A while back I bought a vintage chair intending to reupholster it; I liked its curvy lines but the fabric was quite blah, so I thought it would be a perfect upholstery-learning project. Well. A year and a half went by and I had done nothing to the chair, and I knew that learning upholstery was nowhere near making it to the top of the to-do list, so I decided to try painting the chair instead–fabric and all.
This kind of painted upholstery has been all over the web lately, and I’ve always been very intrigued by it. I wasn’t sure I trusted it at all (wouldn’t the fabric be awfully stiff and crunchy?!), but I figured this was a good piece to try it out on–I was ultimately planning to reupholster it anyway, so either way it didn’t matter. Worst case scenario, I could just tear the fabric off.
This is how the chair started out–fun shape, but plain colors. When I first brought this piece home I declared it to be Fifi’s chair, because she immediately claimed it as so.
Here she is giving me the stinkeye for making plans to change her chair. Oh, Fifi. Don’t worry. Change is good!
Ok! Let’s talk paint! I’m not going to lie, I took a very lazy approach with this project. I decided to paint the trim and the fabric all the same color, partly because I thought it would be an interesting effect, but more because I realized that by painting the whole chair one color, I wouldn’t have to worry about taping anything off or being neat at all!
So, first I started by scuffing the wood slightly with some sandpaper, then wiping it down, and vacuuming the whole chair really well, including the fabric and all the crevices. (If you were painting the trim and fabric different colors (or not painting the trim at all), you’d have to take an extra step here and carefully tape off the fabric/wood.)
I started by painting the wood. If I were more serious about the longevity of this chair I would have primed the wood first with an oil-based primer, but I didn’t bother in this case, I just painted directly onto the wood, using regular old acrylic wall paint. (Priming the wood first would just help the paint to stick and discourage chipping, and is generally a good step to take when painting wood.)
As for the paint color. I had a lot of black, white and grey wall paint leftover from various projects, so I just mixed up my own shade of grey and went to work!
I applied two light coats of paint to the wood. (As you can see, I got some paint on the fabric, but it didn’t matter. Gotta love that.)
Here’s how she looked with all the trim painted. Next it was time for the fabric!
To paint fabric, you can either add a fabric medium to regular acrylic paint, or use fabric paint. Either option will give you a result that’s (somewhat) soft and flexible once dry, rather than crispy the way regular paint would be on fabric. Because I wanted to use the exact same color paint as I was using on my trim, I chose to go the fabric medium route, using a product I picked up at an art store (the Golden brand bottle up above). This type of fabric medium simply gets mixed in with your acrylic paint, and you’re good to go.
The other option is to use a special fabric paint, which you can find easily in craft stores. Tulip makes a great line and I kind of wish I’d done a test with the Tulip paints and this fabric medium/paint mixture to compare results.
It was super freaky to paint the fabric, it just felt wrong–but I persevered! The fabric medium made the paint really watery, and I just slopped it on and kept going. I needed two coats to get full coverage on the fabric.
After the paint was dry it had to be heat-set, either with an iron or a hair dryer. I used a combination of both. The paint was very crispy before being heat-set, and a bit less after the fact, but still crispy nonetheless.
After the paint was done, all that was left to do was add some color! I had been thinking about doing bright-colored buttons, but as I was staring at the chair one day it just occurred to me to try sticking some felt balls into the divots of the tufting…
And what do you know, it worked! The felt balls fit perfectly in the tufting and I thought they were a fun touch. They add lots of texture and they make this chair very playful. And, since they’re not permanent, I can easily swap them out if I get tired of them. (I think fabric-covered buttons in all one shade would look great, and definitely more sophisticated. But the balls are fun for now.)
The verdict? I like the way it looks–I wouldn’t say this chair is Miss Forever, but she’s definitely Miss Fun For Now. As for the comfort, I have to give the painted fabric a low score. It is crunchy, sort of just like you would expect it to be. It might be the fabric medium I used (again, wish I’d tried the Tulip paints, to compare). I definitely wouldn’t recommend painting a piece of fabric furniture that you want to cuddle up on, because it doesn’t have a cozy feeling. But for a piece like this that’s more decorative than functional, and especially for a piece that you don’t intend to keep forever but would like to play with for the time being, it’s a fun quick fix.
But the most important question is, what did Fifi think?