Upcycling, Reupholstering, and Plastic Covering Our Chairs- A Tutorial

All our newly reupholstered and upcycled chairs
Chairs have been the bane of my existence since we've been married practically...

When we were furnishing our home from scratch ten years ago, our budget was really tight. We ended up buying a set of 4 matching chairs second hand, and another chair from a second hand shop and dumpster dove 1 chair, so we started out with 6 chairs, only 4 of them matching. After about 5 years, the four matching chairs got really yucky looking, so I reupholstered them very easily.
As our family grew we dumpster dove a few more chairs (and tossed one of the original four that ended up breaking entirely), and then bought some second hand Ikea chairs as well (that I ended up hating because they aren't stable...).
By the time we moved into our new home, we had 10 regular chairs and a few folding chairs (plus some stackable outside chairs) which were functional, but they were not only mismatched, but they had really gross seats. It was embarassing. We'd have guests over, and we'd offer them a seat and they'd avoid sitting down since the seats were gross (and make comments about how they heard its healthier to stand). We really wanted to buy new chairs, because in our house with a new, polished, and put together look, these chairs were a big eyesore. And it didn't help that people kept telling us to throw out our chairs.
I looked into pricing for chairs, and each set I saw being sold second hand only had 4 or 6 chairs, so it still wasn't enough chairs to be a matching set to give the place a uniform look, and they weren't in the colors I wanted. I looked into pricing of new chairs, and the cheapest half decent chair (not even in a color that I wanted) was $75 each. I really struggled with this, because my chairs bothered me immensely, but I didn't want to spend a fortune on replacing them. The thought originally crossed my mind to reupholster them, but I didn't take that idea seriously because the chairs were all different colors- some light wood, some dark wood (veneer), some black, some white, not to mention most with different shapes and designs. However, I spoke with a friend who suggested painting them as well as reupholstering them, and I was sold.

While I originally thought to go with grey, I was suggested to make the chairs themselves black (so its not too much grey, and we already have some black in the house), and I was going to make the seats a deep turquoise. I unscrewed the seat base and tried painting one black with spray paint, and when that went well, decided to go try find some turquoise fabric for the seat. I went to all the fabric stores I knew in the nearest city and struck out- couldn't find any torquoise fabric in the proper thickness for upholstery. let alone the exact shade I was looking for. So I decided to go with the same burnt orange I have elsewhere in my house (couch cushions, vases, etc...) and found this awesome burnt orange suede fabric for $7 a yard. I overestimated how much fabric I needed and bought way too much... I ended up only needing less than 3 yards of it for all our chairs, approximately $21. I also bought plastic to cover the seats- its the same thick plastic I use as a cover for my nice grey tablecloth- cost me $4.25 a yard, and only needed 1.5 yards of plastic.
I spent $2.50 on staples for this project, and bout 4 cans of spray paint for around $3.50 each (and used up two half used cans we had in the house already), for a total of $14.
I also bought some foam for the reupholstering, and I needed $15 worth of it.
I also spent $1 on L brackets for a few chairs.

In total, this little project of mine could have cost me $66... but since I overestimated how much fabric and foam I'd need, I ended up spending $106... Oh well. I have a lot of extra material and foam for future projects. And since the entire project cost me less than the cost of one new chair (or less than the cost of 2 chairs if you count how much I spent by accident), and now I have 8 coordinating beautiful chairs in a color scheme that I love, and plastic covered so they can be cleaned easily, I'd call this a success.

So, how do you reupholster chairs?

First, you have to figure out how to unscrew the seat. On most chairs, this is pretty simple- you turn it over and unscrew it from the bottom. On the rare occasion, you might find that the screws are underneath the upholstery, in which case you'd need to cut off the upholstery before you can unscrew it. But I've done at least 7 different type of chairs before, and only had that happen with one chair, so more likely than not, you won't need to do that.

