Updating An Old Wooden Highchair

Remember this old highchair that I got from my mom almost a year ago, which she ate out of when she was a bambina? Well dude, I finally got on that.

I had been waiting patiently to give it a little upgrade (it was covered in old paint splatters and smelled musty and smoky from a ton of years in storage) and now that Clara is big enough to sit in it without a lap belt, it was finally time to get ‘er done (after, you guessed it, sticking it in our playroom for at least eight months).

I debated a ton of “refinishing” options:

  • sanding and staining it
  • spraying it white or black for a classic look
  • going bright turquoise, navy, lime, yellow, or even a fun orange-red color

But in the end, I thought about the three places it would probably get used the most:

  • the dining room table
  • the kitchen peninsula
  • the living room table (the round pedestal one by the window where we sometimes eat)

So John and I had a little pow-wow and decided the finish that worked the best for those three rooms was…. bright happy yellow! How did we come to that conclusion? Well…

  • our front door is bright yellow and the dining room looks awesome when that door is open so you can see that pop of color (it’s also in our curtains)
  • we have a few happy yellow accessories in the kitchen and they look great against the grellow, gray, brown, and white backdrop
  • I carried these yellow horse heads into the living room and they looked so fun in the space

And so it was settled. I did my little pre-spray painting jig (oh spray paint, how do I love thee – let me count the ways) and brought the chair outside:

First came the spray priming step. I intentionally didn’t sand the chair at all because there were old paint splatters on it that I worried could be lead paint, since this chair is very very very old (haha, sorry for all the verys mom- you don’t look a day over 29!). So per the recommendation for lead paint, I let it lie and just opted to paint right over it. I applied three super thin and even coats of spray primer (more of a mist than a coat actually, and I always kept my hand moving and my nozzle around 8-12″ away from the chair – see more spray painting tips here).

As for what I used, I actually went with my favorite spray paint with primer built in. It’s called Rustoleum Universal in the satin white color. I had a can on hand and have already used it as a primer under brightly colored spray paint with success (just because it has paint and primer doesn’t mean you can’t layer another color of spray paint on top of it and have that first few coats of primer/paint grab it and hold it for the long haul). So here’s how it looked after the white primer + paint was fully applied:

Then on went a few thin and even top coats of Sun Yellow, also by Rustoleum (from Home Depot) which I actually used on these horse heads and this box (I’m convinced it’s the perfect yellow color, which is harder to track down in spray paint form than you’d think).

After a few thin and even coats of that when I had nice solid coverage, I had this:

I left it outside for two consecutive nice and sunny days so it could cure (bringing it into the sunroom overnight in case there was an unexpected storm or morning dew to contend with). After two days outside it was pretty much cured up, but I let it sit for another 48 hours in the sunroom with the windows open, just to be sure that it was nice and dry (and no longer smelled like spray paint) before bringing it inside.

By then the paint was hard and glossy – and fully ready for serious kid abuse (jumping the gun and using something that you’ve painted too soon is probably the number one way to end up with scrapes and dents in your paint job – especially when a toddler is in charge of quality control). So it was finally time for Clara to give it a try. I brought it into the corner of the living room before grabbing her after her nap so I could document her “discovery” when she came padding in and noticed it.

The good news is as soon as she saw it and I told her it was her new big girl chair she got crazy excited about it and tried to climb right up:

She needed a little mommy help to get up there, but she was definitely comfortable sitting in it. Here she is beaming like the proud big-girl-chair-owner that she is.

The kid was all smiles (and apparently still figuring out how to sit up straight in it, but she got the hang of that soon enough):

Then there was some happy singing (at a very high volume, but it was for a good cause):

It was at this point in The Presentation Of The Yellow Chair process that I wished I had something this exciting to give to her every day – or at least every month. She really was loving her big girl chair as much as any toy we’d ever given her. This is her face when daddy walked into the room to see her trying out her new chair.

Here are some detail shots because I can’t step. away. from. the. camera. See those shiny gleaming spots on the chair in the pic below? This is the beauty of gloss paint. It’s also super durable and wipeable since it has extra flex and shine in the formula. The only thing with gloss paint is that it shows imperfections more (they’ll gleam right along with the rest of it) so you’ll want to be extra careful about applying thin and even coats of primer and paint (you can even sand a drip down between coats if you get one).

Really, what’s a hand shot without a foot shot?

And how about a shot from above?

