Easy DIY: give a vintage chair a new lease on life

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a gorgeous mid-century modern chair at Montreal Moderne on Amherst Street.  I was instantly attracted to its simple and elegant lines and thought that it would work perfectly as an occasional chair for the corner of my niece and nephew's bedroom. To be honest, the chair was in amazing shape and beautiful as-is, but I thought a burst of color would be more fitting for a kid's room.  So I bought a yard of colorful fabric on Etsy for a mere $8 (purchased with the approval of 5-year-old Noa, of course) to recover the seat cushion.

Have a look-see and tell me what you think!  PS:  recovering a chair seat is one of the easiest DIY's you could possibly do -  do not fear the staple gun!  Scroll down for instructions below.

Chair, before DIY

Chair, After DIY

What you'll need:

  • Chair
  • Fabric for the seat + underside backing (amount of fabric will differ on the seat size - I bought 1 yard and had plenty leftover)
  • Staple gun
  • Staples (make sure that the gauge of the staples match the staple gun requirements)
  • Flat head screwdriver or knife
  • Wrench
  • scissors
  • Ribbon
  • Iron-on adhesive
  • Batting (optional)
1. Separate the seat.
First thing's first - remove the seat from the chair.  Seats are usually fastened by a few screws on the underside of the chair, so grab your screwdriver and get crackin!
2. Measure and cut your new upholstery fabric.
Lay your fabric down on a clean surface area (wrong side up), and place the seat on top of it, paying close attention to the pattern alignment.
Fabric template for seat upholstery
Trim the fabric on all edges, leaving enough to fold it over the edge (I usually a fair amount of extra fabric, and then trim the excess after stapling.
Cut Fabric template for seat upholstery
Next up, cutting the fabric for underneath the seat.  This step is optional, but I wanted the chair to have a finished look from all angles.  I used a matching fabric and cut it to measure a little less than the seat dimensions.  Don't worry about the frayed edges, we'll cover that up afterwards with some ribbon.
Cut Fabric for backing
3. Remove existing upholstery.
This step is also optional but I decided to remove the leather, fearing that it could be a little slippery underneath the new fabric. To remove the existing seat upholstery, I pried a knife underneath each staple to loosen it (flat screwdriver might work better - and would probably be safer too!), and then used pliers to twist and pull the staple out.  This part was probably the most time-consuming part, because whoever upholstered it must have been trigger happy.  I think I counted over 200 staples - good times.
Removing Staples from Seat
Once all of the staples have been removed and safely discarded, you may want to check on the amount of batting on the seat.  Mine was perfectly fine and already stapled to the seat, so I left it as-is.
Seat with Batting
 Step 4: Iron the fabrics.
We're almost ready to upholster, but first - make sure to iron out any folds or creases in the fabrics.
Iron the fabric
Step 5 - Get out your staple gun + staple away!
And now, time for the power tool (PS - I heart power tools!!!).  Adam and I purchased a compressor last year, knowing that we'd have a lot of of reno work coming up.  We also bought a staple gun, which makes every upholstery project an absolute breeze.  Although I'm a staunch supporter of the compressor (arrr! arrr! arrrr!), you do not need to buy one for this project - an electric staple gun is perfectly fine.  We moved this part of the project down to the condo garage, so as not to disturb our friendly neighbors.
On a clean and flat work area, once again place the fabric wrong-side up, with the seat aligned to the pattern previously determined.  Fold the fabric over the edge on the first side, and holding the fabric taut at the center, staple it to the seat.  Work your way outwards from the center, making sure the fabric is smooth and tight, without bunches between the staples.
Stapling the Fabric
Corners can get a little tricky.  I'm no expert at corners, but what I did was make sure that the bunching of fabric occurs on the underside of the seat, keeping the fabric smooth on the top side.
Stapling corners
Step 6: Trim the excess.
Next, cut off all of the excess fabric and staple the loose ends of the corners down.
Cut the Excess Fabric
Step 7: staple the backing.
Next up, place the fabric backing over the seat (good side up) and staple it on all 4 sides.  The end result will look something like this:
Upholstered Seat
Step 8: Hide the seams. If you want.
If you want, you can stop here, put the chair back together, and call it a day.  But, being the perfectionist that I am, I decided to hide the seams with a ribbon.  To do this, I purchased some iron-on adhesive (which looks very much like a roll of double-sided tape), measured and cut it to the length of one side, and ironed it to the seat right on top of the seam.  Note: the adhesive should be ironed with the paper backing on top.
Iron the Adhestive to the seams
I then peeled the paper backing off, leaving a thin film of glue on the fabric.
Remove the adhesive backing
Finally, I placed the ribbon over the glue line and ironed for a few seconds, until the glue had adhered to the fabric.  Same process was repeated on each side.
Iron the Ribbon over the adhesive
Mount the seat back onto the chair and put the screws back in (you will have to pierce a small hole through the fabric backing first).  And....you're done!!!Final Result
One more DIY project to go for the kids room, and then I'll finally show the big reveal!  Are you ready for it???