DIY Tools Workshop

Sitting Pretty: 11 Amazing Chair Makeovers

Chairs are hospitable and versatile. Adding a couple of great chairs is an easy and affordable way to give a space a new look—plus, chairs are a cinch to reposition and move around as needed. This friendly adaptability is perhaps what motivates DIYers to habitually pick them up at thrift shops, auctions, and flea markets, or to resurrect them from the trash. In the hands of our 10 featured aesthetes, artists, and chair visionaries, this collection of broken and antiquated seats have been fortified and revamped with paint, fabric, trim, and a helping of TLC. Witness how, thanks to the patience and skill of these wonder-workers, each piece has been transformed into a better version of its former self.

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Scratched Up

Inspired by a fiberglass chair makeover that she saw online, artist, crafter, and home renovator extraordinaire Abbey Hendrickson, of Aesthetic Outburst, turned to a similar but “yucky” chair that had been sitting dormant in her mudroom and prepared it for a facelift.

Spruced Up

Armed with gold and cherry-red spray paints, Hendrickson coated the retro chair with fresh color. At one point, she wondered if her chair was a genuine Eames and was worried that repainting it may be the wrong thing to do. Her concern was fleeting, and soon enough, the gross, unused chair became a lively new perch.

Old Gold

“I often have a chair for quite some time before I find the perfect fabric for it,” says Wild Chairy’s Andrea Mihalik. Such was the case for one neglected vintage French Provincial chair Mihalik found at auction. “This chair definitely took its time in telling me what to do with it!”

Paradise Punch

As soon as she spotted Schumacher’s bright medallion print by Trina Turk, Mihalik knew it was the right fabric for the chair, particularly given the way the vibrant colors and the tan background complemented the chair’s original finish.

Rocking Roost

For Eric Fausnacht, artist and fowl tender, a chair is really just another canvas. When he found this rocker—sturdy and comfy, but drab—Fausnacht saw it as a prime candidate for paint. The chair’s stylized gooseneck arms dictated his choice of subject.

Egg-specially Fine

Fausnacht paints from his own photographs, culling a rich inventory from his backyard farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. After at least three layers of paint to prep (and conceal) the original fabric and primer, the resulting chair is as much a work of American art as it is a comfortable spot to nest.

Buttoned Up

Andrea Mihalik, of Wild Chairy, snapped up this sweet Victorian side chair the moment she spied it. “The shape of the chair was very curvy and womanly,” she says, “and I wanted to do something special with it.”

Laced Up

Inspired by a pair of flirty black rain boots, Mihalik gave the chair a coquettish spin. Dressed in a luxurious ombré boiled wool and framed in high-gloss black, the voluptuous piece displays a provocative, corset-like lacing in the back.

Regency Remodel

When illustrator and all-around crafty gal Tammy Smith planned a studio renovation, a pair of vintage Hollywood Regency chairs were part of her vision. Though the crushed velvet looked fine to the eye, the cushioning was crunchy to the touch. Smith says, “It felt like it had rice inside, because all the foam had disintegrated.”

Hollywood Star

To start, Smith tore off every last bit of fabric and padding, and sanded down the exposed wood. The luxe finish on the frame is the result of many thin coats of spray enamel, sanded in between applications and finally buffed with paste wax. The neat array of 58 tufts is testament to Smith’s sheer patience and—to her surprise—the enjoyment she found in drilling each one out.

Roadside Rescue

All dressed up and fighting the urge to stop at a roadside heap, diehard upcycler Kathy Cruz, who co-runs The Salvaged Boutique with her sister, Karen, finally succumbed. “I am so glad my fear of being spotted by someone I know didn’t stop me,” she says of the vintage vanity chair—her favorite garbage pick to date.

Cool Stool

Kathy worked alongside her mother to revive the chair. Together they reattached the back, fortified the wood seat, and freshened up the chair with new batting, paint, sprightly fabric, and pom-poms. The old casters worked just fine.

Great Frames

Jennifer Lanne is a fine artist who paints moody landscapes imbued with old-world romantic charm. When she picked up a pair of funky carved chairs for $40 at a garage sale, she imagined covering each with a painted scene. “I thought it was a fun way to live with art,” says Lanne.

Master Pieces

Lanne’s multistep process includes distressing and waxing the canvas to create an original work of art intentionally aged to look centuries old. Waxing also makes the canvas more durable and pliable, which enhances the canvas’s ability to function as upholstery. For the seats, Lanne divvied up a crewelwork coverlet, added fluffy batting underneath, and secured the fabric with a staple gun.

Turn Around

From top to bottom, these vintage barrel-shaped swivel chairs, with their poufy channelled backs, read like blue blobs. Though descended from a classic design, the tired, faded chairs didn’t turn many heads. The gals from Chairloom, however, in conjunction with Coldren Design, came up with a plan.

Spinning Winner

Custom chrome veneer applied to each chair’s circular base gave the pair an instant glamour lift, while Madeline Weinrib’s lyrical Ivy Blockprint fabric, handmade in India, lent an artisanal quality to the chairs and added to the overall beautification. “This is one of the transformations we live for!” the Chairloom gals say.

Wood Not

Courtesy Furniture Makeovers / Chronicle Books

At Knack Studios in Greenville, South Carolina, Barb Blair exercises a no-fuss approach to making over furniture. Her first book, Furniture Makeovers, captures a sampling of Blair’s crafty industriousness. This boxy wood chair, coveted for its shapely frame and folklike character, was one of Blair’s lucky victims.

Blair Flair

Courtesy Furniture Makeovers / Courtesy Chronicle Books

Blair used brown wax to both tone down and warm up her chosen paint—a playful turquoise. “Wax is my finish of choice when I want to add natural age and depth to a piece without adding a lot of shine,” Blair says. She then transformed the solid drab seat into a Bavarian beauty. So as not to detract from the vivacious print, she painted the upholstery tacks to blend with the wood.

Just Meh

Marian Parsons, the DIY decorating dynamo, author, and retailer also known as Miss Mustard Seed, will not sell any furniture that she wouldn’t want to use in her own home. She therefore felt compelled to update these Craigslist French tapestry chairs that were in decent enough shape but not good enough style.

Oh Yeah

Once the decorative tacks were removed, the fabric stripped, and the foam exposed, Parsons could begin anew. After adding extra batting for increased comfort, she fit antique linen grain sacks on the fronts, chose a new fruity indigo print for the backs, and trimmed them out with ivory gimp that she simply hot-glued into position. The original wood frame, aged to a warm patina, was left alone.

Garden Variety

Fine-art photographer Cheryl Maeder of Gardenhouse, who also delights in remaking furniture, saw the potential in this old and ornate aluminum outdoor bench when she first set eyes on it. “While its very shabby-chic appearance may have been fine during the ’90s, I wanted to update it with a fresh ‘vintage-gone-modern’ look,” Maeder says.

Natural Wonder

Respectful of the piece’s Victorian roots and Art Nouveau ornamentation, Maeder went for a main fabric whose pattern hewed to the era but whose crisp chroma was bold and contemporary. The silver powder-coated finish protects the seat and also emphasizes its texture. Maeder says, “For me, re-creating furniture is a lot like making a work of art.”