Adventures In Painting An Upholstered Chair (Yes Painting It!)

Alternate post title: “In A Minute, I Have To Hairdry The Chair”

Guys, I did something crazy. Since we’d like to take our $25 hotel-ish dining chairs to a crisp not-patterned apple green (the curtains I want to make will be patterned, so I just want chairs in a fun color but without a pattern that I’ll tire of) I decided to paint them.

I know. Insane. But I didn’t think I had much to lose since the backup plan is to reupholster or slipcover them (both of which would still be entirely possible if I didn’t like how the whole painting thing turned out). I went into it as a hmm-this-experiment-should-be-interesting thing. Nothing was guaranteed and I felt like a crazy person the whole time. Yup, I was skeeeeered. I mean who paints a chair? Well besides a few amazing bloggers who have posted about how well it went for them. For example, this tutorial was up on my iPhone the entire time for reference and encouragement. Just look at Kristy’s amazing chair transformation. She did that with paint!

So here’s how it all went down. I pretty much just based my method on Kristy’s breakdown with a bit of flexibility since the directions on some of my supplies conflicted with a few steps. And speaking of supplies, here they are (that’s the Top Chef finale in the background BTW):

I got three tubes of “Fabric Painting Medium” and three tubes of acrylic paint in cheerful apple green from JoAnn Fabrics for under $10 total. I also picked up a quart of satin interior paint by Glidden in Granny Smith Apple (I thought it was meant to be since I’ve always talked about “apple green” chairs).

Then I just followed Kristy’s directions for the most part (admittedly not to the letter because I was also trying to adhere to the instructions on the back of my specific fabric medium, so I tried to walk the line between those and Kristy’s) and mixed one part latex paint and one part textile medium in a bowl. In order to get an even ratio I even got all type-A and dumped out the fabric painting medium into a measuring cup so I would know how much paint to add to keep the amounts equal. Here you can see that it was about a third of a cup:

Of course I accidentally dumped way too much paint into the measuring cup so I had to pour a good amount back into the can, but I was definitely happy that I wasn’t just trying to eye things (would’ve had way too much paint in the mix).

Eventually I got down to a third of a cup of latex paint and poured that into the third of a cup of fabric painting medium that I already had in the bowl.

And mixed that up with a brush that I had on hand. I was a little worried because the whole thing was looking pretty yellow but paint is always kind of an odd color until it dries and gets darker.

Then I added about a quarter of a cup of water to the bowl to thin things out a bit per Kristy’s suggestion. Next up was spraying down the chair with water (I reused an old cleaning bottle) so it was moist and ready for paint to glide over it evenly (instead of soaking up too much and getting all clumpy).

Here’s an in-progress painting shot that John grabbed over my shoulder as I went (I was too afraid of getting it wrong to stop and pose for a clear pic).

And here’s the after. Well actually I still had a few more steps left, hence the “wait a minute I have to hairdry the chair” title. John asked if I wanted to watch The Soup and I said, yup you guessed it: “wait a minute I have to hairdry the chair.” Which struck John as hilarious for some reason (I can’t imagine why) and he proclaimed that it had to be the title of this post.

The reason I was supposed to hairdry the chair was to set the textile medium (it needs heat, and when you can’t toss whatever you’re painting in the dryer, like a chair, you can apply heat with a hairdryer. But I reread the instructions on the textile medium tube and it said that I had to wait a day for the heat-setting step. So we watched The Soup and my crazy painted chair sat in the corner of the living room drying.

Here are a few first impressions:

  • It’s way too neon and not as apple green as I’d like (my fault since I chose the color, but that could be fixed with different paint).
  • Man, that took forever! Over an hour and a half to paint one chair (I applied a few even coats for better coverage). That factors out to 12 solid hours to do all eight chairs.
  • It looks kinda cheap and those annoying swirls in the fabric still show through. See?

And here’s where we ended up after sleeping on it:

Slipcovering or reupholstering is a better solution for us since we’re not happy with the swirly texture that still shows through, the semi crunchy feeling (they’re not as smooth as vinyl, more like a rough burlap), and the odd look of painted seams (the flat parts of the chair don’t look as crazy, but the seams/folds in the corners just look gunky and unconvincing – as if they’ve very clearly been painted – since they have).

This method is obviously one of those it-depends-what-you’re-painting experiences. Because seriously, how amazing is that turquoise painted chair at the top of this post? I’ll save you the scrolling trouble. Here it is again (with a full tutorial here). So inspiring, right?

And although we didn’t have the same success, we’re glad that we tried this whole crazy process just to have it under our belts and share it with you guys (well, we didn’t end up applying the last coat of acrylic paint to finish things off because we decided to abort the mission, but I did later hairdry it to set it). And it’s definitely set for good, so for anyone wondering if a painted chair will rub off on the person who sits on it, nope. It’s just like how you can wear and even machine wash your painting clothes over and over again without worrying if they’ll smear. Once that paint is set into your shirt it’s hard and permanent (and the fabric medium is meant to help soften the paint so it’s less crunchy, in case you’re wondering about that additive).

So as of right now the green painted chair is living in the crazy cluttered playroom while the other seven unpainted chairs are still hanging out in the dining room waiting for reupholstering or cheerful apple green slipcovers.

