Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Goodbye Ugly, Hello Beautiful (DIY Armchair Redo)

Finally, fiiiiiiiiiiiinally, this wonderful DIY project is complete and I couldn't be more thrilled with the results! It is not that the actual amount of time spent on the chair was that much, just finding the time was a bit tricky. But I needed to complete it in order to get on with Christmas sewing. Anyway. Enough of the ramblings, I know what you are really here to see - the Before and After. Are you ready? It will blow your socks off!
Here is the ugly orange chair I bought at the MCC thrift store this past summer for $35.

Here is the gorgeous chair that will now grace my bedroom (once baby and all her stuff moves out. Kind of like a celebratory I-finally-have-my-room-back chair!). Can you believe the difference?! Unbelievable! I am still in awe.

One more time, just for effect! I am LOVIN' it!

Now, I know that zebra print material may not be for everyone. It is a bit bold. A little sassy. A tad unconventional. But it is oh-so-me! The hunt for the perfect zebra print upholstery material was an adventure, that is for sure. I looked in stores and online but nothing was quite right. I decided to try a fabric store on the other side of the city, a bit of a longer drive. And this lovely, this beauty, this unbelievably fantastic print was calling out my name. What you cannot see in the picture - well, what you cannot FEEL in the picture is the texture. So soft. Slightly fuzzy. When my 6 year-old touched it, he said it felt just like a zebra! Not sure where he has been touching them but that gives you an idea. What do you think??!!

When I saw the price of this beauty, I was a little hesitant. $25 a metre. A bit more than I was comfortable with. I walked around the store and saw other inferior prints but this one kept calling to me. Begging me to bring it home. And I knew if I left it there, I would always be disappointed for not taking the PERFECT fabric, the exact one I was looking for. Turns out it had just come in. Was, in fact, a special order. And it was all for me! I took my 2 metres, paid the price and have not looked back since!

The process of redoing a chair, such as this, is easier than you may think. Well, for this chair, anyway. The most important thing to remember is to mark all your fabric pieces as you are removing them (they are your template for your new fabric) and take lots of pictures to help you remember what goes where.

That being said, to start removing the fabric, you need to remove the welting (called welting in upholstery projects, piping in sewing projects). Find the end, grab it with a plier and pull!

Once you have removed all the welting, you need to take out all the other staples holding the rest of the fabric on. You will discover that they use about a bazillion trillion staples to hold everything together (well, I may be exaggerating just a wee little bit). And your hand may get a little blistered. Maybe do a little bit each day? That's what I did. And my hands survived. A flat-head screwdriver and a pair of pliers will be your best friend. Try to refrain from swearing as it can get a little . . . frustrating. ☺ Try not to gouge the wood excessively. Wood filler can only do so much! As you are removing the fabric, try not to tear it. Mine was old so it tore easily. Try to be as gentle as possible. The old fabric is your pattern. As you are removing all the fabric, you will gain a much bigger understanding of how it all goes together in the end.

Once all the fabric is off, you are left with a beautiful wooden shell, so full of possibility! I was so pleased to finally get to this point! And I knew exactly what I wanted to do. You can leave the wood as-is or you can sand it and spray paint it the color of your choice. Mine was black. I used a black satin finish. I sanded it with a electric sander until most, but not all, of it was bare wood. I painted it. When it dried, I could totally tell where the patches of bare wood had been. UGH! So, I waited until it had dried 24 hours then resanded it with 220 grit sand paper, by hand. I filled all the holes, nicks and chips with wood filler. I painted it again and VOILA! A beautiful even finish.

Now, the time came to make that first cut into the fabric. I was a little hesitant. After all, that speaks commitment. You cannot turn back once you make that first cut. You can only plunge ahead. So plunge I did! I cut the piece for the front side of the back first. Then I had to carefully line up the fabric for the seat cushion so the design would be even and straight - a little tricky but it worked perfectly. To avoid this issue, choose a fabric without a obvious need-to-make-it-straight-or-it-will-look-funny pattern.

On another note, I decided to make the cushion for the chair different from the original. The original had a box cushion connected to a flange. The flange was then stapled to the chair. Though I was confident I could recreate this type, I found it a little too . . . fussy. Plus it created extra hiding places for crumbs, dirt, etc. I changed that to a simple fabric-covered cushion like you find on many dining room chairs. I liked this look better and it created less crevices for debris. Plus, it was easier and used less fabric!

So, here is the old cushion still attached to the chair.

Here is it stripped down to the frame.

I used the old foam that was in the cushion but covered it with some new quilt batting, two layers thick. It gave it that new plumpness. Then I covered the whole cushion with the zebra print and attached the fabric directly to the wood frame with lots of staples. I wouldn't want to disappoint the next person who decides to recover this chair (you know, when I die, cause while I am living I will never change this chair!) with less than a million staples. ☺ The cushion will be attached to the chair frame at the very end with screws.

Once the cushion was done, I attached the back of the back of the chair. You know, the part you see when you are behind the chair looking at it. Just remember, when you are standing in front of the chair looking at it, you will see the WRONG side of the fabric. Also, remember to use staples. Lots of them. I tried using the air nailer with staples but they are not designed for fabric since they were so narrow. I reverted to the staple gun. Not as fun but at least it worked. Also, this chair had a little groove or channel all around it where you were to put your staples in - sure made it easier.

Once the back was on, I started on the arms. Now, the original design had fabric that went from one side of the arm, up and over the wooden arm, and down the other side of the arm. Uh. Yuck! (And yet I have a big comfortable arm chair covered in fabric that I love. So, the fabric-on-the-arm-disgust is only directed towards this particular chair.) I decided to change the design slightly. No fabric on top of the arm. Instead, the side of the chair looks remarkably like the back of the chair. So, put the fabric WRONG side facing the inside of the chair, the RIGHT side of the fabric facing out. You will totally get what I mean when you try it out. (The green stripe is a nylon webbing that provides some stability to the back of the chair. I just reused what was previously there.)

