How to Reupholster a Chair and Give Your Piece of Furniture a Fresh New Look (2024)

Whether you’re looking to restore a thrift store antique or just perk up an old piece of furniture that feels dated, knowing how to reupholster a chair is a fun and useful way to flaunt creativity. Thanks to the proliferation of virtual DIY tutorials, you can easily practice upholstery projects at home, and a dining room chair is a simple entry point. Starting over with new fabric lets you express yourself and, in the case of a vintage chair, preserve something special. “A lot of the older pieces are higher quality than less expensive ones on the market, and as a DIY’er, you’ll have the ability to reflect your exact personality and what you want in your home, rather than having a mass-produced dining room chair that looks just like your neighbor’s,” says upholstery instructor Kimberley Chagnon, cofounder of Kim’s Upholstery, a comprehensive online community that offers virtual and in-person classes.

Once you’re comfortable with the basics, you might even move on to curvier and more complicated projects (think wingback chairs). Want inspiration for all those “DIY reupholster chair” searches? Check out Celine Vanier, an upholsterer and fabric dealer based in France who shares her creations on her Instagram account, @the_girl_with_a_hammer, which has more than 100 upholstery chair transformations to make you beeline to the fabric store.

Before you start obsessing about glamorous aspects of how to upholster a chair, like new fabric and powerful staple guns, read on for a step-by-step tutorial on how to reupholster a dining room chair as well as tips for ripping out old upholstery, choosing the right material, and more.

Can I reupholster a chair myself?

Assuming you’re comfortable using tools like a staple gun, screwdriver, and sewing machine, you’re probably a good candidate for a DIY reupholstery project. You’ll also need to set aside a fair amount of time to either watch videos or take a class in person, as well as research and purchase upholstery fabric for your project. “The cost is not inexpensive, and it’s also labor intensive,” Chagnon says.

When considering how to reupholster a chair, Chagnon also notes that it’s important to assess the quality of the support system beneath the seat, especially with older pieces. “These things get dry and rot, can fail over time, dust goes through them, smells and spills can settle in and get embedded in the fabric,” she says. Chagnon also adds, “You wouldn’t want to put the effort in with a nice, expensive fabric, and find that five years later the seat is disintegrating out from under you.” When you begin the teardown process, which involves ripping out the old fabric and the other layers, you’ll usually see quite a bit of dust flying around.

What’s more, many people find this DIY home decor project is worth the effort, especially when you consider the environmental implication of restoring an older piece. “Every year, the building industry generates millions of tons of waste just in the United States, and home furnishings contribute to this, not just in the throwing away of old furniture but the packaging that goes into delivering new items and the emissions of shipping these things across the country or even the ocean,” says interior designer Jennifer Morris, founder and principal at JMorris Design in New York City.

What is the easiest way to reupholster a chair?

The easiest way to reupholster a chair is to start with a simple DIY project that has only a padded seat, such as a dining room chair. A style with a slip seat—a removable platform covered with padding, old fabric, and usually some kind of webbing—has a gentler learning curve than the type where the upholstery attaches directly to the frame of the chair. Keep in mind that when you remove the padding, you don’t necessarily need to replace it with the same amount that it had before. “I had a client who inherited some tufted chairs, but we ended up removing the tufting and making them a better match to their modern sensibilities,” Morris says.

Can you reupholster over existing fabric?

Although putting new upholstery over old fabric seems like a quick makeover, this is generally a bad idea for a few reasons. “It would make [the chair] so bulky,” says Manjeet Upple, association manager for the Association of Master Upholsterers and Soft Furnishers (AMUSF) in Buckinghamshire, England.If the original upholstery fabric is dirty, the stains can go through onto new fabric, especially if you’ve spilled something greasy.

How to Reupholster a Chair and Give Your Piece of Furniture a Fresh New Look (2024)
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