reupholster a chair1

How to Reupholster and upcycle and Old chair yourself.

Jamie from C.R.A.F.T is the newest addition to my contributor team here on IC. I met Jamie at the Haven Conference this year and absolutely adored her so I am glad to showcase her here.

Reupholstering seems scary at first. I admit I was frightened the first time I did it. I think you will find the scariest part is ripping out the first staple.

Jamie breaks it down in this easy tutorial on how to reupholster a chair and she is a newbie at this. If she can do it you can too! Plus the results are stunning!

Can You Reupholster a Chair Yourself?

Reupholstering a chair is a daunting task. I stared at this crusty, free thing for 6 months before I got up the courage to rip it up and figure it out. It’s a smelly, messy project, but seriously, not that hard or time consuming.

Yes, it is possible to reupholster a chair yourself. It will help if you have some experience with DIY projects, are comfortable using tools, and have the patience to learn new skills.

Reupholstering a chair can be a rewarding and cost-effective way to give an old piece of furniture new life. The end result can be a beautiful, custom piece of furniture that you can be proud of.

Let me tell you that this DIY project can get interesting as you start with one.

How to reupholster a chair

Upcycling an Old Chair

The first decision to make is: Are you going to attempt to keep the springs or gut the entire chair and use the plywood + foam method?

The nice Jo-Ann Fabrics lady convinced me to ditch the springs. She explained that back in the day, they didn’t have foam and the only way to make a comfortable chair was to use springs.

Did I mention, if you keep the springs you will have to buy special string to re-tie the springs, special burlap strips to cover the springs, and fabric to cover the burlap?

Trust me on this one, ditch the springs. Here is my chair in her original sad form. She doesn’t even look so bad in this picture, but the wicker was super worn and the cushion is what really grossed me out.

It’s stained and crusty and who knows how old! I also engaged my kids in this process to get things rolling.

old chair before reupholstery

The chair lived in the corner with a blanket over the cushion for 6 months. If you want to ditch the old fabric and use new fabric for different parts of the chair, you can go ahead.

how to reupholster a chair

Here’s a close up of the cushion fabric! Ouch!

measuring out seat cushion fabric

It’s the new upholstery fabric. Take a look at the insides.

Essential Reupholstering Tools

These are not fancy, in fact I had all of them already on hand. I won the chalk paint at Haven (read more here). So, even that was free!

The Dremel is not necessary, but helpful for cutting and sanding the plywood. The only tool not shown in the picture that we used is a hand saw.

Note that you need a hammer. Don’t miss it. On the other hand, you also need a sewing machine to stitch seams and try piping corners to give beautiful layers to the fabric.

the tools you need for upholstery

Is It really Worth the Effort?

The hardest part of reupholstering is deciding to go for it! Once that happens, you’re golden.

Nothing like the pride of looking at a piece that you have (sort of) created yourself and that, listen to this: It’s UNIQUE!

Ripping It Off

Here’s my first rip… The black dust cover comes off super easily. It’s fun!

removing dust cover

Under the black stuff was a lovely burlap criss cross which also rips off super easily…

Don’t you want something that’s durable?

removing webbing from old chair

Like I said, my chair is old and really smelly. I didn’t use gloves, but that would not be a bad investment! Keep a trash bag and vacuum handy… there are a lot of loose pieces.

Oh yea, I would totally suggest doing it outside. Sadly, I don’t have that option living on the 17th floor of a building.

removing springs from an old chair

As I ripped, I pulled out as many staples/ nails I could. There are tons. Literally, 100’s in my chair.

Get Tools Ready

When you work on home decor items, you should always hold tools like hot glue, staple remover, needle nose pliers, screwdriver, scissors, and other hardware appropriate to the project.

springs on an old chair

I loved picking these out. So. much. fun. NOT.

removing staples from an old chair

After I got the bottom of the chair gutted, I started on the back of the cushion.

