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. Sandra T says

    I love it! I was hoping you would use the curtain from the drapes, yay! I’m also amazed to hear that BM can make spray paint…like in any of their colors? Verrrry Interesting!

  2. kate says

    i love the color you chose and can’t wait to see it with the beautiful fabric. would you consider throwing together a couple small lumbar pillows too? think it would be cool to see a peek of the fabric through the back of the chairs and it could only help the comfort level too!

  3. Bob says

    Wait a second $herdog. I could have sworn that in a previous post you said to do one heavy coat of spray paint versus multiple thin coats. I’ll go dig up the link, but why are you trying to confuse us?

  4. says

    I was hoping you’d add a new color into the mix since it seems like your house is gray and grellow but as long as you like it that’s all that matters. :)

    I think I’ve mentioned it before but you can use regular old paint as spray paint by buying a Preval sprayer from HomeDepot. It is $5 and you simply put your paint (watered down slightly with water) in the bottle and then spray. I’ve used it for two furniture makeovers in my house and love it.

    • says

      What about our teal guest bedroom and teal built in walls? That’s another pretty dominant color in our scheme we think! Along with soft blue-green-gray (like our bedroom walls) and rustic rich chocolate (like the top of the wood desk and our homemade wood console table) and even soft pink (Clara’s walls). Oh and yellow (front door, rug in guest room, etc). Haha, I actually think we have a ton more color going on here than in the last house! As for the Preval sprayer, I forgot all about that! Love it!! Very smart. So glad to hear it works so well!


    • says

      Haha- could be! Since 90% of our rooms are only 20% done we figure we still have lots of colors and accessories and art and fabric to layer in to keep it from all being just gray + grellow. It’s one of those takes-us-four-years-to-get-there things though!


  5. Joy says

    Very nice! You guys are giving grellow a good rep. I’m preparing to embark on some spray painting projects myself, and I was wondering where you purchase the liquid deglosser- is it a home improvement store product, or a craft store product? Thanks!

  6. says

    I wish I had read your spray paint tips a week and a half ago! Thanks to the drippage on my frames, I sounded like Ned Flanders (just replace the “diddly”‘s with “frikkin”‘s and it’ll be like you were there)trying to cuss without cussing.

  7. Lara says

    Love your choices so much! Can’t wait to see the end result!

    Also, I was really surprised at how thin your sprayed coats were–I’ve been doing mine waaay too thick. Thanks for the breakdown & visuals.

    One question: where do you get Safecoat Acrylacq? We tried Lowes this weekend & it was a no-go.

    • says

      We got ours from a local eco place here in Richmond, but you might have to order it online (it’s sort of hard to track down, but we’ve used the same quart of it for the last 2 years so it’s definitely worth it)!


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