This is the old arm. I don't love.

This is the new arm. I love!

Once the outside of the chair was done, I started on the inside. Now, you may have noticed that the inside of the arms is not zebra print fabric. Well, that was totally intentional. Okay, so maybe not completely! Way back in the beginning, I had planned on making the seat cushion the same as the original and leaving the arms completely exposed with no fabric on them whatsoever. That was my original intention and I bought fabric with that in mind. Once the chair was stripped, I decided fabric on the arms was necessary or there would be a huge gap between the seat cushion and the frame. Not so good. So, I changed the design of the cushion and added fabric to the arms. However, I did not have enough to cover both sides of the arms with the zebra print. No big deal. I love the look of chairs that have more than one type of fabric on them. I decided this chair would do well to have plain black on the inside of the arms. So, I went and got some black vinyl. I like the contrast between the fuzziness of the zebra print and the smoothness of the vinyl. And I think it gives the chair a slimming effect. Okay, I am just joking about that one! I think it might have been a bit overwhelming for everything to be zebra so the black is perfect. Let's just say I planned it that way the whole time. ☺ So, when attaching the vinyl, obviously you make sure the RIGHT side of the fabric is facing OUT. Staple to your hearts content.

Next came the trickiest part. Tufting the back cushion. With the seat cushion, you can tuft it once it is attached to the cushion frame which provides some stability and the fabric is already smoothly stretched and attached in place. Not so with the back cushion. You need to tuft it before attaching it to the chair. So, take your back cushion, cover it with your quilt batting and your fabric. Make sure the fabric is centered over the cushion and start to tuft. I won't explain that process here. Basically you are sewing on the buttons. I will explain tufting in another post really soon. However, I did want to say that I made these adorable buttons using a button covering kit. Don't you just love the fuzziness?

Once you have all the buttons on the back cushion, attach it to the chair. Make sure you are pulling the fabric tight to remove any wrinkles and ensure a smooth finish. Staple, staple, staple.

Finally, you need to cover up all those staples with something. Originally, it was the welting. I choose not to reuse the welting but used nice trim instead. Rather than using more staples, this was hot glued on. I started where the arm meets the back of the chair, went along the arm and down the side of the front of the arm. I did that on both sides. Then I applied the trim on the back. Start at the bottom of one side, go up one side of the back, along the top of the back and down the other side. Once again, when you are looking at the chair, it will all make sense. Just remember, you are covering the staples. That is the point of the trim. Cover the staples and all is good.

Tuft your seat cushion, put your seat cushion on the frame, screw it on from underneath and YOU ARE DONE! Isn't it fantastic? I have the desire to redo more chairs but was slightly concerned about where to store them in the meantime. Well, remember that property we bought that has a house trailer on it? Can you say storage shed??!! ☺

Once again, just to remind you what can happen with a little hard work, some paint and some beautiful fabric:



Have you ever recovered a chair? I would love to hear all about it!


  1. Chantelle, you did an awesome on this chair! It looks so beautiful!! You have so much talent.

  2. you're crazy and amazing at the same time! can i borrow that chair ;)

  3. Yes, I once recovered a chair and it was a fiasco! I never did like the new chair. What did I do wrong? I went with cheap - cheap fabric - and I didn't make pattern pieces properly! Live and learn - and I'm sure you'll never regreat buying the "perfect" fabric!


    It looks great!

  5. Rick says, zebras aren't soft, they're bristly and I really want assurances that no zebras were injured or abused in the making of this chair.

  6. Girl, that is so fabulous ! Cannot love any more your choice of fabric. Well done !

  7. This turned out fabulous! Way to go for tackling such a project :) - while maintaining a busy household!! Also way to go for headin' back to the fabric that stole your heart :). Too often I've short-circuited a great project by buying the "second choice" supplies - and consequently the project lacked more than a little finesse :). I love the choice of trim vs. the welting. It adds a beautiful, creative touch!

  8. I bought a chair!!! and its been sitting on the balcony for 2 weeks... I'm scared to touch it... but this HUNNIE! This is INSPIRING!!! Barbie Loves it!

  9. FREAKING LOVE IT, SERIOUSLY IN LOVE MAJORALLY! it looks like something you would spend alot of money on in an upscale boutique... way to go!

  10. LOVE THAT! Great job! I just made some zebra pillows! Lovin' the zebra. Great job!

  11. I LOVE the chair! Zebra is my new thing, and I want that chair! LOL!


  12. WOW!!! That is amazing. You did a great job!

  13. I am drooling over this. Too, too cute!

    You may have just inspired me to try this too.


  14. WOW WOW WOW!! I love it! I have a very similar chair in our bedroom and this almost has me ready to take it apart! I need more recovery from the dining room first though. :)

  15. You did a beautiful job. I love your chair..
    You have inspired me to stop sitting around and to get up and do all the projects that I want to do..
    Great Job

  16. i can't thank you enough chantelle for this post. i had found a chair, and having never re-upholstered anything before, i didn't know where to begin. with your instructions, i found it quite easy.

    your chair looks great!

    i wrote a post on my blog showing off my results, and i linked back to this post.

    thank you again.


  17. WOW that is impressive. Great job. Come check out my site.

  18. Thank you so much for sharing this!
    I wish I had stumbled upon this post sooner, I just did a blog post about giving old chairs a bold makeover.
    Anyhow, you did a fantastic job!


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