Follow the Pattern is a brand new column from furniture maker and upholstery expert (and Home52's Resident Design Wiz), Nicole Crowder. Nicole is here to show us how to breathe new life into old furniture, reuse and repurpose materials, take chances with color and pattern—and develop a signature aesthetic. Today, she guides us through stripping a chair down to its bones and reupholstering it, right in your living room.
Have an heirloom chair that’s been sitting in your garage for years, and that you’ve been itching to reupholster? Find a mid-century armchair while vintage-shopping and want to swap out the fabric to suit your décor—but unsure where to start? With falling temperatures and shorter days forcing us (further) indoors, this could well be the perfect time to take on that upholstery project you’ve been shying away from.
I’ve been a furniture upholsterer for nearly eight years—with a signature style of mixing vibrant prints and contrasting colors—and during that time, I’ve had the pleasure of repurposing everything from accent chairs to benches, ottomans, even nine-foot sofas, many of which I’ve tackled in my 700-square-foot apartment. My motto with upholstery has always been: if the bones of the piece are in good shape, everything else is cosmetic, and therefore, can be changed.
One of the joys of my work is being able to demystify it for those who are new to upholstery—and it’s one of the many reasons I began teaching upholstery workshops. So, whether you are a seasoned DIYer or have never touched a staple gun, I want to offer both the guidance and the confidence to help you navigate your project smoothly. Remember: Almost everything you’ll need, you’ll likely have at home, or can purchase at your local hardware store.
One of my favorite chairs in general—but to reupholster specifically—is the classic Hans Wegner Shell Chair, designed in 1963. While the original is beautiful, I’ve worked on a lot of (more affordable) look-alikes, and have found it to be a wonderfully accessible style if you are new to upholstering, and want a smaller project to get your feet wet. The chair has what I like to call a “pop cushion seat,” meaning when you take the screws off, the cushion pops right off the frame and can be reupholstered independently. Genius!
My advice? Go one step further and mix up your textiles on the seat bottom and back to add contrast. Or reupholster the chair in a bright fabric and add a single welt cord around the trim in a different color. However you decide to style it, remember to have fun.
- Staple remover
- Staple gun
- Staples that are compatible with your staple gun
- Screwdriver or Allen wrench (depending on the screws you need to to remove and replace)
- Fabric scissors
- Box cutter
- Measuring tape
- Fabric(s) of your choice
Using a screwdriver, remove the screws from your seat and back cushion. Put the screws aside for safekeeping, and lay out all the parts of your disassembled chair, as well as all of your tools.
Taking your seat bottom cushion, begin to strip the fabric off. You can take up the staples using your staple remover and then pluck them out using your pliers. When stripping the fabric, be careful to preserve the foam padding underneath. Repeat this step for your back cushion.
If the foam is worn down, crumbled or not salvageable, you’ll want to replace it by using a fresh piece of foam. Standard foam for a dining chair seat is 1”-1.5” thick, depending on how high you want to sit. When cutting new foam, use your cushion form to trace the shape and outline.
Roll out your chosen fabric on a clean surface, giving yourself enough space so that it lays completely flat. You can use the fabric that you removed as a pattern for cutting, or, you can measure for the new fabric that you will need. With your measuring tape, measure the length and the width of your seat cushion, making sure to measure across the widest and the highest points. I like to add an extra two inches so I have enough fabric to wrap around all sides of the seat.
Note: If you are working with a repeating print and want it to line up a certain way, be sure to measure so you have enough fabric to center your design the way you want.
Lay your newly cut fabric on top of your seat cushion to make sure that it fully wraps around your seat. Flip the seat over and, while holding the fabric taut, place a staple through the fabric in the center, top, and bottom along the rim of the chair frame. (I typically staple about 1-1.5” away from the rim, because over time as you sit down, you are pulling fabric inward.)
Flip your chair seat over just to make sure your fabric is centered the way you want, and then back over to begin stapling your edges all the way around. You might have to create tiny pleats under the bottom of the chair if the seat has rounded edges. Pull your fabric so it is taut but not too tight.
Note: For more angular or squared corners, you’ll want to fold the corners the way you would the corners of a wrapped present or hospital corner: fold one flap down, and fold the other corner down over it and add a staple to hold in place.
Once your seat has been reupholstered (yay!), trim off any excess fabric just above the line where you stapled. At this time, you can add a dust cover, which is typically a thin black material that prevents dust from collecting, to the bottom of the seat as well to create a cleaner finish. I like to add a fabric with a little pop of color, almost like a Louboutin shoe. Repeat these steps for the back cushion of your chair.
Flip your seat over and using the screws that came with your box, screw the seat back on and reassemble the chair.
Take photos and pop a squat!