Oh yeah, and then this happened. A few rousing rounds of “Where’s Clara?”….

…. “there she is!” ensued.

So… victory! The girl loves her big girl chair and yellow just happens to be her current favorite color. At least today it is, but if you ask her tomorrow it might be pink. Although now that she has her new yellow chair, it might stick. And I showed my mom and she beamed, so apparently she’s in love with her old chair’s new life. She said yellow was the perfect color for Clara while still being friendly for a future kiddo of either sex and I didn’t even think about that so I’m glad it worked out. Haha. So a big thank you goes out to my mom for handing down such a charming little seat for the bean and encouraging us to make it our own with some happy color. It’s kind of amazing to think that three generations of our family have snacked on things while sitting in it (I also used it for a stint when I was younger). And you gotta love free hand-me-downs!

That’s what I got on this week for my Dude Get On That Already challenge. And it was a nice big item to remove from the playroom. Huzzah! I wish I could take photos of the playroom as my embarrassingly giant mess o’ things is reduced each week, but since we have secret book projects in the mix we’re not allowed to reveal those. Boo. Anyway, what highly overdue task have you guys tackled recently? Any chair makeovers or spray painting sprees going on? I think along with Ceramic Animals Anonymous I might need Spray Painters Anonymous…


    • says

      I always read the can (since the recommendation can vary by brand) but in this case it was about 30 minutes between each thin coat of primer and then I waited about an hour and then did thin coats of paint around 30 minutes apart again. Then lots of drying time!


  1. says

    The chair looks fabulous! All your animal painting projects have inspired me and I’ve just bought a can of spray-paint primer and a nice bright white to tackle my first make-it-new-with-spray-paint project…some old Abe Lincoln bookends currently painted faux-bronze. They were my grandmother’s (she was fascinated by Abe) but just don’t fit our current aesthetic, so here’s hoping that spray paint will help them play nicer with our other decor. Wish me luck!

  2. Susan @ Retro Restyling says

    Ha! Don’t you love not being able to stop snapping away pictures, especially of your kids? That chair is perfect! And good choice for not sanding it down… It’s not worth the risk. The bean looks happy and that’s all that matters so great job!!!!

    • says

      I always read the can (since the recommendation can vary by brand) but in this case it was about 30 minutes between each thin coat of primer and then I waited about an hour and then did thin coats of paint around 30 minutes apart again. Then lots of drying time!


  3. Monika says

    I too have an addiction lately to spray paint. I have decided to ORB every, single, door knob and hinge on something like 12 doors in out house. Is this normal? My husband thinks I’ve lost it ;)

  4. says

    We have the same chair.
    It was my husbands. We used it for our kids. Now they are too big, so we are saving it for grandkids … someday!!!
    Inspiring color! Wish we’d have thought of it back then!
    I would have picked RED for us.

  5. Laura says

    I have the same chair! My dad and his siblings grew up using it and then I inherited it as my throne for every Sunday dinner at my grandparents house growing up. As the baby in the family, I got to keep it as my own for 12 years until I grew a bit too big to sit in it. Yes, I was a 12 year old in a highchair. Embarrassing. I do love that seat though, I can’t wait to jazz it up for my future kiddos!

  6. Sum says

    So so beautiful … You know your idea of doing a children’s line of furniture sometime in the future? Well this chair has got to make an appearance in that! It would be a sell out – I want one for my toddler baby….may be he would actually eat something if he was in it ( we are having a no eating phase at the moment – very stressful for this mama)

  7. says

    We almost bought that color for our patio furniture! Seriously, we love it, and I know I’ll be buying it soon for something (we wound up going with Lagoon which is GORGEOUS). Such a sweet, happy girl!

  8. Lindsay says

    WOW. Seriously I am speechless. I would have never thought to do this. And the color is perfect. I love this yellow and the fact that you guys aren’t over doing it. I think the few yellow things you have are perfect touches.

    That first pic of Clara smiling just melts my heart.

  9. Sarah says

    Gosh, Clara is so adorable. She totally overshadowed your awesome chair project. Best staging ever.

    We have that exact same hand-me-down chair for our daughter. She used it until last month when she decided she was now old enough to use a regular chair (she’s 5.5). But before that, it was *her* chair and whoa to anyone who attempted to sit in it. I cannot bear to part with this chair and I doubt I will until grandchildren show up (20+ years from now!)

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