Two beat-up old chairs get a lift

I have a soft place in my heart for anything needing a good home. Case in point: chairs whose inner beauty has been cloaked with a bad paint job and frumpy fabric. And, since spring is a season of revival (and we're zooming up on Earth Day and its emphasis on recycling), I thought that these two chairs deserved a new lease on life. I called these girls the Joan Rivers of chairs -- a lot of stretching, trimming and gluing went on before they were transformed from dismal to diva in just a weekend. (The chairs are from Tarrant County-based )

Step 1: Prepare the chairs

Both chairs were treated in much the same way, and preparation is the absolute key to a smooth, beautiful outcome.

Remove the seat and inspect the fabric and padding. If they are in good shape, don't remove them. This will make re-covering the seat that much simpler. With these chairs, everything, including the plywood, needed replacing.

With pliers and a flathead screwdriver, pry any staples or nails from the chair frame. Remember to wear gloves to protect from rusty staples and nails. Work in a well-ventilated area to avoid breathing in any of the dust -- a lightweight face mask would be helpful.

Glue and brace all loose joints with carpenter's wood glue, and allow to dry.

Lightly sand all wood surfaces to remove old paint or finish. We began with 80-grit sandpaper, switched to 120-grit, then finished with 220. It is important to sand in the direction of the grain and to wipe the surface clean with a tack cloth in between sandings.

Fill all gouges, staple holes, etc. with wood filler and wipe smooth with a damp fingertip or paper towel, then allow to dry.

Smooth the filled areas with 220-grit sandpaper and wipe clean.

Step two: Paint the frames

For the chair frames, we used Valspar interior/exterior high-gloss latex paint in Gloss White and Parsley Sprig, from Lowe's.

Begin with a primer that has been tinted to the color of the paint. Brush on a single coat and lightly sand with 220-grit sandpaper, then wipe clean.

Apply 2-3 light coats of paint, allowing each coat to dry. It is not necessary to sand in between coats unless there is a drip or other flaw in the paint finish. (I was working on the back porch and had to sand out several pesky gnats that kept dive-bombing my work.)

Step 3: Be seated

Since we had to strip the seat down to the bare plywood on one chair and craft a new seat for the other, we needed to start with the proper padding.

To give our seat comfortable cushioning, we made a little sandwich out of plywood, high-density foam and polyester batting for a smooth, even look.

Note: For one chair, we were able to reuse the screws that came with the seat. If you have to buy new screws (as we did for the white chair), first measure the thickness of the seat, add that to the thickness of the area of the frame that the seat will be anchored to and find wood screws that measure 1/4 inch less, so that the screw doesn't come through the seat.

Seat supplies:

1-inch high-density foam from the fabric store (A single yard was more than enough for our two chairs.)


Polyester batting (We used extra-loft Soft n Crafty batting by Poly-fil.)

Staple gun (We used 8mm 5/16-inch staples.)



Screws, if needed

Floor glides for chair's feet, available from the hardware store for carpeted or bare floors

1. Outline the shape of the seat onto the foam and cut it out. You may opt to glue the foam to the wood with a hot-glue gun.

2. Roll out polyester batting onto work surface, then place cut foam piece onto batting and cover with plywood seat.

3. Allowing a 2- to 3-inch margin, pull batting around to the back, or underside, of the seat, and trim.

4. Next, pull edges of batting taut and staple in place. For even results, anchor each side with a single staple in the center of each side. Then, applying even pressure, continue to pull the batting around the sides and staple in place. Trim excess.

5. Lay fabric facedown on a work surface and center the seat, padded side down, onto the fabric. If working with a patterned fabric, make sure the design is centered on the seat.

6. Trim fabric, allowing for a 2- to 3-inch margin on the back, or underside, of the seat.

7. Using the same method for stapling the batting in place, anchor the fabric to the front, back and sides of the seat. Flip the seat over frequently to make sure the pattern remains centered and that the fabric doesn't pucker or pull. The seat corners can be a little tricky -- fold small pleats in the fabric to work it around the corners. Trim excess fabric.

8. Attach the seat to the frame with screws using the original drilled holes.

9. Attach floor glides to the feet. To avoid splitting the chair legs, first drill pilot holes in the bottom of each leg, then screw the feet in place.