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Project: Reupholstered, Refinished Dining Chair

May 16, 2011

Hello all!

I’m coming back from my break!  Student teaching documents and licensure applications have all been submitted and I could not be happier.  I decided to celebrate this with a project that I had been looking forward to for some time: finding a traditional dining chair and reclaiming it for our breakfast nook.

Let me start out with this: I love the breakfast nook, it is one of my favorite things about my apartment, it is why I decided on this apartment over several other beautiful options.  It is this perfect little room between the kitchen and main room, with a little window, white antique cabinetry, and a sitting area that came with white wooden built-in benches and a dining table.  I love it.  It is adorable.

My fiance is not a big fan of the nook, partially because I frequently take it over as a desk to write lessons, fill out paperwork, blog, and listen to NPR at (as I am doing now!), therefore making it too cluttered to be a real eating space.  The other reason he isn’t a great fan of it is becahe the benches are set rather high and the table rather low, so if you are even a bit taller than my slightly short 5′ 4 and 3/4″, you are prone to hitting your knees on the underside of the tabletop. 

I can try my best to avoid the paperwork pileup (even though a few days of it being an “office” here and there are unavoidable), but I thought that I could absolutely to something to deal with the “knee-bonking” factor.  I thought a dining chair on the end would be perfect, it could be pulled out more and set a little lower, thereby avoiding the inherent problems in our pre-1950, made for the shorter group nook.

I found this chair on Craiglist and thought that it had such potential.  And the lovely lady I bought it from was willing to part with it for $10!  What a deal.

Now, it was seriously dusty and in need of help, but I loved the cute shape of the back.  I started by pulling off the first chair cover, an awful tapestry fabric, to get at the original cushion (shown).  I then had to pry up the old cushion so that I could recover it and refinish the chair “bones”.  This is pretty simple, especially if you’re working with something older.  For example, the cushion on this chair was screwed in, but some prying with a flathead screwdriver pulled them right out, leaving the fram free for painting.

Now, the first step in refinishing an old wooden piece is giving it a quick cleaning.  You can then move on to sanding.  THIS IS SO IMPORTANT.  Don’t skip it.  You really need to get an even surface before you paint, otherwise a piece will inevitably chip and scratch, and it never does so in an antique-cute sort of way.  Also, I know it’s common sense for most people to ventilate when painting, but you need to do this when sanding, especially in an older, drier piece like this.  It turns up an ENORMOUS amount of dust.  To illustrate this, I’m showing this photo:

The darker portion of the chair is what has been sanded and wiped clean.  The lighter areas are all dust covered.  Gross.  That gets in your home and in your lungs.  VENTILATE.

Obviously, after looking at that, you know that you need to clean the now-sanded piece a second time, otherwise that dust will mix in with the paint.  You can then begin painting!

Priming is always a good idea, but I neglected to do so on this project, and it seems to have turned out ok.  I wound up needing to do three coats of paint.  I used a white color, in Glidden Satin Finish, for a nice shine that wouldn’t be too overwhelming.

After that, I could begin working on the cushion.  Very easy.  I found a GREAT bit of fabric in the drapery remnants section at Hancock Fabrics- if you’re working on a small project like this, the remnants section is your best friend.  It’s where great fabric goes when there is no longer enough of it to really sell anyone.  In particular, with upholstery and drapery fabric, this is the place to go, as people buy large amounts of those fabrics, so 5 yards of cloth falls into the “not enough” pile, as that wouldn’t work to cover a couch or chair.  I bought a beautiful green trellis patterned fabric for $4 a yard and picked up two yards, so as to have extra for other projects.

Reupholstering a dining chair cushion is incredibly easy and has lots of room for do-overs.  I started out by laying the fabric over the top of the cushion to figure out how I wanted the pattern to lay.  Then I began stapling the edges of the fabric along the underside of the cushion.  I have a heavy duty stapler, the kind you find in a hardware store, and have some stronger staples as well.  I’ve been told that you can do this with regular staples.  You continue the staples until you have attached all the fabric.  Make sure that you are pulling the fabric taught over the cushion so as not to get any unsightly wrinkles or air pockets.  If you find that halfway along the fabric is not sitting well (as I did!), simply pull the staples out and start over.  The advantage to doing this basic upholstery is that you have that luxury and doing it over is not too time consuming, as opposed to the bigger undertaking of reupholstering a couch or large chair. 

Once you have attached your fabric to your cushion, you can fit it back onto the chair (use glue or screws to attache more securely if need be), and enjoy!

Below are two pictures of the finished chair in its new space!  I’d love to hear what you think!

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