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Old Art, New Twist: How to Reupholster in a Modern Way

Updated: Jul 19, 2021

As with most trends, they have a way of coming back around. Right now, we're seeing a large shift back to wallpapering walls and gold antique framing. Reupholstering is a trend that you don't hear of as often mostly due to the more affordable cost of buying new furniture and the large expense to pay someone to reupholster. The perk of choosing to reupholster is you can keep nice pieces of furniture and simply update them in a custom way. Admittedly, wing back chairs should be left to the experts but today's blog will walk you through the steps of how to update dining room chairs in a way that is modern and customized to your space.

Picking a fabric

While it's easy to get excited about all the fabric options, there are a few key things to keep in mind while shopping specifically for reupholstery: stretch, thickness, durability, pattern and nap. In the case of dining chairs, they will be used regularly and prone to spills. If you choose a white linen not only will it show food stains but a seated individual's jeans might rub off some color as well. You will also want a fabric that has slight stretch so you can get the right amount of tension while recovering. On the other hand, if you chose a fabric with too much stretch then the integrity of the cushion will look warped over time. The beautiful thing about going to a fabric store is that the employees should be very knowledgeable on fabric characteristics and usages -- so if your head is spinning, rely on someone who works with fabric everyday.

Another thing to consider when picking a fabric is the era of the furniture you're recovering. Now, I'm not saying that you shouldn't try a bold fabric but you also don't want your reupholstered chairs to look like they belong in a kooky DIY booth. The chairs we recovered are well-made, Tell City brand pieces, most likely from the 70's. I wanted to stay authentic to the era yet make them look modernly fresh.

Measuring and cutting the fabric

With the chairs in our project, we were able to simply wrap the current cushion with our new fabric. The measuring process was simply running a sewing tape measure around the front of the cushion to the back (and side to side) to make sure there would be enough fabric to staple down. The chair measured 17 inches wide and 16 inches deep but we cut the fabric at 22 inches wide and 24 inches deep so it could easily wrap around all four sides. You will end up trimming the excess fabric beyond the staples so it's better to be generous on your measurements to make sure it fully wraps the cushion. In addition, the pattern needs to be taken into account before cutting your fabric. Test out different placements of the fabric on the front of the chair. By keeping all the chairs consistent, it will look more purposeful.

Attaching the fabric

The first step is to measure and mark the center of your chair cushion on the backside so you can properly place the center of your fabric's pattern. In our case, we had a large checkered pattern but we wanted to make sure a bold line went down the center of each chair -- this simple step will distinguish your project from DIY to look professional. Once you have the fabric placed, tack all four sides of the fabric with your staple gun. We used 3/8" staples since we were going over the existing cushion fabric and into a harder wood. If you look on the back of the staple boxes in your local home improvement store, it should give direction on the best use for each staple size.

The goal while attaching the fabric is to make it look like there is no bunching of the fabric. This is easier said than done since the fabric will need to be gathered together but you want this to happen on the backside not on the topside where it is visible. This part of the project is best done with two people: one gathering the fabric and the other stapling. The best process we found is to position fabric and tack with a single staple centered on each side. Then, work the corners by carefully easing in the fabric to reduce visible gathering on the edges. Work the fabric midway between two existing staples and then staple to secure. Continue this process until there are enough staples to hold the fabric taut.

Finalizing the chair

Once all of your cushions have been securely wrapped, the excess fabric will need to be cut so the chair cushion can sit flat on the chair base. Use your fabric scissors to get a clean cut near the row of staples. Also, take into consideration the placement of the screw holes used to attach the cushion to the chair base -- make sure the fabric isn't covering them. After trimming, it is time to reattach your cushion to it's rightful place! Make sure the cushion is flush around all sides and simply screw from underneath like you did in the beginning. Once the screws have caught, we flipped the chairs upright and had someone sit on them while screwing in the rest of the way to make sure the right amount of pressure was applied while securing the cushion.

And just like that you officially have a reupholstered chair! We repeated this process five more times to complete the set of dining room chairs. This project can make a real impact to a room but fair warning it does take a bit of time to complete a set of six chairs, so plan accordingly.

What do you plan to reupholster? We'd love to hear your comments and questions.




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