How to Reupholster a Chair


Beautiful dining and side chairs are a common find at estate sales from Olympia to Gig Harbor. And when you find a piece with good bones, but it doesn’t quite fit your style, you can always make it your own. Do keep in mind, the simpler the chair, the easier the project – dining chairs will be easy, and a wing back chair will be more challenging. We have outlined the steps here.

Before you get started, here is a list of suggested materials

  • Staple gun

  • Pliers

  • Scissors

  • Paint/Stain Supplies (brushes, drop cloth, tack cloths, old rags)

  • Fabric and Batting

Step One: Deconstruct

To deconstructing your chair, find what the chair maker did last, which is usually that is the underside of the chair, and try your hardest to keep fabric intact. You want to use it as a pattern.

Generally, here is how deconstruction goes:

  1. Remove the dust cover, found on the underside of the seat

  2. Go to the back and remove the fabric

  3. Next, are likely the sides, then the seat

  4. Remember how you took it apart. Take good notes or take photos. Reupholstering a chair can take a few days, and while you can rely on your memory good documentation is helpful.

Step Two: Prep and Check

Preparing your new chair is the next step. You will want to give it a good cleaning. Dust away cobwebs, and check to make sure the chair is structurally sound. Look for broken or missing pieces and make any necessary repairs.

If you are going to paint or stain, you’ll need to sand the piece to remove old stain, and then clean with a tack cloth. A tack cloth is invaluable in the world of reupholstering. It is sticky cotton rag that removes all the dust created by sanding and gives your piece a nice smooth finish.

Step Three: Paint or Stain

If you’re painting, furniture restoration experts recommending priming all surfaces before you paint. And the type of primer (latex or oil-based) should match the type of paint you’re using. We have found great success with latex paints and primers, and there is no harsh odor.

Start at the top and work your way down and be sure to keep an eye out for drips.

If you’re staining, choose your stain and varnish. Most experts recommend a water-based varnish.

Because stain color can vary, here’s a pro tip test the stain on the underside of the chair to make sure it’s the color you want.

Once you have exactly what you want, stain your piece, and then lightly sand with 220 grit sandpaper. Finish by applying varnish, starting at the top, and working your way down.

Step Four: Re-cover

Before you start the process of recovering your chair, you will need to choose your fabric, and make sure you have enough. Check out this helpful chart that shows how much fabric you will need. And when you’re looking for fabric, look for upholstery fabric. It can be purchased from your local fabric store, or online.

You will use the original fabric to create a pattern and cut out your new fabric. We recommend cutting slightly larger than you think, after all, it’s easier to remove fabric than to start over.

Step Five Put it back together

Now you’re finally ready to put it all back together. You will start with seat, move to the back and sides. Be sure to pull the fabric tight, and don’t be afraid to ask for an extra set of hands to help pull and hold the fabric while you staple it back in place.

There is a sense of satisfaction when you have completed a project like this. But if you need help, give us a call. We can recommend a local company who can help.

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