Posts Tagged ‘projects’

How to Re-Upholster a Chair

Sometimes you find yourself living in a house that you didn’t even know was yours.  What I mean by that is that one day your vision clears and you see clearly for the first time.  What you thought you liked you now realize is gauche and what you thought you had the strongest distaste for?  Well, now you are discovering just how clueless you were.  The stuff you hated before now appeals to you more than ever.  You finally get it!

So, go to the cellar and poke around.  There is something there left behind by someone years before you came along.  And for years now, instead of throwing it on the curbside for pick-up, you’ve just been shuffling it from one spot to another without much wonder for where it came from, who it belonged to, why it is still in the cellar, or what will become of it.  It is dirty, dusty, sooty even.  And it smells dank.

(I like the word ‘dank’.  Don’t you?  It’s tough and nasty at the same time.  We used to know a guy called ‘Dank’, short for his last name ‘Dankovitch’.  He was tall with a curly brown mop of hair like Magnum P.I.  And he was too tan and sported cut-off jean shorts!)

Bring it upstairs and let it breath for a minute.  Or a week.  Get to know it even though you don’t much want to touch it.  Consider it’s style.  Huh.  Who knew you were a fan of Danish Modern?

Now that you know its name and you are sure that you like it, it’s time to get down to business.  This is like furniture boot camp.  You have to break it down to its bare bones, strip it of everything it’s ever known before and then build it up again in a new and improved image.  This will be a chair that salutes you when you enter the room and then kindly offers you a seat.  Of course, if you are going to undress this thing, you’re going to have to touch it.  It’s dirty because it’s old and no one has cared for it in so many years, including you.  So grab what you need to deal with it and get to work. 

Now it’s time to shop around for some new clothes for this baby.  Get over to the fabric shop and buy fabric, cotton batting, upholstery tacks and foam.  If you are anything like me, don’t expect to re-upholster your chair in a day.  What takes so long?  Decisions, decisions, decisions.  The basic materials, the ones hidden from view, are easy.  But the fabric is ultimately the most important and after all the hard work you will put into rehabilitating this old piece, the last thing you want to discover when it is done is that you don’t really love the fabric you chose.  Or worse, you can’t stand to look at it, which means back to the cellar for this poor thing.  I shopped around for fabric on different occasions for about a month while the chair sat in my entry hall wearing its old clothes.  I spent countless moments staring at it, burning its image into my brain so that I could reference it at the fabric store.  And still I brought home the wrong material.  But this is why, even after you make a purchase, you don’t start re-upholstering on the spot.  Ever hear of sample swatches?  I draped that first material over the chair and walked past it, taking furtive glances from every angle, for a week or more before I accepted my awful faux pas.  Then back to the store it was, to make a return and shop some more.  Once you do settle on a fabric that is just right, you may begin.  You have my express consent and permission.

One of the main reasons why I challenged myself to this project and absolutely encourage it is because I do not support the consumerist lifestyle that has swallowed the country.  Gluttony is everywhere. What do you think becomes of all that old furniture?  Meanwhile, some folks on Earth, the very same planet that you and I live on, sit on the ground.  Shopping for new furniture is sometimes a must and the old stuff sometimes has no proper place anymore but the landfill.  Just consider, there are many resources where you can find older models in top structural form at fractions of the cost of new furniture.  You could buy a timeless piece at a garage sale or the Goodwill.  You would still be contributing to the economy, especially once you purchase your tools and materials.  But you would be cutting back on pollution;  less landfill and no contribution to a modern manufacturing warehouse.  You will develop a new skill and have a story to tell.

So, back to the chair.  If you’ve paid close attention to how things were originally put together when you were disassembling the chair, you should have no problem re-assembling it with the new materials.  I used an electric carving knife to cut my foam (which I didn’t get a picture of, but it is firm and green) into the appropriate sizes for the back and seat.  I wrapped cotton batting over the foam and tightly around both the back and the seat and used a staple gun to secure the batting along the back of the wooden frame.  Tightness is very important here.

Important tip:  Use the old fabric pieces as templates to cut your new fabric, with about 2-3 inches extra.  Remember, everything must be pulled as tightly as you can manage.  I’d never upholstered or re-upholstered anything before, so I just used my good judgement and skillful fingers to create the appropriate folds along the corners of the chair.  Even when I pulled and folded as tightly as I could, I could not match the skill of the original, which was obviously done in a shop.  Still, I managed a fairly good job and I don’t think anyone would interrogate this chair on suspicion of loose folds!

The most difficult challenge was getting the armrests back on after the chair was re-upholstered.  I’d failed to mark exactly where they were and cut slits through the cotton batting for the bolts.  For lack of a professional method, I used a penknife to cut x’s where the bolts would go in and relied on the bolt to tighten up on the edges of the hole to prevent the fabric from tearing away or fraying.  It actually worked quite well so leave your skepticism at the door!


And now, just for fun, you can search for the perfect adornment, sort of like a new pair of earrings.  Ten-hut!


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