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DIY Chair Makeover

House Home Photo DIY Chair Makeover

Style editor Michael Penney shares his step-by-step tips for transforming a thrift-store find into a chic occasional chair.

See four more beautiful interiors featuring different ways to use occasional chairs in our January 2010 issue.

Materials & Tools

  • Fine grit sandpaper
  • Natural bristle paintbrush
  • 1 qt latex primer
  • 1 qt latex paint in semi-gloss finish
  • Pliers, for removing staples
  • 1 yd fabric
  • Staple gun
  • Nailhead tacks or grosgrain ribbon (for optional trim)
  • Glue gun (for affixing optional ribbon trim)

Step 1: Choose A Chair

Is it solid? Try prospective chairs before you buy. Tighten slight wobbles with carpenter’s glue but pass on anything too tipsy.

Is it practical? For an occasional chair, look for a wider seat and a back that will feel comfortable sitting in for a length of time.

Is it pretty? Play it safe with classic, traditional styles. You can always use paint and fabric to amp up a timeless silhouette.

Is it DIY? If you want to refinish a chair yourself, avoid seats with crisp, boxy edges stitched together with piping, as these must be professionally reupholstered. Instead, choose a removable seat: look for screws in the corners of the seat base, indicating it can be popped off, recovered and reattached. (For how-to details, see Step 4: How To Reupholster.)

Step 2: Select Finishes

Paint Natural shades like oyster, cream, white, grey or black can make a thrift store chair look more polished. For an occasional chair that can move between rooms, choose a neutral palette. Use a semi-gloss finish for subtle shine.

Fabric Solids are more portable and timeless and won’t compete with a chair’s ornate lines. Linen or velvet add luxurious texture, though other textiles may be more forgiving when it comes to food spills. 

Trim Find DIY nailhead tacks at fabric stores. Or use a glue gun to apply grosgrain ribbon trim.

Step 3: Sand, Prime & Paint

Sand Use a fine grit sandpaper to rub off the wood’s shiny finish and prep it for paint.

Prime Apply one coat of latex primer. For a smooth finish with minimal brush strokes, use a brush with soft natural bristles.

Paint Brush on two light coats of latex semi-gloss interior paint. “I don’t sand between coats because I apply the paint in thin layers,” says H&H style editor Michael Penney, who says “thin” means he can see the primer showing through after the first coat. Thick paint can cause it to glob or chip off. Use a brush with natural bristles to minimize the appearance of brush lines.

Step 4: How To Reupholster

Remove seat Flip the chair over, unscrew the corner screws and remove the seat.

Remove the original fabric or the refinished chair can look bulky. Use pliers to pull out staples.

Cut the fabric to be a good 4" larger than the size of the seat. You’ll need the extra for stapling.

Wrap the seat Put the fabric down on a table, place the seat on top with the bottom facing up. Pull the fabric taut and use a staple gun to staple onto the seat board. Start with a staple in the centre of the width of the seat, then staple in the centre on the opposite side, then work out to the sides. This will help minimize puckering and fix the fabric so it stays taut.

Finish the corners When you get to the corners, depending on the seat shape, you may need to finesse them by trimming extra fabric, wrapping as tightly as possible or using mitre folds to keep the look neat. With corners, hold the fold tightly with your thumb and turn the seat over to see how it will look before stapling.

Reupholstery, Soft Options; chair colour, Ralph Lauren Veranda (IB145), The Home Depot; nailhead tacks, Bella velvet in Mocha, both Designer Fabrics.


Trish Snyder


Donna Griffith

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