How To: Recover a Chair
A little DIY know-how—and minimal supplies and tools—could transform a lackluster dining chair into a seat of distinction. Here's how to recover a chair seat cushion yourself.
It’s only a matter of time: Sooner or later, your chairs with upholstered seats are going to get worn, dirty, or dated. When you decide those chairs have gotten too beat-up to keep around, remember to weigh your options. Your instinct may be to donate the chairs or throw them away, but if they remain in good condition, why not give a thought to reupholstering the furniture? In your local area, there’s more than likely a professional specializing in these sorts of repairs. Much easier—and yet equally transformative—would be to recover the chairs yourself, replacing their seat covers with new fabric. Even a novice DIYer can recover a chair within an afternoon. Here’s how.
When you undertake to recover a chair, start by measuring the seat cushion to determine how much replacement fabric you’ll need. During the measuring process, be sure to allow for at least three extra inches of fabric on all sides (in later steps, you are going to work with this excess material on the underside of the cushion).
Using a screwdriver, remove the existing cushion from the chair frame. (By the way, this would be an opportune moment to address any minor repairs you wish to make on the chair.) Bear in mind that if there’s only one cover on the cushion, you can recover the chair without even removing the old fabric; simply lay the new fabric over the old. When dealing with a cushion that has more than one cover, however, take off the top layer by drawing out the staples that hold it in place.
Having laid the fabric onto your work surface, cut a piece that conforms to the dimensions you calculated in the earlier step. Working with a patterned fabric (for example, one that includes a floral medallion)? Then take care to ensure that your cutaway includes the part of the pattern you would like the chair seat to display.
To attach the new cover, fold one edge of the fabric over the seat, then staple that fabric to the underside of the cushion, about one or two inches from the edge. From there, stretch the fabric across the top of the seat, folding the fabric over the opposite side of the cushion before stapling again on the side opposite to where you placed the initial fastener.
After checking to confirm the cover is aligning correctly on the cushion surface, flip it back over and continue stapling along the sides, all while keeping the fabric taut (but not so taut that the weave or pattern becomes distorted). If the cover goes on crooked at any point while you’re working, pop out a staple or two with your screwdriver, then re-attach.
When you arrive at one of the corners, staple at the same time that you stretch and angle the fabric. It may take some trial and error, but eventually you will figure out how to attach the fabric without causing any wrinkles to appear. Remember that if you do get wrinkles, there’s a quick and easy fix: Just pop out a few staples, adjust the cover, then staple again.
By now you will have finished stapling on the cover. Proceed to trim away the excess fabric by means of a scissor, leaving one or two inches of material beyond the staples. There’s no need to sweat appearances, as the underside of the cushion will not be visible. Finally, reattach the newly recovered cushion to the chair frame.
Voila! It’s no more complicated than that. All it takes, really, is a length of fabric and a staple gun. Believe it or not, you can get good at this with a little practice. And you’ll be amazed by how easy it becomes to refresh your cushions with a new look, all for little more than the cost of new fabric. So go forth, recover, and sit pretty!