You say “Crafty”, I say “Handy”

May 9, 2013 — 15 Comments

First off let me acknowledge that never in a million-billion years did I think I would be writing on todays subject … reupholstering chairs. I mean, architects are all about hammers, power tools and blenders … not fabric. Even as I write this, I can only imagine that there are interior decorators all over the world choking on their red wine.

An Architect talking about reupholstering chairs?! Ludicrous! Impossible!

Well, I am breaking from tradition to say that yes – this weekend I reupholstered my dining room chairs and you know what? It was so easy even a… well, let’s just say someone who drinks a lot of red wine could do it.


Reupholstering Chairs removing the seat

This is actually the second time I’ve recovered these chairs and no, not because I didn’t do it right the first time. This process is very simple and since I have a lot of neutrals in my house, this is one area where I can make a change to my color scheme for a whopping grand total of around $50. The first step (other than buying the 2.5 yards of upholstery fabric for $20 a square yard) was to remove the seats from the chairs. Estimated time spent = 10 minutes


Reupholstering Chairs the actual chair

This is what the chairs looked like once the seats were removed. Yep – that’s what a seat less chair looks like, very “woody”.


Reupholstering Chairs the new fabric

This is a close up look at the fabric my wife and I selected … and I have to admit it wasn’t an easy decision because I had some rules. When we went into the fabric store [shudder] I told my wife that acceptable colors would be reds, oranges, golds, some yellows – but no greens or blues and try to stay away from any more browns. I also didn’t want stripes or solid colors … because we do have a kid who occasionally forgets the role of a napkin.

5 laps up and down every single aisle in the store, we had settled on the pattern and colors you see above. [nailed it] Estimated time spent = 45 minutes


Reupholstering Chairs the old seat cover

The next step was to remove the old seat covers which was actually the most time-consuming part of the entire project. Last time I recovered these seats, I must have used a billion staples. Once the old fabric has been removed, use the old covers as templates for the new covers. Estimated time spent = 1 hour 10 minutes


Reupholstering Chairs the right tools for the job

The secret to doing any job correctly is to have the proper tools – which in this case is a staple gun and 5/16″ staples. If you don’t own a staple gun you should go get one. A good staple gun is one of my “Top Ten Tools in your Tool bag”. I’ve had this one for like 10 years and it still delivers like a champ.


Reupholstering Chairs attaching the fabric

The next step is to start attaching the fabric to the seat – I work my way around starting at the middle with a staple – rotate – and continue, leaving the corners loose. once I have evenly attached the fabric on all for sides, it’s time to focus on the corners


Reupholstering Chairs at the corners

Here is a close up look at the corners and how I arranged my staples. I’m quite sure there is some fancy French word for what this corner technique is called but I have no idea what it is.


Reupholstering Chairs folding the corners in

Using your index finger (I am using the more advanced “stacked finger” technique perfected by Shaolin Monks) just fold the corner material back towards the seat on the diagonal. When you fold it properly, you get a nice even squared edge corner. (see next picture).


Reupholstering Chairs the corners

This would be my nice [mostly] squared corner. Being consistent with how the fabric pies down in the corners will keep the seat siting squarely on the chair.


Reupholstering Chairs keeping track

I don’t know if this is a crucial step but I marked the seat bottoms to the chair they came from on the slight chance that they were slightly different or out of square from one seat to the next.


Reupholstering Chairs the final product

And violà! The finished product. Estimated time spent = 8 minutes per chair x 6 chairs = 48 minutes

So $50 and 3 hours later I had transformed my old dining room chairs into something fresh and fabulous. You say “crafty”, I say “handy”. Either way, this is a simple, low-cost project that literally anybody could do.

So get to work reupholstering those old chairs! (and good luck)

Bob signature



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  • Master Wu

    Reupholstering old office chairs was my very first assignment as a “professional” architectural intern. Good times…

  • Mikheil

    Great! Thanks for shearing. I would prefer more contrast colors, like more red & orange.

  • architectrunnerguy

    Very nice Bob.

    And I like how you used the documenting of this job to highlight your recently refinished concrete floors. Noticed you worked that in in also in the “portfolio” photos earlier this week. Nice.

    When we became owners of the family “heirloom” dining room table and chairs we reupholstered them the same way. What was interesting is that on one chair there were a bunch of dates starting about 1920. We figured it was when my Grandmother reupholstered the chairs. I guess my Mom and her two sisters must have been pretty messy!

    As a sidebar, when my Aunt asked if we wanted the table, the chairs and a matching buffet about 20 years ago, being particular about how things look….well duhhh!! I said OK with the caveat that if I didn’t like how it looked in our house I could return it, no hard feelings. I had my doubts since all this stuff is dark mahogany. Well, we got it in the dining room and it looked great! No one was more surprised then me. Still have it 20 years later.

  • A favorite professor of mine once said:

    “Architecture is a great hobby, but a terrible profession.”

    I think we’re doing it wrong.

  • Charlie Burris

    Very handy Bob, a good instructive article! I recently did this but in my case my older neighbor used to have an upholstery shop, so I just let him do it. But I could have! I had an extra animal hide from a South Africa hunt and put it on a stool, with some foam padding, for my little art station in a corner of my living room. Worked out just fine! Usually us architects are do-it-yourself-ers, as in my 3 years of hard labor doing rockwork in the landscape.

    • Thanks Charlie –

      I wrote a post a while back that said architects don’t have hobbies – just extensions of what they do at the office – and I still believe that to be mostly true. The architects I know that do tackle projects normally take forever to do them because their standards of execution are greater than their skill level … and they will do it right (eventually).

      Your stool sounds cool – you’ll have to let me know what sort of hide you used. Upholstering a round surface would require a higher level of skill (with the tucking) than my square seats, hat’s off to you!

  • Mark Shinn

    You’ve have a list for the “Top Ten Tools in your Tool bag”. Yes?

    • I have been working on that post for 3 years – eventually I will wrap it up and publish it. It seems so easy as a concept but for some reason I haven’t been able to close the deal on it.

  • I like DIY things 🙂 nice one!

    • thanks – maybe if I wasn’t so lazy I’d have more of these sorts of posts, but since DIY project actually require you to do it yourself … well, you get my point.


  • Bob,
    Writing about the life of an architect means nothing compared to this. I see a new reality show(or at least a guest spot on one of the PBS programs).

    • I would much rather be the sarcastic side-kick on a show like that … but I’d still do it (that PBS money has to be pretty good right?)

  • Alexandra Hanson

    If only it was that easy to fix monstorous showers, right?

    • too right!
      AND if it only took three hours, I think I would have tackled that project 4 years ago.