I used the flat head screw driver to pry the welting out of the crack of my chair. You have to do this to all 4 sides of the chair.

how to reupholster a chair

When I first started the reupholstery project, I thought I was going to keep the springs. That’s why I started painting the chair at this stage.

TIP: Don’t do that. Gut the entire thing before painting, and don’t try to keep the springs.

old chair stripped

A New Coat Of Paint

Here I am painting the chair before it was entirely gutted.

It was certainly a learning process.

painting a wicker chair

If I would have done more research, I would have started painting the chair at this stage, but that’s ok… live and learn, right?

The arrows indicate where I had to re-paint once deciding to ditch the springs. I also used the wood putty to fill the holes on the rim of the chair.

One of my very favorite things about chalk paint is that the paint does not smell. Since painting outside is not an option, chalk paint it a life saver. Not to mention, there is no sanding involved and it covers well.

chalk painted chair

The Cushion

Moving on to the cushion.

Buy a 2″ firm foam cushion (mine was from JoAnn’s at 40% off)

Use the mini saw to cut the foam

new chair cushion

I had the saw left over from cutting balsa wood for this project in the kitchen.

Use newspaper to make a fancy stencil.

cutting foam for chair

Believe it or not, the mini XACTO saw worked great for cutting the foam!

TIP: use the mini saw like a knife cutting bread.

easiest way to cut foam

Just checking to make sure she fits in the chair!

I had to give her a trim or 2…

foam for chair

The PlyWood

Once the foam was cut, Andy jumped for joy reluctantly cut the ply wood for me.

We bought a 1/2″ 2′ X 4′ handy panel from Home Depot and I used my newspaper stencil to show Andy where to cut.

Remember, we live in the 17th floor of a building, we don’t have a backyard or fancy tools. Andy cut the piece of wood with a Dremel and a hand saw.

cutting out new cushion bottom

No saw horses for us, we use the outdoor furniture!

chair bottom

Once we got the shape right, I put the sanding tool on the Dremel and used that to make the board fit perfectly in the chair.

how to reupholster a chair

how to reupholster a chair

Once the board is cut, you’re almost done! It’s time to actually upholster.


You’re going to lay everything out nice and pretty, like the picture below. It’s an upholstery sandwich.

Lay fabric, batting, foam, and then board on a flat surface. Use the staple gun to staple the batting to the board.

Then use the staple gun to attach the fabric to the board. Pull the fabric as you go, and don’t just do one side at a time.

Here is the bottom of my almost finished upholstery job. The only thing left to do is cut the excess fabric off.

how to reupholster a chair cushion

Once the seat cushion is done, plop that bad boy into place and enjoy your new and improved chair!

orange wicker chair

before and after chair

How Much Should You Expect to Pay to Reupholster a Chair?

The cost of reupholstering a chair can range widely depending on a variety of factors, so it’s important to do your research and get several quotes before deciding how to proceed.

If you choose to hire a professional to reupholster your chair, you can expect to pay anywhere from $200 to $1,000 or more, depending on the complexity of the job and the cost of materials. Some upholsterers may charge an hourly rate, while others may charge a flat fee for the entire project.

If you decide to tackle the project yourself, as we did, you can save money on labor costs but will still need to factor in the cost of materials.

Here’s the Cost Breakdown for our chair which cost just under $53. It is quite good and I am so pleased!

Cost breakdown:

  • Chair- free
  • Paint- free
  • Staple gun- already owned
  • 2in foam pad- $13.99 (bought with 40% off coupon)
  • 1.5 yard of upholstery fabric- $12.99 (50% sale)
  • 1/2 in board- $15.97
  • 1 yard of Batting- $10.00 (40% off coupon)

Grand Total: $52.95

I feel very proud of myself for pulling the upholstery trigger on this one! Another great thing is that now that the chair is gutted and the cushion is built, changing the paint and fabric for the next makeover will be a whole heck of a lot easier.

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