Maybe Matilda: DIY Reupholstered Living Room Chairs (aka The Worst Project Ever)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

DIY Reupholstered Living Room Chairs (aka The Worst Project Ever)

Have you noticed a theme with DIY blog posts? How they often start with something like, "This project was so quick and easy! It only took me 30 minutes! Simplest thing I've ever made!"

Here's the intro for my project: this was the most obnoxious DIY project I have ever undertaken. I hated almost every second of it, it took nearly 2 full days to complete (and I really do mean full, as in, I did nothing else for 2 days straight), and although I like the outcome, I don't think this is a project I will tackle ever again. 

In general, I make things myself for two reasons: 1) I love the process . . . just plain creating something is fun for me, and 2) I can't afford to not make it myself . . . if I don't make it on my own, I can't have it, period. This project falls solely into category number 2. If I ever get tired of the look of these chairs (please sweet heavens no), I will hopefully have enough money to pay a professional to do it for me. 

All right. So now that you are fully informed on just how much I despised working on this, and won't be fooled into thinking this is a simple, easy, 30-minute DIY project, here are the chairs that nearly killed me:

I reupholstered the crap out of those suckers. Look at them, sitting there so smugly, mocking me and my poorly-informed ideas about how easy they ought to have been to re-cover. I can hardly decide if I love them for what they are now, or hate them for how they crushed my innocent DIY spirit.

Why were they so horrible to reupholster, you ask? We'll start at the beginning. 

When I purchased these chairs a few years ago, I loved their modern shape and thought their argyle-patterned fabric was pretty fun:

But after 4 years in a room that was various shades of brown from top to bottom, I was dying for some color, and these chairs were (conveniently) looking very worn out. 

I knew I wanted a bright red fabric for my chairs; at first I had my eye on this Amy Butler fabric, which I estimated I would need about 7 or 8 yards of, bringing the cost of this project to about $63. I know that's not a huge price tag for "new" chairs, but I really can't overemphasize how cheap I am, so I dragged my feet for weeks, unwilling to shell out $60+ for a project that, to be honest, I wasn't 100% confident I could accomplish.

Then we stopped at Home Fabrics on a whim, and holy moly, it is the best store of all time. We got the cream rug that's now in our living room (pictured above) for about $30, an adorable red houndstooth home decor fabric for my chairs for $3 per yard, and a few yards of quilting cotton for $2 a yard (project unknown). I have never seen prices like that before . . . unbelievable. So the cost for reupholstering these chairs rang up to a whopping $18, and I have at least 1 or 2 yards of chair fabric left over (I'm picturing matching family outfits for a matchy-matchy family picture on our new chairs . . . that would make the best Christmas card ever).

(See how we're smiling? We don't know what we're in for yet)

My mom is an angel, and offered to help (or did I drag her unwillingly along, kicking and screaming? Can't remember now, I've repressed the upholstering memories). We started tearing those chairs apart, foolishly excited over their soon-to-be new look. It didn't take long for us to realize that whoever made our chairs must have had a friend in the staple business . . . I don't know how many staples exist in the world, but I think about 90% of them were used on my two chairs. And we didn't know there was such a thing as an upholstery staple remover, but I'm going to wager a guess that it would have been $14 well-spent. We used screwdrivers and pliers to pry thousands of staples loose to remove the fabric (which is, shockingly, even less fun than it sounds). This was the part that made this project so awful--the de-assembly took forever. Putting it back together honestly wasn't too bad, but by that point I was so frustrated by how long it had taken to remove the old fabric that I hardly cared how it looked anymore . . . I just wanted it to be done (it's about to get a little grody in here, but it really reminded me of giving birth . . . at some point, I really stopped caring about how it happened, the little birth plan they had me write while I was pregnant was tossed out the window, and I just wanted it to end. I even used one of the completed chair backs as a focal point to keep going through the horrible labor of the rest of the chairs . . . and that's where the metaphor stops.)

