How To Paint And Upholster A Chair: Part 1

Our $35 secondhand chairs – found here – aren’t quite done yet (picture me tapping my foot as I not-so-patiently wait for the paint to dry) but we thought we’d share our makeover progress in the interest of real-time fun. First a quick rundown of all the colors that John & I talked about for the office chairs at one point or another:

  • emerald green
  • turquoise, aqua, or dark teal
  • dark gray or light gray
  • plum
  • navy
  • white or light celery
  • lime green or grellow

Oh and here they are in the office before paint and new upholstery (from a few different POVS), just to refresh your memory:

Here’s where our brains went when we continued to debate each of those color options over the last month or so:

  • when you look into the office from the dining room there are two bright teal bookcases on each side of the doorway, so we thought turquoise or aqua or dark teal would be too “everything’s-teal” from that view
  • after going with gray on the walls, we abandoned the light or dark gray idea for the chairs since it felt a little too blah
  • navy was close to the color that was already on the chairs and it felt too dark for us
  • we worried that white or light celery might be a bit too safe (and could skew a little too palm beach) so we decided to go for something bolder and more cheerful
  • we worried plum would be just as dark as the original navy-ish color that was already on the chairs

So then we were left with emerald green and lime green or grellow. And I’m not gonna lie- I was rooting for emerald green for a while. I thought it would be nice and not-too-matchy when it came to the light grellow in the stencil and on the adjoining kitchen walls. But we held up ten million emerald swatches and stepped back and they all looked sort of… wrong. That’s the only way to describe it. The not-yellow undertones just seemed to clash with the adjoining kitchen and even the pop of color in the stencil since they were such warm greens and the emerald was so cool-ish and not-golden.

And the winner is…. grellow! Who is surprised? No one. Ok then. We figured why fight it if a super saturated & bold grellow would fit right in and reference the lighter kitchen walls and the soft grellow in the stencil while playing well with the other nearby elements (like the indigo light fixture, the teal globe on the file cabinet, the dark teal bookcases in the dining room, and the green runner & curtains in the dining room). The key was definitely hunting down something distinctly different (& bolder!) than the soft color on the kitchen walls and in the stencil so it didn’t feel bland and too monochromatic. Enter Sue the Napkin, stage right:


Since Sue is pretty much responsible for a ton of the color decisions that we make around here, we figured she couldn’t do us wrong in the “what green should we go with?” department. So we plucked a deep greeny-yellow right out of the napkin by holding up swatches until we landed on one that looked the most like it: Benjamin Moore’s Olive Tree. Then we taped that swatch to the chair, stepped back, and started singing kumbaya. It was magical. Everything was getting along swimmingly. Done deal.

But we needed to get spray paint in that color (since all the weaving in the chair definitely wouldn’t be easily coated with a paint brush) so the plan was to go to our local Benjamin Moore store to get them to make some custom spray paint mixed in that color (they can actually do that, well some of them can – just call to see if yours is one of them). Late last week I actually called to make sure ours still did it (they did) which is when I learned that it was too late in the day for them to make any (they closed at 6 and it was around 4 when I was calling). Bummer.

I planned to just wait to head over there the next morning but lo and behold while we were at Michael’s later that night we came across the spray paint aisle there, and what did we find? Krylon spray paint in “Ivy Leaf” which was – I kid you not – almost identical to the Benjamin Moore swatch of Olive Tree that I had tucked into my purse. So we bought two cans of it at $5.99 a pop. Hooray! Update: I just called Benjamin Moore back to see how much custom spray paint would have run me and they told me I would need to get a minimum of six cans of spray paint at $7-10 each! So glad Michael’s accidentally came through for us.

After we got home with my beloved spray paint I just removed the seat cushion on each chair (it was held in from the underside by four screws).

Then I wiped everything down with some liquid deglosser (we like Next Liquid Deglosser by Crown since it’s non-flammable, biodegradable, and low-VOC) and set them outside on cardboard for some spray primer. If the chipped paint had been rough and bumpy I definitely would have sanded to smooth things out, but the paint was worn down in such an oddly smooth way, there wasn’t anything for me to sand. Then it was primer time.

I applied a few thin and even coats (picture me misting it from 8-10 inches away, always keeping my arm moving to avoid drips) and let that dry for about 40 minutes.

Then I thought to read the can, which informed me that the topcoat should be applied within an hour or not until 24 hours later. So I impatiently decided that I didn’t want to wait. I quickly misted both chairs with about four suuuuper thin and even spray paint coats until they were happy and grellow. I snapped some photos of each thin coat so you could see how they’re very light (there’s almost zero coverage at first) and they build up to full coverage.

