HOME OFFICE REFRESH: How to paint and reupholster boring old office chairs
I’ve had these old office chairs for years. Back in the day when I had a real job and actual clients, they served their intended purpose – blending in to the boring office décor and providing an unassuming place for clients to sit and chat. They certainly were not the star of the show. I have kept them through the years, though. I’ve moved them from office to office and house to house. I’ve used them in different capacities like holding clothes I refuse to hang up in my closet or extra seating at my husband’s office. However, I always knew they could be more.
When I decided to give my home office a refresh, I reunited them. I retrieved one from my closet and the other from my husband’s break room. I’ve been looking at them for months, trying to decide what I was going to do to give them new life. I actually painted the fabric on one of them. (That’s a story for another time, though.) I got out all the fabrics I’ve been hoarding to see if there was anything I liked for these chairs. I decided on this green and blue modern floral design because it had a lot of pop and I thought I had enough to cover both chairs.
Once I had decided on the fabric, I analyzed paint options for the arms and legs. I am also a hoarder of paint, so I got out red, gold, white, dark gray – the usual colors in my arsenal. None of them felt just right, however. We had recently planted some sweet potato vines in the backyard and I had been admiring the beautiful bright green color for a while. (Great idea for planters coming soon.) I had even bought a can of spray paint that color for another outdoor project. (Also coming soon.) Since I was already pretty out there with my fabric choice, I just went for the green.
Yes, I also hoard cardboard, so I drug out a large piece of cardboard to the backyard and spray painted the arms and legs of the chairs. I used Devine Color by Valspar Satin Color Paint & Primer in Apple. There was a bit of a learning curve there for me with the sprayer. Once I learned to press with two fingers instead of one, I was okay. I didn’t do any taping or covering of the fabric since I was planning to recover or replace it. I just sprayed every part I could get to. I turned the chair upside down and sprayed underneath. I ran out of paint and had to make a trip to Target, but I used two full cans of paint and had an extra can just in case.
I decided to let the paint cure for a week or two before I started to handle the chairs or do anything to the fabric. After a few weeks, I had a day to myself, so I decided I’d work on the fabric. I had a crazy idea to use spray adhesive to glue the new fabric on to the old. I thought this might work because I just didn’t think there was any way to take these chairs apart. However, my mother convinced me to see if I could take them apart and I’m glad that I did.
I started on the bottom. I took the black felt type fabric off with a flathead screw driver by lifting the staples out of the chair. I set that fabric aside to use as a pattern for its replacement. I didn’t find any revelations there. I looked at the frame of the chair and didn’t see any way to take the chair apart.
Next, I took the back piece of fabric off and cut into the white mesh fabric that was underneath so I could get a look at the inside of the back. I found a small hole on either side of the inside frame of the back cushion and I decide that was what was holding the back cushion on. I couldn’t see in the hole, so I got out a flash light and my phone. I tried to point the flash light into the hole and take a picture with flash at the same time. After several attempts, I had a decent picture I could zoom in on, but I didn’t recognize what it was. It didn’t look like the head of a screw I could unscrew. Also, I couldn’t get a good angle on it even if it was a screw. I was pretty sure I was at a stopping point. I was thinking this might be one of those surgeries where the doctor decides they would be doing more harm than good and just closes the patient back up.
I decided not to try and remove any more fabric, but to put the new fabric on top of the old fabric. I thought…I can still cover the bottom and the back cushions separately if I just push the fabric through between the two cushions. I tried, but found two screws that went from underneath the chair through the bottom seat and into the back of the chair. I removed those screws to have a clear passage for the fabric, but when I started to push the fabric through, the back cushion pushed out. This is when I found this really cool hidden rotating joint. I felt a little like a Goonie when they found One-Eyed Willie. I wasn’t able to remove the back cushion, but I was able to rotate it all the way around and hold it flat while I wrapped it with fabric. It was the key to the whole project. I’m sure there are professional upholsterers or furniture makers that know exactly what it is, but this being my first attempt at upholstery, I was surprised.
Here is a little secret about me…I have analysis paralysis. So, when it came to cutting the fabric, I spent lots of time analyzing before cutting. Growing up with a wood working father I learned, measure twice, cut once. This lesson applies to wood and fabric alike. So, I unfolded my fabric onto the floor and looked at it. I got some newspaper and laid it out on the chair to make a pattern. I taped some newspaper together and trimmed it up until I had a pretty good idea of how big of a piece of material I was going to need. Since I had two chairs, I wanted to make sure my patterns would fit twice on the fabric. I also looked at the pattern of the fabric to determine how I wanted to line everything up. Since the fabric had large circles, I wanted to center them width wise on the chair. I was worried about cutting the fabric too large for the bottom cushion and not leaving enough fabric for the back. I ultimately decided the width I’d need and cut that section off of the fabric. I used that section for the bottom and back cushions, but I did not cut it apart until after I attached the fabric to the bottom cushion. (This is hard to put into words, so check out my pictures below.)
You will have to cut into the fabric to get it wrapped around the legs. This is the scary part, so I pulled up a few YouTube videos before I did it. Of course, there was no video of anyone upholstering my exact chair. I just decided I’d use my instincts and go for it. It was sort of like wrapping a present. I did cut in at an angle and cut off the corners to reduce the bulk. I would not get too carried away cutting here, though. Be double sure of your cuts.
Yes, I used an office stapler to staple my fabric on. Did it work? Yes, for the most part. I could use some reinforcements around the legs where the fabric is thicker, so I am going to borrow a fabric stapler from a friend just to sturdy everything up. But, surprisingly enough that little Swingline worked.
I also used a few sprays of Elmer’s Multipurpose Spray Adhesive on the back cushion because it has a slight curve. I did not think the fabric would hold to the curve without it.
I did not have enough fabric to also cover the back side of the chairs, so picked out something else from my pile of fabrics.
You never really know what you are getting into, but once you get started, you can’t stop. If you have something you’d like to refresh, go for it.
Three separate days
One day to spray paint
Dry time in between
One day per chair to upholster – 6 hours, but I was super slow
Fabric – 3 yards? – previously purchased for another project
Spray paint – 2 cans
Newspaper for a pattern
Office Stapler and staples
Flat head screw driver
Philip’s head screw driver
Let paint cure before upholstering
Don’t cut fabric until you are sure
An office stapler will get you started if your fabric isn’t too thick
Go bold or go home
You never know what you’ll find
If you like this idea, check out the bookshelf redo I did with metallic paint to go with these office chairs here.