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…


  1. says

    Clara’s reaction is just adorable!

    Do you remember where you got the spray paint? It’s a great yellow. I was looking for some yellow at Lowe’s the other day, and all they had was “safety yellow” which I wasn’t too sure about . . .

  2. Meg says

    Add Pillow Hoarders Anonymous to the list! The background of the picture of the chair in the playroom gives you away more than we already knew!
    PS> The chair looks great! Love the yellow.

  3. Meg says

    Love it! It’s so cheerful! And she looks so thrilled. :)

    I have a question, too. When you’re painting furniture, how do you decide whether to spray paint or use a brush? I love your DIY furniture painting tutorial and used it to do a table and chairs (which turned out great), but now I’m wondering if I could have saved myself a lot of tears and swearing and spray painted the chairs instead.

    Thanks in advance! <3

    • says

      I generally use a brush or a small foam roller on large-ish furnishings like side tables, dressers, dining tables, desks, etc (since you can get spray paint drips in corners and have issues with things cracking and peeling if it’s on there too thick) and I usually use spray paint for smaller things like stools, small wood chairs, lamp bases, frames, accessories, etc. I would have totally painted the chairs to your table by hand though, because you want it to look exactly like the table, so unless it’s a small wood stool or baby chair I would probably do exactly what you did. Hope it helps!


  4. says

    Love the chair! How fun. And because I can’t pass up a good TWSS moment – second sentence of the post…TWSS. I might need a support group for that. That and buying thrift store furniture.

    After two years in our house, we have exactly 6 things hanging on the walls of our 2,100 square foot house and one of those is a clock – fail. My weekend project was getting an artsy thing on a wall (http://thisdiylife.wordpress.com/2012/03/25/make-it-pretty/).

  5. Kim says

    Love the chair! Such a fun pop.

    Can I just mention that little baby Clara doesn’t look like little baby Clara anymore!? I don’t know if her hair looks darker or if her face is maturing a bit, but she is growing up so fast! Such a beautiful little bambina :)

  6. Sarah says

    OMG. That first close-up pic of her shows just how much she looks like YOU Sherry!! Especially in the smile. Sooo pretty! And I love the chair makeover. I’m seriously wanting to re-do this small white Target desk I got a few years ago, and I think you may have given me the nudge I need.

  7. says

    Clara is just too cute!! And I love the chair that color, what a great idea! Do you think you’ll need to add a strap or something for her? It looks like she’s pretty good at sitting in it without one, but just curious!

    • says

      I think she’s ok without a strap now (she even sits at booths in restaurants with us sometimes. Of course we have to keep an eye on her, but we’re always with her when she’s eating anyway so it seems to work!


  8. Kristen says

    Is there a tip to getting around the back part of the chair (like the poles that go from the seat to the top)? I’m dying to paint some kitchen chairs we have but I’m not sure I know a good technique in getting around the “spindles?” is that what they are using spray paint.

    • says

      I just like buying good spray paint that can be sprayed at any angle (even upside-down) which Rustoleum is great about. I just hit it from many different places (below, above, all sides, etc) and it covered nicely!


  9. Sherri says

    This is looks so great and Clara is so awesome for being a sweet, happy, appreciative little bean! This is so much more special than the highchairs on the market today. Pretty soon your Magic Room of Unfinished Business will be cleared of stuff and your “Dude, Get On That Already” will be decorating the room itself!

  10. emma says

    Thanks for the push to get little projects done too! A great reminder that the little punches of color and character complete a house!

  11. Jenn says

    a. dor. a. bul.

    Isn’t it wonderful to see the world through a child’s eyes when a bright yellow chair rocks your world.

    PS. that chair would rock my world to.

  12. Laura says

    OKAY, I’LL GET ON IT!!! (meant with some sarcasm…) I’ve read so many of these posts about the projects that you’re finally tackling, I can’t stand it anymore…. finally going to tackle one of my own! I’m planning to spray paint two lamps (my first spray-painting attempt… I know…) that I bought at goodwill, oh, you know…. 8-ish months ago. They’re currently a cream color, but I loved the dark purple/plum that you spray painted some ceramic animal recently (I can’t keep track), so I went to Lowes and bought the same color. Wish me luck! If they turn out nice, I’ll post some pics :-) Thanks for the motivation!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *