Vintage Sitting Chair Make-Over

10:08 PM

My blog will be taking a different direction these next few weeks/ months as we our buying our first house and have very little furniture.  We're currently making/ refinishing pieces I'll be sharing because I'm excited about them, and then when we move, we have home improvement/ decor ideas to share too.
So this is the first post of our new phase:
In anticipation for purchasing our first house (we've been married 6 years and just finally finished school), I've been scouring the classifieds online for good furniture deals.  This was my first time upholstering a chair for a total make over.  I've covered furniture, like this vintage high-chair, but this time it was going to require upholstery tacks and everything.

So I found this chair for $3.00.  It's a vintage chair from the seller's grandma's cabin they were cleaning out. 

So we go from $3.00 piece of junk--peeling paint, gross puke colored stained vinyl, to

the Spanish Olive fresh green and white chair.
You may not like the green/white combo or the fabric, but it's a big improvement if you could have seen the gross before in person. 
This chair will be in our office/ craft room.

It was a lot easier to upholster than I thought.  I found as I took the chair apart, it was easy to see how to put it together again.  The hardest part was nailing the upholstery tacks in straight.  I'm not very good at nailing with a hammer and it wasn't as perfect as a purchased manufactured chair would be.

Being my first time, I did have a huge mistake.  I didn't pay attention when I cut out the seat, and I cut it to run upside down.  The top of the flowers should be at the back of the chair, rather than the front.  I also planned the seam to be at what I thought was the back, but ended up being the front.  So I basically planned and sewed the seat backwards.  But my husband couldn't understand what was wrong when I was explaining it, so I hope it's alright and not that noticeable.

by a novice for the novice

1. Remove seat and back of chair.

The seat was easy to remove, flipping it upside down I saw it was screwed to the frame in each corner.
The back of the chair I removed by first tearing off the back piece.  This showed how the back was upholstered, then screwed into the frame.  To cover the open back, a separate piece of fabric was just tacked on at the end.

2. Take Off Old Fabric to Use as Pattern for New Cushions
Tear off the fabric, and I threw all the batting/ padding away.
Save your fabric to use as the pattern.  I unpicked the back, but the seat I just left to use later.

3. Trace your nasty fabric on your new fabric

I found my green/white fabric at Hancock Fabrics.  It is outdoor fabric.  Upholstery/ outdoor fabric can be expensive, this was $15/yd but I got it 40% off, so I needed 1 yard for this chair, which was only $9.00!

I traced with a pencil on the back side the exact size of the seat and back.

The sides were just one long strip going around.
I cut 4" wide strip for the seat, and a long 3" strip for the back.

After I traced the exact line, I cut it out with about 1.5" extra beyond my pencil mark.

4. Make the white piping
To make the white piping around the edges of the cusions, I found as I was tearing the nasty original apart, they just used thick jute around the vinyl.
I got the thickest jute/ hemnp I could find at Walmart.
I pulled it along my pencil line on the piece to measure how long the piping would need to be, then have myself 1- 2" extra just in case.
I had upholstery vinyl in my stash, so that worked out great, you can find it at Hancocks for sure, and probably most other fabric stores, you won't need much.
I cut the white vinyl in long strips 1.5" wide.
To make the vinyl, you just fold the vinyl in half, with the hemp/ jute inside and sew along the edge.  I used my zipper foot to make it easier to get close to the hemp bump.

6. Make the cushions
Once the white piping is done, I lined it up with the pencil line and sewed it around the rectangle of the fabric.  Using the pencil line as the guide made sure it would be right on the edge of the seat/back when finished. 
When it got to the ends where they meet, (I made sure to start at the bottom of the back cushion, and the back of the seat cushion) I butted up the jute ends and snipped them so they would just kiss when finished.  I put one end inside the other, then sewed it down.

Next I sewed the sides around the rectangle, right sides together again, guiding on the pencil line again.
So at this point you have a sandwich of the side on the bottom face up, the white piping, then the seat/back piece face down, and you're sewing on the back of this piece on the pencil.

When I got to the other side where the ends meet up, I left myself 2-3" unsewn, and laid it flat, butted the piece up, pinned it, and sewed the seam to make it one piece all the way around.
Next I just sewed that down to the rest along the pencil seam.

Now I had the finished cushion cover.

7. Stuff and Staple to wood cushion frames
Rather than stuffing, I used 1" thick foam I had from the high-chair.
So I cut the foam the shape of the frame.
Put the foam padding on the frame, then the fabric.
Using just a standard staple gun from Walmart, I started in the middle and pulled the fabric until the seam/ white piping was on the corner, then stapled the fabric to the frame.
This chair was old enough it was all upholstered in tacks, but stapling is so much easier than hammering tiny little tacks all around the fabric.
Work your way across the top, then do the same thing across the bottom, keeping the fabric stretched across the front.
Then stretch and staple the sides.
For the corners, I just folded them and stapled them tight and neat.

For the seat cushion, the seat was supported by this ugly woven strap network. So I stapled a piece of broadcloth to cover it. 

Now on to the frame.

8. Strip, Prime, and Paint the frame

I chose to use paint stipper rather than sand it off.  It's a gel you paint on and it makes the paint just curl up and you can scrape it right off.