If the padding on the chair is fine, and if the seat itself isn't ripped, you can generally just put the new material on top of the old one, as I did with some of my chairs. You can see from the bottom of this chair that there are three layers of upholstery on it already, and that's fine.

If the upholstery is ripped or the padding needs replacing, using an exactly knife, cut it off, removing every last bit of fabric and padding. If you leave any on, it'll be harder to put on the new upholstery.

If there isn't already padding, or if you're adding new padding, decide how thick you want the padding to be, and purchase the appropriate type of foam. I used foam that is about 1.5 inches thick, and used two layers of it together on the seats, and on one seat where I replaced the foam on the back of the chair, I used one layer. The thickness of the foam is up to you, and depends how padded you want your chairs to be. Cut the foam exactly the side of your seat.

To put new upholstery on, you lay your fabric, nice side down, and then your foam (if using) and then your seat on it, facing down. Cut your fabric so that you have a little bit extra on each sides so there is room to pull it down and around to secure to the bottom of the seat.

I find it works best to put two staples on the fabric on one flat side of the seat, then pull it taut and secure it on the opposide side as well with another two staples, and then flip it over and check that you have no creases and that it is pulled tight enough. If you made a mistake, remove the staples and start again. Once you've checked that the fabric is right, continue doing each side, leaving the corners and rounded edges for last.

You won't be able to make rounded edges or corners crease free, but I find if you work from the middle of the area with rounded edges, pulling it tight as you go along, and stapling it bit by bit, you'll get it to lay best. Work around the sides until all the fabric is stapled on the seat with no edges sticking up, other than the corners (you'll be using a lot of staples for this- you don't want any hanging fabric). For the corners, fold them down again and again on top of each other until you get sharp edges, and then staple down the corners.

Once you've stapled it down well, cut down excess fabric, leaving just a tiny bit of fabric on the other side of the staples.

Turn it over and admire your handiwork. If there are any mistakes (hopefully there are none), undo the staples as needed and restaple so it looks perfect.

If you aren't using any plastic, you can just reattach them to the seat now. If you're using plastic, here's how you do it.

 First make sure you have no dust or sawdust or tiny scraps of fabric on your seat... because if you do, you might have to redo the plastic like I needed to do a few times. Seriously, double and triple check, because any dirt or other nonsense you have between the seat and the plastic will stay there until you reupholster... And you don't want that.

The type of plastic I used was called crystal nylon locally, not sure what it is called in the US, and it comes in a roll, sold for the purpose of tablecloths. I was a little skeptical about using this for seat covers (the hardware store owner convinced me, and I did one seat at the hardware store to first check that it worked well before I bought for the rest of them), but it was fine.

The plastic layer, admittedly, was harder to work with than the fabric, since it doesn't stretch and fold as nicely as the fabric, but I did the same thing as I did with the fabric layer, just a little more carefully and I got it to work well. 

Once that was done, again, I cut off the excess plastic.  

Inspect your handiwork and make sure there's nothing stuck between the plastic and the seat. Despite my checking at least a few times on each seat, I needed to open up the plastic, remove the bits, and re-staple...

Then screw the seat back on the same way that you removed it.

In one of my chairs, the one that needed the upholstery removed before I could unscrew the seat, the seat was originally screwed from the top down on to the chair, with the upholstery on top of that, so I couldn't reattach it the same way. Therefore, I used a few small L shaped brackets to attach the seat on to the chair.

One chair of mine was harder to reupholster, since I needed to reupholster the back as well, which was double sided. To do this one, I first reupholstered the front of the chair back, the same way I reupholstered the seats (mins the plastic, since I didn't think I could get the plastic to lay properly for a double sided upholstery. I then cut fabric for the back, leaving just the tiniest bit of excess fabric, which I folded in carefully, and then stapled it down around the back, covering the ugly reupholstering that was there from the first side of upholstering. I was nervous about thi part, but I think it came out pretty well. And then I screwed it back on. (Yes, I know those screws need to be painted black.)

