Painting And Reupholstering An Old $7 Thrift Store Bench

You may have seen the before & after bench pictures in our latest column for R. Home magazine. And we’re back to break down the process of completely transforming a cheap rickety ol’ bench with paint, fabric and a bit of elbow grease. Here’s the shoddy excuse for a bench that came home with us for $7 from Love of Jesus Thrift (yes, that’s really the name of one of our favorite local thrift stores):

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We looked beyond the dingy wood finish and the dated fabric to see something with true potential. The clean lines and easy-to-upholster seat cushion meant this baby was primed for a major makeover. We removed the seat cushion and tightened the interior bolts which immediately remedied the bench’s rickety nature. And we gently sanded the wood with 100 grit sandpaper and quickly got down to the bare wood (older pieces make this especially easy).

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Sanding is a great way to help prepare a surface for paint, but we also followed this step with a thin coat of white oil-based primer since we were planning to paint the bench a light celery color and we didn’t want any old stains or sap marks bleeding through our brand new finish.

Then we followed our coat of primer with two coats of semi-gloss latex paint in a soft celery green (Lunar Tide by Valspar) applied with a brush for a smooth and bubble-free application. Many people think rollers are the way to a smooth finish… but only for walls. When painting furniture items, especially those with spindles or thin legs, even Benjamin Moore paint specialists agree that paint brushes offer a smoother finish (along with paint sprayers of course, but paint brushes are less messy, more accessible, easily affordable, and they offer you more control). Just remember that two thin coats are much better than one globby one- which will definitely show brush stokes and drip marks- ewww.

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Then we let the bench dry for at least 24 hours while we tackled reupholstering the cushion. We purchased just half a yard of green and cream lattice William’s & Sherrill fabric for a mere $12 and couldn’t wait to give our sad little bench a fresh luxe look. It’s important to take the time to carefully place fabric with a pattern before you start stapling so it doesn’t seem off-center or crooked. We cut our piece of fabric with a few extra inches on each side so we could shift it and check it out from the front to be sure that the lines were straight and centered looking before we whipped out the $12 Home Depot staple gun.

We secured the fabric to the bench by pulling it tight and stapling it at the 12 o-clock, three o-clock, six o-clock and nine o-clock position. This keeps everything centered and in place (instead of stapling in a clockwise motion, which tends to allow fabric to rotate as you rotate, resulting in a bit of a twisted and unbalanced final product). We layered the new fabric right over the old fabric since the cushion underneath was in great shape and we didn’t want to tear out the old fabric and risk ruining the plush little form of batting underneath.

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After securing your fabric in the middle of each side with one staple, going around the perimeter of the piece and adding more staples all the way around takes about five seconds. And you’re left with something that looks pretty darn good- and that’s just the back.

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When it comes to the corners, folding them like you’re wrapping a present (and checking that it looks seamless from the front) is the way to go. It usually takes at least two darts and two staples, so don’t try to do it all at once. Slow and steady wins the corner-upholstery race. And the great thing about this process is that you can always pop a staple or two out with a flat head screwdriver if you want a do-over. Which practically guarantees a flawless finished product.

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Here’s our bench all put back together. Isn’t she a beaut? I wonder how many people laughed at that pathetic little $7 thrift store bench before we rescued her!

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Here’s a top view to show how we did our best to center the fabric both left to right and top to bottom before stapling it in place. See the center line that runs down the center of the bench? And the stripes on each side that hit about a half inch away from each edge? It’s those little details that make it look clean and profession. Not at all like an afternoon project done on a serious budget.

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If you can paint a wall and wrap a present you have all the skills you need to completely refinish a bench. And even if you can’t, you can now that we’ve given you the play by play. It’s easy and oh so rewarding. And every time a visitor stops to compliment your new addition you can offhandedly mention “oh this old thing, I picked it up for $7 at a thrift store”- priceless. Speaking of price, the entire cost of the whole bench project was $30 for the bench, the fabric and the paint. Not too shabby…

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So go get benched! And tell us all about it.

Looking for another tutorial? Check out our How-To page for everything from cabinet-painting instructions to headboard-making advice.

Comments

  1. Amy says

    Great idea guys, it turned out great!

    I also have a quick question: I finally found my own little burro tail this weekend at home depot (!) but, it didnt come with any care tips/instructions. do you have any tips to keep my cute litte burro healthy and strong? thanks!

  2. NancyV908 says

    I have admired that bench before–thanks! But I have two questions. First, with thrift-store finds, do you do anything to guard against the possibility of bugs if you’re keeping the old upholstery? I don’t like to use chemicals, but I would worry about that. (There has been a lot of stuff about bedbugs in the NY metro area lately, & I know John had an awful experience; one of the things I always hear is to be wary of cast-off furniture.)

    Second–& forgive me if this is posted elsewhere–is there a rule of thumb about when to sand & when to prime? Just wondering when it’s safe to skip the sanding, which is a task I loathe above all others. Thanks!

    • YoungHouseLove says

      Amy- Burro tails are so super easy to care for. Stick them in a place where they get a bit of sun and just water them (about a shot glass or two) once we week. They’re succulents so they don’t like to be damp or overwatered, so keep ’em dry and sunny and they’ll be happy!

      Nancy- John has taught me all about carefully looking over a piece before we even buy it for signs of bedbugs. They’re not invisible to the naked eye since they’re the size of a pencil eraser, so turning things over and checking the cracks along with the upholstery for any signs of droppings or bug activity (holes) is always something that we do. We also leave everything that we purchase with upholstery in the garage for a few days (this is especially helpful fall through spring) because bed bugs like warm temps so when it gets colder overnight it would kill them or drive them away). The way to do the big chill in the city without a garage space would be to remove the seat cushion and stick it in a garbage bag in the fridge or freezer. Might sound strange but it’ll do the trick!