This chair had 2 layers of paint, so I actually stripped it twice.
After you've scraped as much paint off as you can, you really need to clean the chemical stipper off the wood.
The 2nd round it started snowing all the in the Rockies.

On these stools, I didn't quite get it off and it really changed the color of the paint.  With the white paint, it put pink streaks in it.
So this time I made sure to get it off.
I filled a cool whip container with 1 to 1.5 cups of mineral spirits (paint thinner would work too). Using a Scotch Brite scrubber pad and a grout brush, I scrubbed down the wood to get the stripper off, and also to remove dried little flecks of paint still hanging on.

So the left photo is the raw frame, you can see it's still got original primer soaked in.

Next I painted the frame with a primer.
Finally, I used a trim roller to apply the Glidden Spanish Moss paint.  It was semi-gloss so more durable sheen to withstand being on the furniture.
After the paint had totally dried overnight, I gave the frame 3 coats of spray polyurathane to further seal the paint and make it durable for use.  You can find it in the paint department.

9. Assemble Chair
The seat is easy, just flip the frame over and screw it back on.

This back was layered to attach it.
I first stapled my back piece of fabric along the top.
Next I screwed in the back to the frame.
(notice I signed and dated the frame in case someone else remakes it...probably won't happen, but I was curious the whole time how old this thing is)
**Notice along the top the back piece of fabric is stapled on
Next there was a thick cardboard piece I'd saved to put back on. I just stapled it in the corners.
Then a layer of basic batting I threw away and replaced with new.  I also just stapled it in the corners.
The last part to close up all the chair was to fold the last fabric piece back over the back of the chair.
I folded the sides in first, then the bottom up.
I hammered (well my mom hammered while I held the fabric since I kept bending the tacks because I can't hammer straight).  Tack the 4 corners first. Then all the fabric is streched and folded under on the sides and bottom to stay. 

Next, just keep hammering the tacks along to pin down the sides and bottom, measuring how far apart you want them.
I bought 1 package at Hancocks of white upholstery tacks for $1.80 with 25 tacks. So my tacks where about 1.25 inches apart.

You're done!

Obviously things change depending on the particular piece of furniture you're upholstering, I just included all the steps to give an idea, I imagine a lot of similar pieces would need to be recovered the same way.
But I think upholstery is easier than I always thought.  This was a good piece of furniture to start on because the cushions came off so easily. A wingback chair is a totally different matter.

This chair was a warm up to my next upholstery adventure, 2 of these chairs that were $5.00 each.  This will be an actual re-upholstery job rather than this green chair which was kind of in between just recovered a seat cushion and actual re-upholstery in my mind.  This was the actual craigslist photo:
Wish me luck!

You Might Also Like


  1. Nice work! You actually made that seem easy but I'm certain it wouldn't be that easy for me. And oh my, that picture is hilarious! What's with the 4-wheeler??? Excited to see your amazing-ness with those chairs.

  2. Love it! You've inspired me to take on these two bent wood chairs that I recently picked up for $4.99 each. Looking forward to seeing your next project...

  3. wow jess, that looks great! and you can't even tell the fabric is backwards...honestly I couldn't even tell until you mentioned it :)

    I am sure you have seen lots of tutorials on full reupholstering, but the blog "beneath my heart" has some awesome tutorials on some pretty complicated chairs!

    Good luck with the rest...

    oh, and your vinyl is all packaged and ready, I will drop it by the post office today!! do you want me to send it to a different address than your parents? email me at if you do!

  4. First of all, congratulations! Hooray for a new home. The upholstery tutorial is great, and the chair is awesome. Can't wait to see how you pull it all together. Best wishes.

  5. Fantastic transformation!

  6. I stumbled across your blog when I did a Google search for "Glidden Spanish Olive paint." (Trying to decide if I want to paint my kitchen/dining room that color.)

    Lo and behold, this chair that you reupholstered (which looks fabulous, by the way) looks very similar to my dining room set. After I paint my kitchen, I'd like to repaint my dining room set, so your photos have inspired me!

    Our table and chairs have been in the family since my in-laws purchased them, used, when they got married in 1974. The first time we recovered the seat cushions (our chairs have vertical wooden slats and a bit of carving detail on the back instead of the upholstery, so we only had to reupholster the seat cushions), we saw the following info stamped on the bottom of the table: Artistry by Drexel, 6-58. I'm guessing that means it was manufactured in June 1958, and I would not be surprised if "Drexel" is the same company as the modern-day "Drexel Heritage." Our table has the skinny, tapered legs, just like all 6 of the chairs. Interestingly, only one of the chairs has arms on it, which look similar to the arms on your chair. The table can extend to 96" long with the (3) 1' leaves, despite it having nothing more than four skinny, tapered legs for support!

    Anyway, I would venture to say that your chair may have a similar manufacturing date, and could have been made by Drexel as well. Thought you might be interested to know.... (Sorry this comment is so lengthy.)

  7. Thank you for this post - I'm refinishing two chairs with an upholstered back the exact same way as this one. Your blog was the only one I found to help me figure out what I was doing wrong! ...Until now my blog will, too! I'll be sure to put a thanks to you in the post when they're done! Thanks,


Thank you for stopping by, we love to hear from you!

Popular Posts