When I started planning the renovations for my currently in-construction office, I knew I would need a desk chair. I didn’t want just any old desk chair. Have you seen those things? Have you ever seen one that wasn’t a dark, solid color? I certainly haven’t. No prints. No patterns. No color. They are boring. And I don’t do boring.
I started thinking. I hit up Pinterest for some ideas. Then it occurred to me that if I could handle reupholstering a wingback recliner, I could surely handle reupholstering a little old office chair.
Something else you’ll learn about me is that I hate to pay full price for anything. The husband is an avid estate and yard saler. If he’s not working PM Friday or AM Saturday, he’s out at the crack of dawn, standing in line for his opportunity to dig through moldy basements for old, dusty boxes of records and ancient electronics. Occasionally, I will join him. There has to be something I desperately want for that to happen, though, because he doesn’t call me Rip (as in Van Winkle) for nothing. I like sleeping. A LOT. A few months ago, I was browsing through the photographs in an estate sale listing when I saw exactly what I’d been looking for. I rolled out of bed that Saturday and headed for the sale.
If you’ve never been to an estate sale, you should know that the quality of merchandise versus pricing at estate sales depends a lot on the company hosting the sale. Some companies are great, and you can get amazing things at a very low cost. Some other companies? Let’s just say there are a few who will never see my husband or me again and leave it at that.
The company that was selling my potential dream desk chair is one of my favorites. Their listings always have tons of photos. Their prices are always reasonable, and they don’t do presales, so everything is first come, first served, as it should be. At this sale, I not only got my chair for a paltry $5, but I also got an antique chandelier for a second Lincoln. And some books, of course. I don’t think I’ve ever walked away from a second hand sale without at least one book.
Here’s the chair.
Gross, right? Even if it weren’t dirty, stained, pilled, and snagged, it would still be beige. The important thing was that the structure of the chair was still solid, the mechanics worked perfectly and it appeared that most of the foam was still in great shape. It’s hard to tell exactly what will need replaced until the old fabric comes off.
The next step was falling in love with some fabric. It sometimes takes me months to decide on a fabric. I love pattern and color, and despite what the address of this website might imply, I am absolutely a perfectionist. Which means everything must match…exactly. As a result, choosing a fabric is often a long, arduous process of ordering sample upon sample until I fall in love with one that actually coordinates with everything else I’m doing in the room. Miraculously, my chair’s fabric soul mate arrived with the first batch of samples I ordered.
It’s called Wonderama Toucan by P/K Lifestyles. I love love love this fabric. It’s bold, it’s colorful, and it’s fun. It’s really strong, too, so I know it’ll hold up really well. And it coordinates perfectly with my cow painting (more on that in a later post). I ordered it immediately and got to work on the makeover. I started by removing the seat and back from the chair base. It was as simple as removing four bolts.
Then I removed the back rest from its support by driving the pin through with a Philips screwdriver and removing the screws holding the bracket to the back rest. That little silver circle is the pin and the black part is the bracket.
I’m making it sound easier than it was. In actuality, it was all out war. A war I won only because I have power tools. One of the metal grommets was loose in the wood, so the grommet was just turning as I tried to loosen the screw. I ended up having to pry the bracket off around the screw, cut the screw off with my Dremel, and then dig the grommet out of the seat back later in the process. There are three other screws holding the bracket on, and the way the support attaches hides the fact that a screw is missing. I decided I could live with it since no one will ever know. Imperfect improvements, yo.
Step 2 was pulling the two parts of the back rest apart. Basically, I jammed a flat head screwdriver between the sections and pried them away from each other. I removed the staples from each section and carefully took the fabric off. Due to the age of the chair, some of the original padding had essentially turned into dust. I ordered some 1” padding from Amazon to replace it.
In most cases, when I’m reupholstering a piece, I keep the original fabric to use as a pattern, because it’s not possible to take the piece apart. With something as simple as this chair, however, I just put the two back pieces and seat down on the wrong side of the new fabric and cut a square of fabric large enough to re-cover each piece, making sure I had enough to pull over the new padding as well. I decided to avoid disaster by working with the padding and fabric separately, as opposed to trying to get everything tight at once. I placed the padding right side down on the table and set the piece top down on the padding.
Because the backrest and seat of this chair are curved on the front, I wrapped the padding around the top center of the back rest and stapled it. At this point, it doesn’t have to be stretched tightly. The first staple is just an anchor for the rest of the piece. Next, I wrapped the padding around the bottom center of the back rest and stapled it. I had to pull the padding tightly for this step. Like, snare drum tight. Apologies if you weren’t a band geek in high school and don’t get that reference. It had to fit the curve of the back rest, so it had to be taut.
If you intend to do a lot reupholstering, I highly suggest purchasing a pneumatic stapler. I got one at Harbor Freight for less than $20. I already had an air compressor, but you can pick up a 3 gallon one for around $60, also at Harbor Freight. It’s a worthwhile investment.
I wrapped and stapled the padding on each end of the back rest. At this point I only had four staples in the piece. Then I worked around the rest of the piece, wrapping the padding as tightly as possible and making folds where necessary. If you think folding padding is easy, I’m here to enlighten you. It’s not. My advice is to use as many staples as possible to make it neat.
Once all the padding was stapled nice and tight around the piece, I followed the same basic process with the fabric. I’m extremely particular about folds showing on the curves of whatever I’m reupholstering, so I use as many staples as it takes to keep that from happening. Keep in mind you can always pull a staple and redo a fold if necessary. I had a little bit of a hiccup with the back of the back rest. The staples I had for my air gun were too long and were poking through the back, showing through the fabric. I didn’t have any shorter staples, so I ended up using my manual staple gun. It worked out okay. Even though if you look really closely at the right side you can see the bumps where those staples came through also. If I had it to do over, I would put some thin batting around the back of the back rest. You know what they say about hindsight.
I followed the same process with the seat. The only difference was that I had to make piping. All I did was use a seam ripper to get the cording out of the original piping and recover it with my fabric, making sure that I left enough seam allowance to staple it to the bottom of the chair.
Once the piping was stapled on, I replaced the cardboard and stapled it back down.
Once all the pieces were recovered, I put the front and back of the back rest back together, attached the bracket and reinserted the pin. Then I bolted the seat back on the base and replaced the back rest.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of my process. That is something I’m trying to keep up with now that I’ve started this blog. Step 1 is keeping my camera charged.
But I do have pictures of the results. Behold! The world’s cutest office chair.
I absolutely love it! So much more exciting than the bland, boring, neutral chairs you find in every office ever. How could I help but be inspired when sitting in this chair?