I cut the fabric apart along the seams and used them as pattern pieces (make sure you add in a seam allowance), and sewed new seats for the chairs:

Add in some piping (my first time sewing piping! It was the only easy part of the project), and we were ready to reassemble the chairs:
A million staples later, they were completed, and although I don't think I'll ever want to reupholster anything ever again, I have to admit that I really like how they came out:

No one will ever mistake them for professionally upholstered pieces . . . they have plenty of little mistakes that I was too tired to fix, or just didn't know how to do. Although I'm tempted to only show you the pictures that make them look perfect, they certainly have their flaws . . . for example, I didn't even attempt any sort of print-matching at the seams, and you can see that my sewing was a bit sloppy:

And there are some funky areas where the fabric was pulled too tightly (notice the houndstooth dipping in the middle of the seat here), as well as the wacky chair bottoms:
I'm not sure if this is standard, but there is a panel of black fabric that velcroes along the bottom of the chairs to hide their ugly innards, and I obviously didn't reconstruct it correctly, since it's gapping all over the place. And not pictured are the impressive puckers at the back of the seats (can you spot them in the last photo, down at the bottom of the post?) or my staple-removing-induced arthritis. But you know, the little imperfections really don't bother me much . . . I'd rather have it done than perfect

For comparison purposes, here is a living room semi-before picture (but picture the trunk still being brown, and the lamp not being there at all):

Even Forrest hates it. So . . . brown. 

And an almost-done picture . . . minus all the boring brown pillows, minus the worn-out argyle print chairs, plus some fun sort-of-new chairs, an area rug, and some color via a solitary pillow, lamp, and trunk:

Still on the to-do list for this room:
- curtains (I'm at a loss for curtains . . . do I go with something colorful or neutral? What color? Patterned or plain? Long drapes or a simple shade? Any thoughts?)
- pillows for the couch (I'm struggling to find a BIG, bold red print to use for the pillows, although I'm thinking of maybe getting just a yard or two of that Amy Butler fabric I considered for the chairs)
- wall art . . . we've lived here almost 2 months now and there's still nothing on the walls

What do you think? Were my chairs worth all that work? Have you ever tried your hand at reupholstery? If so, and if you did a great job and love it, I'm just going to hire you when Forrest inevitably spills grape juice on my new chairs. There are some things Scotch-guard just can't foresee.

(I'll be milking this horrible, horrible project for all it's worth at these link-ups)


  1. It may have been dreadful but the results are GREAT! Good Job! Your hard work paid off!

  2. Oh, Rachel! I ALWAYS look forward to your posts...I adore the way you write. I think you did an amazing job - the chairs look really really great...and I'll tell ya - I know how you feel, I've spent an hour (yes, an hour) trying to pull fabric over one chair corner "correctly" - an hour I'll never get back...;)No one will ever see the're awesome.

  3. They look great! I'm sorry it wasn't a fun project!

    Talking about curtains if it was me I would add something bold and bright especially since you can't paint.

  4. these turned out great!! your honesty in the beginning made me laugh, i love when people are REAL :) the final product looks outstanding!

  5. Love the chairs...hate the birthing analogy (remember I'm going to be there in a just a few days yelling at everyone to "just kill me now").

    If you're ever up for more reupholstery fun I have my grandma's couch waiting patiently in the 60's style...frame repainted...raggity nasty orange cushions needing some love...

    Oh and ps---I love Home fabrics too! (Did you go to the scary one north of you or the other one south of you?) If you went to the scary one it's next to Elizabeth and mine's favorite thrift store. We love it there. Just not after dark.

  6. Thank you, so much, for telling it like it is. I've seen so many of these chair makeovers and they look easy but you know deep down there's so much more to them.
    They turned out great though! You should be proud!


  7. It's so much work reupholster chairs, I agree! My friend and I got these chairs for free, thought we'd snap em together with new fabric, paint, and padding and resell it in a jiffy but we were so wrong. Turns out we had to take the entire chair apart, glue it back together, and then the actual upholstering is sooo finicky! We were lucky in that we didn't choose a really small pattern that would show all of our puckers--but it was still very difficult. So I think your chairs look fantastic!

  8. The story behind the chairs is going to be something you will remember for years to come! At least you learned a lot, right?! I think they turned out gorgeous! And you better link them up at my first link party tomorrow. :)

  9. Well despite the horribleness of the task, you did a great job. I reupholstered some couches long's awful! I really love the hounds tooth you chose. Way to go!!

  10. Isn't reupholstering a nightmare? I had to wrestle every single staple out of my chair before reupholstering, I thought that part would be easy but it was so time consuming. Stretching fabric is so tricky as well. But congrats on a job well done! At least now you can say you have tried it. =)

  11. They came out so good!! Very worth the time and effort, I would say. And don't feel badly- we have lived in our house for over a year and a half and still barely have anything on the walls. :)

  12. They did turn out great! Even if they don't reach professional perfection, I doubt people would even notice all the little flaws that you may see. I know that chairs usually have the black stuff on the bottom, but I've seen it stapled no velcro. Not to add any more stapling to the project ;).

