How To Upholster A Chair

We’re back with another handy dandy tutorial, and this time it’s an exciting lesson in chair covering. The main takeaway should be that this is a super simple way to completely reinvent a chair. Seriously. It’s a snap. So let’s get stapled, er started.

The white fabric on this antique chair was a little yellowed and stained from years of use. So Emily (John’s frequently mentioned sister in law) and I hit up a local fabric store to grab something funky and fun to update this family hand-me-down of hers.

After we scored two yards of sateen & chenille fabric with a fun and dramatic oversized damask pattern (for just $18!) we whipped out a pair of scissors, a screwdriver, and our $12 staple gun and we were in business.

Step 1: Remove the chair’s seat bottom with the screwdriver, and strategically lay the cushion upside-down on the upside-down fabric so that the pattern is straight and centered. Then get to work stapling the new fabric right over the old stuff. Be sure to pull the fabric tight and keep it straight as you work your way around the seat, adding a staple every two inches or so for a secure hold and a pucker-free result. It also helps to periodically check that the front of the cushion looks tight, centered, and wrinkle free by peeking under the cushion as you go (so there’s no big surprise when you flip it over 40 staples later). Also remember that if you think it looks loose or crooked, it’s easy to pop out a few staples with a screwdriver and re-do ’em. So there’s really no possible way to screw this step up. Promise.

Step 2: Take special care when stapling the corners. It’s the only semi-challenging part of the process (and when I say semi-challenging I don’t mean hard, I just mean that you can’t totally be on auto-pilot). This chair was particularly angular (most dining room chair cushions are square or rectangular) but it was still pretty simple. Just pretend you’re wrapping a present. Tuck the fabric to create folds that are hidden under the seat so that the front of the cushion is snugly wrapped and wrinkle free. It also helps to flip the cushion over as you hold the fabric (before stapling it into place) to be sure that you like how everything looks in front before you pull the trigger.

Step 3: Continue to staple the perimeter until you’re left with a securely covered seat cushion that looks something like this. You can trim the excess fabric if you’d like, but I usually just leave it alone since it’s hidden once the seat’s in place.

Step 4: Screw the cushion back into the chair and do a spirited victory dance as you admire your handiwork. We just love how the patterned fabric is perfectly centered- it looks like a professional upholstery job and it took ten minutes! The total chair transformation will truly be complete with the addition of a few plush tan and green pillows to cozy up the wooden back of the chair and complement our new patterned cushion.

Oh and for an even bigger presto-change-o, you can also paint the chair when you remove the cushion. How cool would this baby look with a coat of crisp white paint, glossy black paint- or even pale sage green paint to play off the patterned fabric? The possibilities are endless. So go ahead and get stapling- and don’t forget to send us your before and after pictures! We’re total suckers for a fabulous chair.


  1. says

    You inspire me! I just picked up a long fabric covered bench from a a free pile in our neighborhood. It’s bones are amazing and I want to use it as an ottoman or a bench at the foot of our bed, but it needs to be recovered. Can’t wait to go to the fabric store and get started- especially after reading this! Thanks!

  2. says

    Very cute guys!! I am currently working on a storage ottoman, so when I finally get around to tackling the sides, I will send you pics!

  3. says

    Love the cute fabric!! And a steal, at that.

    Thank you, also for your last moodboard tip on the dining room rug issue. I have been going round and round trying to figure out if it should be big enough for two or four legs of each chair when they’re pulled out! You answered the question :)

  4. YoungHouseLove says

    Hey Sarah- We snagged our $12 staple gun at Lowe’s (it’s manual because a plug-in one is more expensive and just a little too intense for us). We were sure to pick up one that was labeled “heavy duty”, which works really well for projects like this (and just about everything else).

    We’re so glad everyone’s enjoying our little tutorial. It’s really a super easy project with a huge payoff. Send us pics of all your chair transformations!


  5. says

    It is absolutely one of the easiest DIY projects ever. I’ve reupholstered (wow, that looks wrong) the vanity bench that came with my antique vanity set. It certainly didn’t take much time and was fun because there were several layers of old fabric underneath, so it was kind of like being an archaeologist! Thanks for the pictures- very easy to follow. Love your blog.

  6. MaryB in Richmond says

    You left out one step. Step One: Inherit really cool antique family hand-me-down chair.

    THAT part I missed out on. (What’s WRONG with my FAMILY!??!?!)

    Ok, but seriously, once again you’ve taken something I would never have even considered trying, and convinced me it’s do-able, even by me. All I need now is a cool chair!

    Thanks, as always!

  7. Toni says

    I’ve done the exact same with 4 dinning room chairs and they look AMAZING. This chair looks great!

    I love hunting old secondhand shops and repairing stuff…no one ever has the same furniture as us ;)

  8. says

    Love it! Somehow though I always end up with the chairs that do not have easy screw off cushions and I’m bleeding with the staple gun in one hand and fabric with blood dots in the other. I need help.

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