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. Reenie says

    Love them! Can’t wait to see them with their new seat covers.

    I’m a spray painting fool ~ ~ nothing is safe around me. HA! I very rarely put down a drop cloth ~ my driveway is several different colors =) And in the grass… doesn’t kill my grass. ;)

  2. says

    Your chairs are looking great! You are so thoughtful about your color decisions…thanks for taking us through your decision process:).

    I just recently painted a Jenny Lind bed in a very similar color. I used Rustoleum’s Gloss Fern.

    Thanks for all the great tips!

  3. NATASHA says

    Wow! I scratched my head but this is so pretty! I can’t wait to see the curtains.
    Would you use a color outside your palette like red somewhere in the house? Our house is very neutral but pretty. I did paint our front door red using front door red fromlowe’s.

    • says

      Our last house’s front door was red and we loved it! The red-orange book on our desk is such a fun pop of color we definitely talk about bringing it in somewhere else (maybe also in an accessory or two in the kitchen or living room?). Should be fun to see where we end up!


  4. kathy says

    Hold up. Did you say “MAKE” roman shades?!!?!! I cannot wait for that post as I’ve been looking for roman shades for my daughter’s room. How do you spell overpriced? LOVE the office stencil and chairs. Lookin’ good (as always). xo

  5. says

    “If you’re a-sprayin’ your arm better be a-swayin’” cracks me up. every. time. And yes, I repeat that to myself when I spray paint,too.

    • toni from says

      it makes me laugh too, is that an expression that you came up with yourself Sherry? I also sing it when I spray paint now, can’t stop.

    • says

      Haha, why yes, I am the “inventor” of that terrible spray painting slogan. Haha. She says as she hangs her head in shame. Can’t fight the corny.


  6. Erin says

    I used Ivy Leaf a couple months ago in my hubby’s office and I am so happy with it. I painted his orange lamp Ivy Leaf and it had great coverage. I also love the pop of color. Glad it worked out for you too!

    You know what the benjamin moore spray paint might come in handy for, is painting cabinets and cabinet doors. Just thinking the consistency might be perfect for a saturated paint color like black without having the expense of renting/buying a paint sprayer & the clean up work. Thanks for the helpful tip.

  7. says first – love the chair…another awesome re-do by you guys!!! Also wanted to send major high fives for your “giving back” section on your sidebar – I’m not sure how long its been there but I just noticed it today!! I too am a huge supporter of the Richmond SPCA – my BFF is actually their COO – and even though I live in VB I am always amazed at just how wonderful their facility is for animals!!

    Hope you guys are having a great week!!

  8. Kayt says

    I loooove that shade of green! I painted my guest bedroom that color, and would have painted our master bedroom the same if my husband would have let me. I think that shade is more leafy green than a true grellow, but it is still the prettiest.

  9. Esther says

    Love the green! It’s so bright and cheery. Thanks for the tips on spray painting. It will come in handy in future DIY projects.

  10. Lauren says

    So not to be picky or that super annoying reader who makes suggestions but when you say “grellow” don’t you really mean “chartreuse”? Just a friendly question stemming from the fact that I don’t like how my mouth feels when I read “grellow” in my head. :0)

  11. Allison says

    Thanks for the “thin and even” pictures! I have been procrastinating painting and reupholstering my office chair, but haven’t known why. Clearly it is because I had no clue what “thin and even” actually meant and needed this tutorial first. Now I feel prepared to head into a long weekend of projects!

  12. Callie says

    This was the post I have been waiting for – the one that tells me it’s okay to spray paint the darn kitchen chairs. I have the (laminated!) fabric for the new seat covers ready to go and now I”m ready to get my spray paint on. Thank you!

    PS – Love the grellow. We painted our kitchen cabinets chartreuse in our old house – it was definitely a love it or hate kind of color. We LOVED it!

  13. Christie says

    L-O-V-E the new color on the chairs. So fun and fresh. I love pops of color in an office space. It makes it a more cheery place to be. Great job! :-)

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