    As for curtains I would do a floor length solid neutral. A linen or linen blend would be really nice. IKEA has really affordable panels like that if you have one around you.

  13. I am dying to see the Christmas card in December!

  14. sorry that sucked…at least they look awesome!

  15. Love how they turned out! To me, they look amazing. (considering my little knowledge of sewing) But I kinda understand how you felt. Cory and I decided to reupulster a glider chair...and sand it... and stain it. We have been working on it slowly for weeks now. I hate every second we work on that darn thing. I really love how great your room is turning out! It is looking fantastic. As for curtains, I honestly think you could go either patterned or solid. But I do think floor length.

  16. They turned out great! Well worth all the work!

  17. Well, I'm impressed. I've sorta wanted to reupholster stuff before. But I'm just too lazy. Maybe I'll give it a try someday. Ha ha ha.

  18. I think it's funny that piping was the easiest step for you...that's the part that scares me the most about tackling a chair like these. We should team up. But I've vowed to not reupholster anything anytime soon also. We don't want to be hypocrites.

    Your chairs turned out beautifully though..totally worth the staple wounds!

  19. Thanks for being honest, haha. I have been looking at a lot of DIY reupholstery or slip cover projects because our couch is looking worn out. You just convinced me that paying a professional to do it for me will be worth it. Aside from the cost, I hope we can do a few days without our couch though.

  20. well, the were definitely worth it. didn't like them before = love them afterward! and i think your room would look great (it already does) with floor length patterned curtains! always look forward to your posts...

    kudos on the chairs!

  21. No pain, no gain, right? Right? ;)

    They look really good. Love the fabric and they really pop now. Great job!

  22. Oh my goodness that is beautiful and so awesome that you did that! Great job and Those are beautiful. Thank you so much for linking up to Mine and Lindsays linky party "Show and Share"
    Come and visit, stay a while and follow

    A mommy's life...with a touch of YELLOW

  23. I've upholstered my first chair too a few months ago and some days it took a lot of effort to even complete it! I took the hardest chair I could find like a fool! But I'm glad I completed it and now I love. You did it a great job and your effort was worth it!
    Here's my chair if you want to check it out

  24. Lol and Forrest looks so adorable crying next to the chair haha

  25. Curtains: I'm picturing something that hangs a few inches below your window sill with a bold, graphic pattern (plaid? abstract floral? circles?) in red, white, and yellow with a *hint* of brown and yellow sashes to tie them back, perhaps with flowers that match your lamp. Curtains are pretty easy, the hardest part is finding the perfect fabric! And make them twice as wide as your window.

  26. Thanks for sharing the reality of your project! You tell your story wonderfully, though. It was enjoyable to follow along in your experience. I do think it's worth it--the chairs look amazing (flaws and all)!

    I really like the space that curtains take up around a window--gives you less wall space to fill :)

  27. Just wanted to let you know that I featured this today from the Show & Share party! Congrats! Make sure to grab a button!

  28. Nice! love the simple clean look of the room and the pattern you chose for the chairs. I agree that a floor length window treatment would look very nice. That would help soften the look of all the straight lines in the room. I'm new to your blog. I'm looking forward to browsing through it. Your little guy is adorable. LOVE the lined paper t's. I'm going to make them for my kids and write on the lines. fun!

  29. Totally LOVE your down to earth tutorial and enjoyed it so much since I've had excellent reupholstery projects and reupholstering projects from sincere h-e-double hockey sticks, but they turned out great and you will definately be the one that notices the flaws more than anyone else! I'll give my decorating advice for all it's worth: coordinating fabric for windows (color in fabric that you love--A MUST) and pillows. Wall art is always darling when done in family pix. You have an adorable family that would make this turn out great. Thanks for sharing your pain. As the saying goes, nothing worthwhile comes easy/free/without pain (you get the idea) and this was DEFINATELY worth while! XoXo

  30. That's a great idea! I would love to try it on my chairs at home. I think it'll be fun.

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  31. Those are fabulous patterns. Really loving the chest for a center coffee table idea. I think that you should also add another table to place inbetween the reupholstered chairs or maybe a lamp.

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