the foam on your chairs is in good condition, you could totally just leave the seat as it is and simply staple a new layer of fabric over the existing fabric, which would be extremely easy.) But in my case, I stripped everything away till I was left with the wooden base of the seat, then I cut new foam (2″ medium-firm density foam, purchased here), cutting the foam to the exact size of the wooden base with a bread knife. Then I layered Bonded Dacron upholstery batting over the foam, and white canvas fabric over the batting, folding the batting and fabric to the underside of the wood base and stapling it in place (pulling it very taut). Finally, I layered my printed fabric over that and tacked it in place with staples. (I used that extra layer of white canvas fabric so that if I decide I ever want to change the printed fabric I can just pop it off and tack down a new fabric in its place, over the canvas.)
Finally, I attached the seats back onto the chairs with screws. One word of caution–you can’t drive a screw through fabric. The fabric will just twist and make a big mess. (I know, seems crazy–you would think that if you can drill through wood you can drill through fabric, right?! I mean what is wrong with this world?!) But it’s true. So just make sure that when you staple your fabric in place, you don’t cover the holes in the wood where you will be attaching the seats to the base. Just leave the holes free and clear, and you’ll be in good shape. (I learned this lesson the hard way, can you tell?)
Oh one other thing I did was alter the height of the captain’s chair. I don’t know if you can tell in this photo, but the captain’s chair was about 1″ taller than the other chairs. (Which sort of freaked me out. Was that done so that the man of the house would appear larger than everyone else? How gross.) Anyway, the real problem for me, aside from any feminist feelings I had about the situation, was that the captain’s chair’s arms wouldn’t fit under my table, so that the chair couldn’t be pushed in fully. I discovered an extremely easy fix for this, which was simply to cut off about 1″ of wood from the bottom of each leg! It was easy to cut with a hand saw and worked out totally fine.
Oh, one last thing, that amazing paint-splattered fabric is from the Habitat line by Jay McCarroll (yes, that Jay McCarroll, the winner of the first season of Project Runway). I’m told the fabric may be discontinued soon, as it’s been out for a while, so if you like it–grab it now!
Oh and also, if you’re totally new to this kind of basic upholstery, check out this how-to cover a dining seat cushion video on DIY Upholstery Supply. It’s super helpful, showing all the steps, lots of tips, and instructions on how to fold the fabric at the corners.