We’ll keep you guys posted as this crazy chair adventure continues. Who knows where we’ll end up (our guess is slipcovers but you never know)…

Psst- We’re talking about how kids never fail to want the only non-toy items within their reach (the remote, your cell phone, the keys, your sunglasses) and we’re divulging Clara’s very favorite (and admittedly very weird) not-a-toy toys over on BabyCenter.


  1. says

    I have been weary about the painted fabric since you or another commenter mentioned it a few posts ago. I just imagine the paint cracking each time you sit down… Since parson chairs are pretty straightforward without too many frills and curves, it seems like it would be easy to sew quick slipcovers?

    • Julie Grogan says

      My suggestions either would be to find some slipcovers, even if they are too big, and nip-tuck them to fit or find one slip cover that fits and cut it apart to use as a pattern. Better yet, what my neighbors and I have done is to barter jobs based on our talents, ie ” I’ll sew if you paint”.

  2. says

    Well, at least you tried. It looked like the chairs had texture, so I was curious about the results. I think you can make a slipcover easily enough for the back and I think you can upholster the seat, too. I’ve considered making fun patterned slipcovers for our Dolce chairs, and that was my plan of attack.

  3. says

    Well, at least you gave it the good ‘ol college try. I agree with Mike (above), and I think that Parson’s chairs will be fairly easy to slipcover or reupholster.

    Have you checked out any adult education classes in your area? (That’s where I was able to take a reupholstering class.)

  4. says

    I’m the one with the painted chair. I love this post. It highlights that it won’t work for every case. If I can change or add anything to my instructions let me know. I was actually using a textil medium that didn’t require heat setting (I ended up with a different one after the second and third coats) so I didn’t set it. But, still no rubbing off or anything. That is one thing that is for sure – patterns and textures show through the paint. And, yep, seams were hard – I really watered that part down so it didn’t accumulate there. Please make any suggestions you want for the tutorial – feel free to email me. It’s awesome that you tried it! I guess what do you have to lose if you are going to possibly slip cover anyway. I’m sorry it didn’t work out, but I do appreciate you sharing!

    • says

      Velvet paints wonderfully, I did it a few years ago and changed a champagne set of chairs to black and they ended up looking like old cracked leather…they were so cool.

      and I love the royal wing chair, super cool.

    • says

      Oh my goodness….I just finished trying this and I LOVE it! I definitely learned some things along the way and would love to share. The chair still needs some final sanding, but I posted a sneak peak on my blog (that I finally set up like two hours ago!) I knew blogging would be fun once I figured it out. :-) I’ll have to get some better pictures when it’s done-done, but I was so excited I just had to share. Hope you like it! I love your blue chair, and thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for your tutorial!

  5. says

    Definitely didn’t know you could paint fabric like that… oh well! Good effort :D And as far as sewing goes, have faith! The only thing you really need to learn to do is sew in a straight line, hah. And places like Craigslist have a ton of old but good sewing machines!

  6. Jessica Z. says

    I’m glad you gave it the good ole college try, but am more glad you are going the slip-covered route. I think it will look more professional and put together.

    And gotta say, sounds as if we have similar TV taste. We’ve watched all seasons of Top Chef, and All-Stars is tied with Las Vegas for our favorite season. Since you like The Soup, have you watched Community? It’s pretty good, and Joel McHale is his usual self . . .

  7. says

    A valiant attempt. I would have been too nervous to paint and while I like the color I agree about those stubborn swirls. AND, I adore JoAnn :)

  8. tarynkay says

    That chair is such a simple shape, I don’t think it would be that hard to just reupholster them. I just reupholstered a storage ottoman- just needed some appropriate fabric and a heavy duty stapler. It took about an hour, and was surprisingly easy. I am sure that more complicated shapes would be much trickier- but for this, you can probably just screw the legs off and go to town. Anyhow, that seems simpler and ultimately more what you’re going for than sewing slipcovers. And you could always give it a shot with one chair before making a final decision. If you hate it, it’s easy to pull the staples out and start over.

  9. says

    I have heard of this technique, but never seen it done before – so at least you gave it a try! I am interested in where you guys find (or how you will make) the slip covers. I have never been lucky when it comes to sofa or chair covers.

  10. Rachel says

    I can’t wait to see how the chairs end up! I have two kittens that used their claws to murder my dinning room chairs that look so similar in size and shape to yours. I’ll definitely be looking to you for the inspiration on that project!

  11. miriam says

    Honestly, I don’t think the fabric is that bad…doesn’t it kind of look nice with the bookcases? And once you have some art on the walls, a rug, and more stuff in there, might you not like it better?

    I would be very wary about lightish-colored solid upholstered chairs in the dining room–stains are much more apparent on solids, and you might end up really regretting it. Have you considered apple green leather (if there even is such a thing?)

    • says

      Nope, we’ll never like the original it on seven chairs. It just screams 90’s hotel to us (maybe it’s a you-have-to-be-here-in-person thing). As for slipcovers, we’ve had white slipcovered sofas with a dog and a baby and those have actually worked really well for us, so apple green washable cotton slipcovers should be a-ok. Originally we wanted green leather parson’s chairs but then we found these for $25 a pop (as opposed to around $100 a pop for green leather ones) so we decided to figure out how to Tim Gunn them (make them work).


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