Here's the final look. My three matching chairs.

My three coordinated but mismatched chairs.

Lee pointed out afterwards that I left a sticker on the back of one of the chairs.
Don't worry, it was removed after this picture was taken.

Here's how they look around the table. Which reminds me that I need to paint the table black next.

And just another picture because I love these so much.

Here's how it looks together with the whole living room set up. Sorry, the lighting makes it not color true.

Because I was so excited by how the chairs came out, I decided to also reupholster our folding chairs, which were already black, so they didn't need to be painted. Since these won't be around the table on a day to day basis, I didn't bother with the plastic on them.

Because of the new look my chairs have, I finally am excited to be having guests here! And now people can sit down without being grossed out by our chairs.

I am looking forward to dumpster diving yet more chairs, so that we can add some more coordinating chairs to our collection, and I'll use the leftover foam and fabric to do that.

In the end, I'm actually glad I went with the burnt orange instead of turquoise for the seats, since the burnt orange matches the cherry wood in the kitchen so well!

This was actually my first time painting furniture with spray paint, amd now that I saw how easy it was, I bought more paint to color coordinate the kids' furniture and paint the homemade beds in the master bedroom as well.

If you also are having chair issues and have considered replacing them, consider reupholstering them instead.

Total time to upcycle my 8 chairs, including painting 5 of them- a few hours total. 

Have you ever reupholstered your own chairs before? How did you do it? Did you find it hard or easy? Do you have chairs that you wanted to replace, but after reading this post, decide to upcycle instead? 

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. They look so nice! I love how they turned out,. May I make one suggestion regarding the one chair with the upholstered back? If you find some cording or something of the like you can cover the staples on the back. I just love the colors you have chosen for your new home. Tammy Romberg

  2. These are awesome! I'm a big fan of pulling things together by using the same colors. And of course making old chairs great again and saving money.

  3. When I saw the first picture, before I read the caption I actually thought it was the before picture! Orange reminds me of the way people decorated in the 1970s, and I really don't like it with gray,i don't think those colors look good together. I would put different colored pillows on the couch but different strokes for different folks.

    1. Definitely different strokes for different folks. Orange may have been used in the 70s but colors and such go in and out of fashion, and orange, teal, and grey are very in style at the moment. (See how many such ideas that color combination are on pinterest- https://www.pinterest.com/search/pins/?q=orange%20grey%20living%20room&rs=typed&term_meta[]=orange%7Ctyped&term_meta[]=grey%7Ctyped&term_meta[]=living%7Ctyped&term_meta[]=room%7Ctyped )The biggest difference between 70s fashion and today is the amount- my color base is grey, with orange accents, whereas in the 70s you'd find too much orange- couches, walls, curtains, rugs, which makes me go ugh!!

    2. Well, 1970's style decorating is very much in style. It's part of what they call "Mid-Century Modern" style.

  4. Great job on the chairs. Looking forward to seeing more of your DIY projects. I've never reupholstered anything. Have the same 4 chairs for the last 20 years, no one sits on them, just hubby and I and we eat in the living room using the couches.

  5. I have kitchen chairs that need reupholstering, and I am considering doing it myself, but it's unfortunately a lot less simple for these particular chairs then your method. For these chairs the coushin is its own seperate piece, encased in a vinyl case and closed with a zipper. There is no board to staple anything on to. The coushin then sits on the chair base, which is wicker style, so thin spaced out slats. The coushin is attached by loops which snap to themselves after wrapping it around some slats. The chairs are well used and a lot of the coushins are exploding at the seams, with the inside foams in various stages of popping out. But the chair bases themselves are in excellent condition. In order to fix, I believe a new vinyl case would have to be sewn for each chair, with or without a zipper depending if I want the option of removing them. My mother is a sewing wiz and offered to do it for me, but it's the type of thing that will take her a while to get around to it.

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