Thursday, March 1, 2012

THIS IS HOW WE DO IT: Dining Chair Recovery

Several months ago, I purchased a vintage dining set to put in my dining room, so that dining could take place.  The set was in kind-of-rough-but-definitely-salvageable shape.  Once I got the set home, I started trying to recover the chairs.  I thought it would be easy to do, because everyone and their mother is all up on the Internets these days, talking about how easy it is to do this.

Turns out, it's not that easy.  And so, I would like to take this opportunity to tell the Internets to shhhhhh about how simple this is, because this can be done incorrectly.  Granted, it may take the special kind of non-skill that I possess to make the mistakes I made in my first attempt, but still.  It's not like this is foolproof.  Obviously I'm a fool, and it wasn'

Four Mistakes Fools Might Make When Recovering Dining Chairs
  1. Buying the wrong kind of fabric.
    The first fabric I bought was just regular cotton.  Why didn't I buy upholstery fabric?  I looked at it, and thought: ooh, well that's too expensive.  This other kind will be fine.  So basically, my one moment of house frugality turned out to be entirely misplaced.
  2. Buying too much fabric.
    Somehow, I carefully measured the seats of the chairs, added a couple of inches on each side, accounted for the fact that I had 6 chairs to cover, factored in the number of inches in a yard, and concluded: I need 6 yards of fabric, just to be safe.  As it turns out, 2 yards is plenty.
  3. Buying giant 2" seat cushions.
    The the seat padding on the chairs was worn incredibly thin, so I knew I'd have to take it out and replace it.  When I was in the fabric store buying the wrong kind of fabric, I had a choice between 1" and 2" high foam cushions.  I looked at the 2" cushions and thought: ooh, that'll be so nice to sit on! And, you know, I wasn't wrong about that.  The seat turned out to be comfortable.  It also turned out to look sort of...ridiculously puffed up.  In its lap.
  4. Buying a meh fabric.
    When I looked at this fabric in the store, I thought: oooh, preeety, whimsical, breezy, colorful!-- all things I wanted in my dining room, to contrast with the lovely grey walls.  But then when I got it all done, I looked at it and thought...huh.  Cute, but...meh.


So, after attempt #1, the holidays happened, and then it took me a while to get back to it.  Finally though, this is now done!  Rachael and I could make our own how-to video now if we wanted to.  Hey world, it's so simple-- all you need is two weekends, a drive to Pasadena, a tolerance for spray glue fumes, and tetanus shots!  Cue the triumphant soundtrack...

Recovering Chairs: This Is How We Do It

  • Go to one of the anonymous fabric stores in the garment district of downtown LA, go to Michael Levine, go to Calico Corners.  Remember that store?  Maybe you used to tag along when your mom would go there, back when the stores had whole play areas for kids.  It's not like that anymore, but they have lots of fabric to choose from.  Also, they've thought ahead about this, and stocked only upholstery fabric, so you can't buy the wrong kind.  There are lots of fun places to buy the right kind of fabric on the Internets, but being a fool, I was afraid I'd order something I liked online but not in person.

    One weekend, after I'd attempted the downtown LA option, Rachael and I drove out to the Calico Corners in Pasadena.   They took my order, I bought 3 yards (you know...just to be safe), and 7 business days later, the fabric was delivered to my house.

  • The following weekend, we set up an assembly line.  For round 2 of chair recovery, I'd gone back and purchased 1" cushions, and I had batting on hand from round 1.  Rachael cut the square cushions to fit the seat's shape, spray glued the cushions in place, spray-glued batting around the edges that the cushion didn't cover, and then wrapped the whole thing in more batting.

  • Meanwhile, I got down to down to brass tacks.  Or rather, rusty nails and old staples.  The chairs had already been recovered a couple of times before, and I had to take out some of the previous fixings so there'd be room for me to staple what I needed to.

Me: Oooh, I wonder if these could give you lockjaw!
Rachael: Um, let's not find out.
  • Then, I cut the fabric, and I stapled things.  A lot.

Here's the end result:

Many lessons learned, and a dining room, ready to be dined in.


  1. I want to come over! I haven't seen the place since you had just moved in about 10 minutes before I arrived. Awesome job. You inspire me.

  2. Well you're the one who found the set in the first place, so-- likewise!

  3. Oh, so modern, oh oh so modern (sung to the tune of "me so horny")

    1. THIS. This is the theme song of the Frankenhouse.

  4. They look awesome! Job well done. You got a lot further than me. I had a chair in my living room for two--three? years and fabric for 1 year and alas, never the two did meet. That chair ended up going back out onto the street from whence it came. :) And I still have the fabric. I may be sewing new dining room chair covers with it to replace the covers the cats have, er, had their way with.

  5. Wow, that was brilliant. Old chairs doesn't need to be disposed, a little something like this will surely make them look good again, especially when it's wood.