Here are a few more of my favorite spray painting tips:

  • Skip the bad/cheap/terrible $2 stuff in favor of the quality $6-7 options (I like Rustoleum’s trigger spray nozzle because it goes on thin and even – and doesn’t get all over your fingers).
  • Always keep the can moving. Seriously. If you’re a-sprayin’ your arm better be a-swayin’.
  • It’s best to keep the nozzle about 8-10″ away from whatever it is that you’re spray painting.
  • You really want a mist, not a heavy wet coating.
  • Three thin and even coats are better than one thick and drippy one.
  • Spray paint has yet to go no-VOC, so apply it outside with a mask, and let it fully cure as long as the can recommends outside whenever you can (usually 24 hours, we try to double that just to be even safer).
  • You can “seal” any spray paint (to limit off-gassing once you bring it inside) by applying two thin coats of Safecoat Acrylacq, which is low-VOC and non-toxic.

Voila, I was left with this chipper guy:

Make that two of them. Just chillin’ in the yard.

Oh but it took me three cans of spray paint total, so I had to go back for one more. As for the seat fabric, I had some leftover yardage from my little dining room curtain project.

And after holding up the fabric to the freshly grellowed chairs we were so happy. All systems are go. They look great together.

Originally I intended to use that extra fabric to make roman blinds for the office since that room is so open to the dining room thanks to the giant double doorway that’s flanked by the built-ins. But I got to thinking that it might be too matchy-matchy to use it on the windows and John and I kept dreaming more and more about bright grellow chairs, so it was the perfect compromise. This afternoon’s project is to reupholster the seats. I’ll share all those details along with after pics in a day or two (as soon as they’re dry enough to get jammed back together for photos).

Oh and don’t go very far this morning. We’ll actually be back in a few hours with a rare 11am post instead of our regular 2pm jam. Which is nice because it frees up my afternoon for reupholstering. Everyone wins.

Psst- We’re over on BabyCenter sharing an amazing resource for projects that you can DIY with your kiddos. There are so many fun ideas to add to our “someday to-do list” with Clara.


  1. Lindsey d. says

    I’ve finally learned to use your spray paint techniques and my god, they do work! Still have to work on my patience to get the awesome results you do….

  2. Leila says

    They look great so far! I’m excited to see what the finished chairs look like with their new seats :) You blog is a never ending source of inspiration! I discovered it just a few weeks ago which is perfect timing because I’m beginning to renovate my first home. Keep up your awesome work! :)

    • says

      Yes! That’s my little area that needs to be reseeded (it got burned this summer, so barely anything grows there anymore). We’re planning to dig it all out and reseed a little later in the fall (and then will go back to dropcloth coverage to protect the healthy grass!).


  3. says

    They look great! Can’t wait to see the finished product!

    Last week I posted about a floor lamp I repainted white. After bringing it in to its new home next to our [white] couch, it didn’t pop as much as I’d hoped. There were several suggestions to paint the lamp a bright color and I was thinking of going grellow to bring out my throw pillows. Thanks for the color inspiration!

  4. Erin says

    I love ALL OF THE WORK you have done in the office! The stencil is a beautiful addition! Can’t wait to see the chairs!

    A mere suggestion —
    If you pulled the yellow rug from the extra bedroom into the office, would it help “pull” the color from the wall? The design is similar to the curtains in the dining room and they have some yellow in them.

    Happy painting!

    • Lisa says

      Just a thought regarding rugs. It is not terribly expensive to have an existing rug, or a carpet remnant, “cut down” to a different size and the edges re-bound. You might look into that option for your office, where the ideal dimensions may not be a standard rug size. Many rug/carpet dealers offer this service, or they can refer you to a local business that does it. So don’t turn down a fantastic Craigslist or Goodwill rug because it is too big!

  5. says

    I got super excited about custom spray paint, until you said there was a minimum order.
    Cue Debbie Downer music.
    Side note: When you talk about your arm a-swayin’, all I could think of was an elephant, a la Jungle Book.

    • says

      You so should! It’s funny how those songs come back to you out of the blue.
      For the last month or so I’ve been singing songs from Aladdin. Haven’t seen that movie in a good 10-15 years, no clue where they’re coming from, but it’s kind of awesome.
      Of course, I fully intend to dance with my (future) kids to the soundtrack from Labyrinth, partially due to my very odd childhood crush on David Bowie.
      I think the hubs is already worried.

    • says

      Hahaha, I broke out the Prince Ali song a few nights ago! I couldn’t believe I still knew the words! “Prince Ali, fabulous he, Ali Ababwaaaaaaah!” Haha.


    • says

      I turn on Toddler Radio on Pandora in the mornings for my little guy, we have a widget thingy on our TV- its all very 2011- but they have a healthy dose of Disney classics on there- oh the nostalgia!! Some of the songs get me just like they did when I was ten dancing around the living room twirling a barbie, haha! I sit here just thinking, “seriously, Alan Menken is amazing…”

    • Steph says

      Haha, I was singing ‘Be our guest’ from Beauty and the Beast this morning while doing the dishes!

  6. Alvean says

    They already look great! Can’t wait to see the seats. Reupholstering seats makes such a difference to chairs. I liked your old house style but I love the direction your new house is taking. I always do a little happy dance inside my head when Sue the napkin appears!The colours are so beautiful.