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How to reupholster a chair and breathe new life into old furniture

Summary List PlacementIf you have a well-loved but worn piece of furniture, you can breathe new life into it by reupholstering. Lots of people recover their furniture, or just change the fabric. But maybe you might want to give your chair a top-to-bottom makeover and try reupholstering it, which involves replacing the fabric, padding and other soft materials.  "If a piece of furniture is made of high-quality materials and well built and has good bones, then reupholstery is a good option," says Grace Reff, an upholsterer in Nashville, Tennessee.  While complex upholstery should be reserved for the professionals, furniture with simple,...

A woman reupholstering a dining chair

Summary List Placement

If you have a well-loved but worn piece of furniture, you can breathe new life into it by reupholstering. Lots of people recover their furniture, or just change the fabric. But maybe you might want to give your chair a top-to-bottom makeover and try reupholstering it, which involves replacing the fabric, padding and other soft materials. 

“If a piece of furniture is made of high-quality materials and well built and has good bones, then reupholstery is a good option,” says Grace Reff, an upholsterer in Nashville, Tennessee. 

While complex upholstery should be reserved for the professionals, furniture with simple, straight lines can be reupholstered at home, says Greg Freeman, former upholsterer and founder of Comfort and Flair, a publication focused on home decor. 

“A good DIY project would be simple dining room chair seats,” Freeman said. After that, you can move on to more complex projects, like armchairs.

Before you get started

A worn out arm chair

Before you start reupholstering, take a minute to decide whether reupholstering your chair is worth it. 

“Not all pieces of furniture are good candidates for reupholstery,” says Reff. Stick to pieces that are made from real wood, or other quality materials that will last for years. Keep in mind that reupholstering can be more expensive than buying a replacement piece. 

If you’ve decided to move ahead, find a spot where you can work uninterrupted. Reupholstering a chair can be a long process — taking a day or more — and you’ll want to know that your materials are exactly where you left them. Take a moment to plan your project and consider things like whether the fabric has a pattern that needs to be centered on the chair, as well as what parts of the chair will be reused, like buttons, padding, or decorative trim. Then, take detailed pictures of the chair from multiple angles, focusing on corners and decorative details. ​​

“These photos can be helpful visual references as you reupholster the piece,” Reff says.

Tips and tricks for reupholstering your chair

  • Choose the right fabric. The durability of fabric is measured in double rubs, a unit of measuring how wear and tear will affect fabric. If you’re refinishing a piece that will be used daily, opt for a fabric with at least 15,000 double rubs. 
  • Stain or paint first. If you’re refinishing the wood parts of a chair, do that before you add new fabric. 
  • Take pictures. Once you’ve deconstructed your chair, it can be hard to put it back together. Take lots of pictures, particularly of detailed areas, to make reassembly easier. 
  • Steam your fabrics. Using the old fabric cuts as templates is a great way to work, but most old coverings are often crumbled and misshapen. Steaming them can give you a more accurate template.
  • Wear eye protection. If you’re reupholstering an older piece or one that is moldy, consider wearing a mask as well.

Insider’s takeaway

To reupholster a chair well, move slowly and pay attention to detail, realizing that the measurements and details of the finished product are right before you. Deconstruct the chair with care so that you can use the old fabric and cushioning to guide your rebuild. Remember, upholstery is often a slow process. 

“Patience is the key,” says Freeman.

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