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Midcentury Chair Before and After

10 May 2010 48,279 views 12 Comments

by heather

I just wanted to show you my little before and after chair makeover project. This isn't dollar store-y, but I did stashbust for this project! We got these two chairs (cute midcentury mod!) when we moved into our last house; the previous occupant left them (and a few other pieces of furniture). They had already been recovered with some unattractive beige fabric (probably in the 1980s - the fabric has the telltale country blue and dusty rose accents).

These are the go-to chairs for my preschool sons, who sit on them when they paint, play with playdough, and stand on them when they help me cook in the kitchen. I'm sorry to say our contribution to the ugly beige covers are all those stains! Ick! (Sorry if this photo made you lose your appetite, or your respect for me!) The seat covers were ugly, and ruined, and the finish was chipping off.

You'll probably agree with me that these chairs (1960s, you think?) have seen better days. I like the shape, and I had extra paint left over from a building project I haven't told you about yet, so I decided to paint them and recover the seats. I've heard it's pretty simple, so I wanted to find out just HOW simple!

Re-covering the seats

I'm sorry I didn't take process photos because I didn't intend to write a tutorial. I'll describe how I did it, and there are so many chair-recovering tutorials floating around out there. And really, this is a good jump-in-and-figure-it-out project. Every chair is different, but you will probably need some of the same things for your project:


  • Screwdriver (or electric screwdriver/drill, which is what I used)
  • Paint and paintbrush for refinishing
  • Fabric, enough to cover your seat with 4-6" fabric hanging over on all sides
  • Staple gun with staples

Total cost: FREE because I used stuff I already had on hand!

Steps for recovering seat:

  1. Remove screws that hold on the seat (see above photo). Our chair had four screws, which I removed with a heavy duty electric screwdriver.
  2. (Optional): Remove old seat-cover fabric. In my case, I removed the previous added fabric (which had been tacked on with thumbtacks!), but left the original seat cover (white vinyl) intact and just covered over it, like the previous DIY'er had done.If you decide to completely remove the existing fabric and padding, save the fabric to use for a template for your new fabric, and either save the padding or cut new padding in the same shape. I didn't do that, so I can't give any more specific advice than that.

    (This is what the bottom of the fabric looked like after I reassembled the chair - see the old white vinyl? Those chairs must have been awesome when they were first made!)

  3. Lay new fabric good-side down, and then lay seat over it, face down. Wrap fabric around the seat so that the edge of the fabric comes up around the seat. Staple fabric to the bottom of the seat, all the way around the seat, pulling it taut as you staple.I began on the side that goes toward the back of the chair, and stapled a few anchor staples, and then worked my way around the seat, stapling anchor staples. After I got the whole thing stapled (I just pulled tightly at every place where I stapled), I went around and made sure the fabric was secure. I probably stapled about 30-50 staples per seat.

I used stash fabric to recover my seats. I originally wanted to use some Pendleton wool blanket off-cuts I had, but they had been attacked by mice in the garage, and weren't in useable condition. I then found some sturdy cowboy print fabric that happened to match the paint (total happy accident). I only had enough of the cowboy fabric to do one seat, but I found some red corduroy that compliments the cowboy fabric. Happy accident #2. (Oh, and on my computer, these look rooster red, but they're darker than that!)

Cheapster tip: Corduroy looks a lot like velvet, but it's a lot cheaper and wears better.

When I flipped the seats over after stapling them, I couldn't believe how great they looked! It made me wonder what took me so long to tackle this project. I loved the fabric, and it stretched right over the seats. I was afraid it would end up being saggy, or not straight (especially for the corduroy, since there's a distinct line running across the seat with that fabric).

Painting the chairs

I didn't do any of the prep I should have (mostly sanding), although I did wash them to remove the built-up kiddie paint and playdough! Since these are workhorse chairs for us, I just jumped in and started painting. My almost-4 year-old son helped me paint the chairs dark brown. He took charge of one chair, and I took charge of the other. He did a pretty good job of covering his chair (lots of excess drips--ha ha!), and I did an okay job of covering mine. I went over his chair when he was done painting, but apparently I missed a drip or two! Oops! You can't tell if you aren't looking closely.

We did two coats of paint, and I decided to just leave it at that because I needed to get the project finished, so I reattached the seats (with the aforementioned four screws), and then they were done!

I'm so happy with them! They turned out better than I imagined. I know they'll probably show wear sooner rather than later because of the slapdash painting job, but now that I know how easy it is to transform chairs, I won't mind redoing them when the time comes. This was such a fun project with great results! I will definitely be on the lookout for old nasty chairs with potential now.

Before and after!

I know this is like kindergarten to you veteran furniture make-over-ers, but this is new to me! And, I did it all myself!

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  • Ali said:

    Soooo Cute! im looking for chairs like this so i can re-cover them for my dining room. Im happy to know that its easy! And my boyfriend will be even happier to know he won’t have to help! haha

  • Stephanie said:

    wow. That is a HUGE improvement. Way to go. Oh, and the stained chairs only made me love you more. You do have 3 crazy, artistic boys, after all. Only thing I would add is that when I did this, I added a layer of clear vinyl. It has saved my chairs SO much staining and it doesn’t make the project any more difficult, unless you have to drag your 2 or 3 kids to the store just to buy the vinyl. That would definitely add to the difficulty factor.

  • Sophia said:

    Great job! I was always a little afraid of this sort of thing, too, but I recovered our dining room chairs a few years back when I found the perfect fabric on clearance at Wal-Mart. I also added clear vinyl, but that’s mostly because we entertain a lot and I didn’t want parents to have to stress about what their kids might be doing to my formal dining room chairs. :) (My kids are plenty messy, too, BTW.)

    I’ll second the vote to just jump right in and try it! It’s really quite easy. I had never used a staple gun before, but I did the whole thing by myself (8 chairs) in a day. My husband was impressed! :)

  • J.Hill said:

    Awesome! Once my darn allergies clear up, I am going to be spraypainting and recovering a chair I got at a garage sale a few weeks back. Thanks for the confidence boosting tutorial!

  • Katherine Campbell said:

    For seat covers, i prefer to use cotton or polyester woven fabric because i like its feel.,`;

  • Kathy V. said:

    great job Heather! Now they are cute and usable for busy boys!

  • Amanda said:

    I love them!! The chairs rocked anyway, but you totally kicked them up. So awesome Heather!

  • CraftFail » Blog Archive » Pendleton Wool Fail said:

    […] too impatient to wait for a washing machine and hang dry session to finish my chair project, so I went another direction for the seat covers. It was probably a good thing, too, because check out the spaghetti monster that awaited when I […]

  • laura said:

    wow these look awesome, I’m excited to start mine, although I do have a padded part on top that I’m nervous to do.

  • esme said:

    i found you through style-for-style and i love your makeovers! The black looks great with the red, and i love it with the cowboy fabric too. nice job.

  • Question: Cool November Decoration Ideas? | Dollar Store Crafts said:

    […] Butler Lotus Lacework Olive — it's currently $8.98 a yard, but you could easily recover a thrifted chair with this fabric, which would be a nice touch of pattern for […]

  • Christine said:

    They look great! I love the print and the corduroy. I have covered every single chair here, but usually don’t have to paint. The dark brown looks great with the deep reds. One thing that I learned, after my hand was aching…POWER STAPLER! and one with POWER…taking out a staple that didn’t go all the way in was the pits.