DIY: Chair Re-Upholstery

Disclaimer: This is not a tutorial.

I’ve been doing a lot of projects lately, mostly in preparation for my upcoming move to Arkansas. (Fingers crossed that I get a job….not that finger crossing ever works.)

This latest project actually began about a year ago when my mom and I went to a Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Murfreesboro, TN. We found several things, but one was this chair. There were about a dozen of them, and they looked like the kind of chairs you’d see in a hotel room’s sitting area. Nicer than an office chair, but with wooden legs. Just a basic chair. It was only $15 and had a lot of potential and was in great condition minus the slightly worn fabric. So, we bought it, and ever since have been looking for the perfect fabric to recover it with.

Well, on Monday we took another adventure to a big fabric store in Fayetteville, TN called Sir’s. I really wanted to try to make a sir joke here but couldn’t think of anything good other than yes, sir’s. Anyways, I fell in love with a roll of fabric and couldn’t pass the opportunity at only $6.99 a yard.

However we do not have an air compressor so we used an electric staple gun. Here’s what we did.

First we began prying off the outer fabric, and discovered there was a metal tack strip thing that was enjoyable to pry off.

Then, we realized – well actually my mom realized – that if you grab a hold of the fabric’s edge with the pliers and use a twisting motion you can actually roll your way down the edge and it takes tons less effort that pulling it straight out.

I call it the twist method.

Here is a shot of the room we’re working in. Notice all the staples ALL over the floor.

Okay so I just realized you can’t see the staples in the picture hardly at all on the floor. BUT here’s a bunch on the table.

Sometimes, when doing the twist method to remove stray staples, they will wrap around the tip of your pliers and “lock” them. I found this comical.

My mom was a trooper. She worked very hard. And didn’t get mad that I kept yelling at her every time she poked herself and said “ow”.

Okay so we finished stripping the chair finally. Then we decided our fabric would look funky with brown chair legs. Originally we were planning on painting the legs black, but when we got to Home Depot we found an AWESOME metallic gray color. And if you know me, you know I’m obsessed with silver and gray. So of course we bought it.

The color –

The leg –

The chair stripped with legs painted and ready to cover –

Okay, now for the “fun” part. Let’s just say that my mom and I will NOT be going into the upholstery business. First let me give you a few tips in case you are wanting to start your own reupholstery project, and then I’ll show you the pictures of our recovering project.

Some tips for DIY upholstery:

1. Do not attempt unless you have lots of time and lots of patience. It can be very tedious and it took us two days to complete with two people working on it.

2. Make sure you have very good tools. We used needlenose pliers, a small flathead screwdriver, a hammer, a glue gun (our BFF), and an electric staple gun.

I do not recommend using an electric staple gun. You really need something more powerful that is run by an air compressor. You can’t use a nail gun because the fabric will rip off the tiny head of the nail, but I wouldn’t use a hand stapler either. The more power the better. The glue gun is probably not commonly used for upholstery but it was great for extra reinforcement and holding things in place. We also used some upholstery nails, which look like fancy thumb tacks.

3. Be thorough with your demolition and stripping. I was glad we chose not to cover the original fabric with the new fabric. Stripping it down worked well for us. You also don’t want to leave a lot of the original staples because you may accidentally try to put a new staple into an old one, which clearly won’t work.

Our process:

Disclaimer – we had no idea what we were doing for the most part. So I am definitely not saying you should follow our approach to this project! :)

We started with the sides and the front-back of the chair. We draped the fabric over the front and sides of the chair, my mom made a Y shaped cut on the seat and we tucked furiously into all the crevices.

After we stapled and secured the left outer side, we stapled the top back of the chair.

As far as the back piece of fabric, we were able to pull it all the way through the chair at the bottom and secure it to a board in the back. Then we put the seat piece of fabric on with the same method of draping and tucking. We also pulled that through the back. You can see the inside guts of the back of the chair below.

We then attached upholstery nails/tacks to the bottom front edge. It was not easy, those little boogers were not going into the wood without a fight! Now that the top and sides were tucked and secured at the top and bottom and the seat was done, we decided to work on the back legs.

Then, we moved to the arms and then the front legs. The arms were tricky because we had so much excess fabric. I couldn’t find many example pictures online of how other people had done the arms so my mom came up with something herself. First she trimmed off some of the excess fabric.

We put a staple in the bottom to keep the underneath fabric secured. Then she folded over each side of the underneath fabric and glued it down. After that, she tucked the excess fabric underneath the main part she was going to fold over and folded it down.

Glue was great for securing what we folded over underneath. Especially because we couldn’t put staples on the outside or they would show. You can’t see it in this photo but we also put a couple upholstery nails in the very bottom of the arm where the leg begins.

After the arms were done, all we had left to do was the back of the chair. At this point we were relying a lot more heavily on the glue gun than the staple gun, because the staples kept doing this:

Which was frustrating. We ended up using glue all the way around the back except for the bottom. On the bottom we cut off some extra fabric, folded it over, and used the staple gun one last time to secure it.

Overall, it turned out great. But, we will most likely never attempt this project again! It took over 8 hours to do, with two people! I have great respect for upholsterers.

Here’s the before and after:



If you have any questions or feedback on our project, leave a comment! And if you like the final product, let us know! Thanks for reading!


5 thoughts on “DIY: Chair Re-Upholstery

  1. Hey girls, that chair looks pretty cool. Whatever method you used, over all it looks great. And I love the fabric, too.

  2. I love the fabric! My guest room is all yellow and gray because I love those two colors together! Good job! And I hear ya on the time and patience it takes– I started a few “small” projects and found them to take more effort than I expected- ha!

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