Beginner's Guide To Reupholstering Furniture (2024)

Updated: Sep. 14, 2023

Reupholstering furniture sounds daunting, but you can do it with planning and the right tools.

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When I was growing up, my mom got our couches reupholstered every five years or so. I think she still has them today.

With that in mind, a few years ago I had an overstuffed chair that needed a refresh, so I thought, how hard could it be? [Narrator: It was a little hard.] I made a few mistakes, but I learned a ton, and the result was a beautiful “new” chair that I love.

“Reupholstering is all about being sustainable, saving money [and] getting your creative juices flowing,” says Shawn Zar, a furniture and seating expert at Superior Seating.

If you’re thinking about giving this creative, totally doable craft a try, we’ve got expert tips to get you started on the path to success. Side note: If you’re good at reupholstery, you can flip furniture finds and make some extra money!

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Benefits of Furniture Reupholstering

“Reupholstering furniture has a bunch of great perks,” Zar says. It’s a fun endeavor that boosts your DIY skills repertoire and comes with all kinds of tangible and intangible benefits.

  • It’s eco-friendly:Reupholstering furniture prevents it from ending up in the landfill. “You’re basically recycling your furniture by sprucing it up instead of chucking it out,” Zar says.
  • It’s customizable: Reupholstering is a blank canvas. “You get to redefine a piece to match current design aesthetics or personal taste,” says Artem Kropovinsky, a designer and founder of Arsight interior design.
  • It saves money:Reupholstering old, dated or just plain ugly furniture is easier on your wallet than buying new.
  • It honors the past:“Reupholstering breathes new life into treasured pieces,” Kropovinsky says, “keeping memories intact.”

Furniture Reupholstery Starter Projects

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As with any craft, when you’re just starting out, it’s best to choose a project that gives you a high chance of success.

Stick to simple pieces of furniture with single cushions that don’t require complex sewing skills. (Save the Queen Anne-style couch for another day.) Barstools, dining room chairs, ottomans and benches are great projects to try out your reupholstering skills.

Why do these work so well? They’re really forgiving, and generally have a single element with fabric. (Ottomans may be a little more complicated, depending on the design.) Staples are hidden from view, and you’re not out a lot of time if it takes a few tries to get it right.

Take it from me: Do not start with a big chair with multiple cushions, piping and a skirt.

Furniture Reupholstery Tools

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Having the right tools will set you on the path for success. You probably have a few of the basics already, but two key items are a must.

First, a staple puller.“A sturdy staple remover is your best friend,” Kropovinsky says. “It makes stripping old fabric a breeze.” Next, high-quality fabric scissors ensure clean cuts and reduce fraying.

Here’s everything you need to get started, as well as some aspirational items for when you’re more experienced.

  • Staple puller;
  • Fabric scissors;
  • Staple gun;
  • Foam or padding;
  • Fabric, welt cord (optional) and other decorative items;
  • Upholstery needles and thread (optional);
  • Sewing machine (optional);
  • Basic hand tools like a screwdriver, pliers and a hammer.

Reupholster Furniture Tips

Now that you have your tools and project laid out, can you just pick up any old barstool off the street? Is Grandma’s dusty dining set worth your time?

“Contrary to popular belief,” Kropovinsky says, “not every furniture piece is a candidate.”

Let structural integrity and sentimental value guide you, but be realistic. “If the frame’s compromised or repair costs exceed replacement, it’s better to step back,” Kropovinsky says.

Look for solid furniture with lots of life left. “Typically, antique or well-built frames are prime contenders,” Kropovinsky says. Here are more of the expert’s tips to get you started:

  • Inspect the frame. If it’s sturdy, that’s a good sign.
  • Check the padding. Worn out or sagging cushions will need to be replaced.
  • Examine the springs and webbing. If these are shot, the project may be too big for a beginner, even if you only plan to cover them up.
  • Look for excessive mold and pest infestations — these are a no-go.
  • Start with simple shapes, and be patient while you’re learning.
  • Choose your fabric wisely. Some materials, while attractive, may not endure daily wear and tear.

Basic Barstool Project

If you’re ready to give reupholstering a try, Zar walks us through a perfect beginner project: the padded barstool. You can use these steps to tackle similar projects like dining room chairs and bench seats.

As you get more advanced, work on techniques like using welt cord for piping, adding decorative buttons and making cushions with a sewing machine.

Follow these steps to refurbish a garage sale find or a dated stool from your kitchen:

Gather your tools

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Zar says for this project you’ll need fabric, a staple gun (and staples), staple puller or screwdriver and fabric scissors. Consider replacing the foam padding if it’s a little worse for the wear.

Dismantle the stool

Remove the seat and back, if applicable, from the legs to make it easier to work. There may be screws, brackets or other connectors. If you can’t get the legs off, it’s OK to just work around them.

Remove the old upholstery

Carefully take off the existing fabric by prying off the existing staples or upholstery tacks. If any go flying, track them down to spare bare feet and paws later.

Cut padding and fabric

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If you’re replacing the padding, lay it on the floor or table and set the seat on top. Trace around the seat. Cut out the padding and set aside. Next, cut the fabric to size, allowing several inches of overlap to give you enough extra to fold under the seat.

Attach pad and fabric to stool

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Lay the fabric on your workspace and center the foam on top. Orient any patterns to follow the edges of the seat. Attach one side of the fabric to the bottom with staples, then work your way around the entire seat. Fold neatly and carefully at the corners (if applicable) to give the seat a professional look.

Trim excess fabric, hammer down any imperfect staples and re-attach the legs to the stool. You’re done!

Beginner's Guide To Reupholstering Furniture (2024)
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