      As for when to sand or stain, they’re both good ways to prep a piece and it’s really your call whether to do one, the other, or both. Sanding is always super easy on smaller older pieces, but if you’re refinishing a huge armoire you might just want to sand any rough or splintered areas and rely on the primer to get the entire piece prepped so you won’t be sanding all day. We always suggest sanding anything that’s super glossy though, because even with primer and paint it can still get chipped or scraped easily if the base of the piece is too shiny (since paint will have a hard time sticking to that surface). Hope it helps!

      xo,
      Sherry

  3. says

    At first I was surprised you didn’t replace the foam since in the first pic it looks like the cushion is saggy in the middle but maybe it just looks that way because of the fabric. The final result is great! I’m always looking for inexpensive furniture to revamp but the pickings around here are slim. I can’t wait for yardsales to start up since spring cleaning is just around the corner!

  4. says

    That bench is fabulous!! You guys did such a great job!

    And thanks for the step-by-step tutorial; your tips will definitely come in handy :)

  5. Brandi H. says

    John/Sherry:

    I was wondering if you would go over your routine of cleaning out your paint brushes and rollers. I am in the process of painting my kitchen and find it difficult to get the brushes clean. It usally results in leftover paint still on the brush, making the application not as smooth as the first use. Rollers, I usually just pitch. I looked on your how to page, but don’t think this has been addressed before.

    Thanks.

    • YoungHouseLove says

      Hey Brandi,

      Good question! We actually love to use plastic wrap when we’re in the middle of painting something that may need multiple coats with a bit of time between the applications. We don’t suggest this method if you’re not going to get to that last coat of paint for days, but if you know that your brushes may dry out in the time that you’ll be leaving them between coats, wrapping them in plastic wrap keeps them moist so no paint cakes onto those bristles.

      Secondly, we always rinse our brushes as soon as possible once we finish a project. Interior latex paints come out relatively easily, but it does take a while to squeeze them and get the water to run clear, so stick with it until that happens for a much better brush when you return to reuse it.

      And when we do have a brush that just isn’t as pristine as it once was, we save it for projects that don’t need as seamless of an application (like primer, for example, which is followed by so many layers of paint that a less-than-perfect application isn’t visible once the paint goes over it). Then we head out for a new brush, because when you’re doing a multi-step painting process like refinishing furniture or edging a room, you never want a sub-par brush to be the reason your finish doesn’t look flawless. Hope it helps!

      xo,
      Sherry

  6. cindy says

    Bench looks great! I love that fabric. I’m confused about something though, I was always under the impression that you can’t paint latex based paints over oil based paints? did I misunderstand?

    • YoungHouseLove says

      Hey Cindy,

      Nope you’re exactly right. Latex paint over old-based PAINT is a bubbly nightmare. But latex paint over oil-based PRIMER is one of the best ways to prep a piece for maximum certainty that it will look flawless after all those layers! Even the Benjamin Moore experts agree that although oil-based primer is a lot stickier and messier, it’s totally worth the added adhesion and will always result in a more durable and dependable finish. We’ll never use water-based primer again (we actually only did once and some stain in the wood beneath it bled right through it like it was water). Hope it helps!

      xo,
      Sherry

    • YoungHouseLove says

      Hey Sarah,

      The bench currently lives in the guest bedroom (it looks great with the brown patterned bedding and the green headboard). Who knows where else it will move in the future, though. We’re always shifting things around!

      xo,
      s

  7. Keri says

    Great bench! I hope to find one like that soon. I love to find things that are manageable size. Love the fabric too! I did a pair of chairs recently in a similar pattern. Love it!!

    • YoungHouseLove says

      Hey Candied Fabrics,

      Grrreeaaat office chair makeover!!! Everyone go check it out. Amazing!

      xo,
      Sherry

  8. says

    Sherry…thank God the first picture was not the after because I swear I was saying…OMG…Why did they do that..thats nothing they would do, and the fabric is UGLY…then I saw the after and was able to breathe..

  9. Ilana says

    Great makeover… it’s night and day. I have been looking for a lattice fabric in that same shade of green but have had no luck. Do you know the name and or designer of what you used? I love it. Thanks!

    • YoungHouseLove says

      Hey Ilana,

      The fabric is actually made by William’s & Sherrill, a local fabric store in Richmond with many of their own designs. They also of course carry the designer stuff, and it’s all rather expensive (ours was $24 a yard but we got it half price since we only got half a yard). Perhaps checking out the swanky, expensive local fabric stores (as opposed to chains like Joanne) might yield some lattice designs? They might be spendy, but if you only need a little bit it’s not too bad. Hope it helps! Happy hunting…

      xo,
      s

  10. says

    Hey Sherry, I just picked up a rattan coffee table with no top from the side of the road (yep, I’m a trash picker) and your bench gives me the idea to turn the table into a bench for the “mudroom” area of the new house. Since it’s just the rattan with no top or bottom I’ll build a “box” out of mdf to slide into the middle then put a foam and fabric top on with hinges.I think the rattan will give it great visual interest and while it will be a little lower than a normal bench (only 24″) I’ve been known to sit on a coffee table a time or two. So thanks for the great post today and when I get it done I’ll shoot you some pics.
    Ami Rae