the five dollar flip : a clever chair redo.

Recently I was chatting it up with my pal Emily, and we were discussing reupholstery, {read: I was whining about my never ending sofa search} when she totally busted her cell phone out and nearly knocked me to the floor with this fantabulous redo. She’d mentioned redoing a chair, and I was {quite honestly} all, “Awe, that’s nice” as I half expected it to be a dining room chair project. And then I was all, bowing and stuff because she totally floored me.

As a result, I thought I’d let her share a little wonderful how-to on the blawgh. Here’s a little Q + A session I had with her, and some photos she was so kind to share. So, without further ado…The fabulous Emily Webster Thames.

So you go ‘treasure hunting’ often? What’s your process?

My husband Trent and I are avid yard salers. Since the introduction of a little one into our lives, we’ve adopted the drive-by yard saling technique so we don’t have to drag Lily out at every stop. We drive by at about 3mph checking out the merchandise. If one of us sees something we like, we shout out. We get evil looks sometimes, but oh well. We were putting this technique to use when I spotted this chair. I got out to look at it and knew I wanted it. I fell in love with the curved armless back and the low round seat. And guess what…only $5.


When we got it into the car, we noticed the smell. Trent says it smells like insecticide. I just think it smells funky. It sat in our storage building for a bout a year until I decided its destiny. The smell hadn’t gone away a bit. So, we sat it in the sun for a few days. This made it a little better.

How on earth did you decide to get started, when you’d never even tackled anything like it before?

One night when I was on some steroids from being sick, I decided we were going to get started on it. Maybe the smell was coming from the nasty upholstery. I hadn’t even bought the newfabric yet bc I felt like I needed to see how the current fabric was put on before I chose a fabric and bought supplies. Don’t know why, just wanted to. I had been reading about upholstering online and had an idea of where to begin. This site helped a lot even though the chairs aren’t alike at all.


Trent’s muscles came in handy for a lot of this! The first thing I did was take lots of pictures of every angle of the chair so I could see how the current fabric was put on. We got a flat-head screwdriver and some needle-nose pliers, sat in the floor with the chair between us and started taking off the nasty red carpet upholstery.

Dear Emily and Trent, I want your rug. Love, Ashley.

We worked on one piece at a time, and I labeled each piece as it came off. I also took pics of each piece coming off so that I could see how it was put on. This chair has some tufts in the backthat I was curious about. Had no idea how those tufts were created. Turns out there only slits cut into the foam! Pretty crafty idea.


There were a lot of big staples that would break off sometimes if we pulled at an odd angle. So, we had to be careful to pull out or hammer in all of the staple remnants so they wouldn’t poke through our new fabric.


After we took off all the old stuff, we realized there were a few places around the rim of the seat where the foam had worn out. You can see the metal poking through in the “Naked” picture. I had some foam laying around the house that I had used for some cushions, so we got some craft glue, cut some pieces that seemed to fill in the gaps and glued them in. This wasn’t perfectly precise, but it was close enough.


We then realized the smell was coming from the foam. So, we tried baking soda, charcoal, sunlight, and fabreze. Nothing helped. It still smelled. We gave up and decided we’d live with the smell. Maybe.

Mary Tyler Moore called. She wants her tweed back.

Where did you get that awesome {new} fabric from?

I found some gorgeous fabric at Richtex for $5 a yard. I bought 5 yards. I didn’t needthis much, but I wanted to have extra in case I messed up (this was my first upholstery
undertaking!) and also because I wanted to consider the possibility of fabric pattern placement (putting the flowers in just the right spot).

Then I went to Hobby Lobby and bought the only size piping they had. It was supercheap, so I bought 5 yards of that too. I ended up using almost all of this!
I should tell you, that I am not a precise person. I guess, mess up, then redo. I do not measure before. I do not really measure during the project. I just guess most of the time. When I can tell my guessometer won’t cut it, I call in Trent or suck it up and measure.

My kinda gal.

Anyway, one day before Trent got home from work, I cut out the new fabric and covered the piping. I used the old pieces of upholstery as patterns to cut out the new pieces. I used hot glue to attach the fabric to the piping. I made sure to get the fabric very tight around the piping by using a little wooden spindle to run down the side of the piping where the glue was. A pencil eraser might work too. It was just too hot for my fingers and I’m a wussy. I left enough fabric edging around the piping to staple it onto the chair. (oh, btw,the old fabric didn’t have piping. That’s just something I added bc I wanted that finish around the edges.)


So, did this require much sewing?

I had to use my sewing machine for one part: to get the piping around the seat. I don’thave a picture of these pieces, but it should be easy to imagine. I had the seat bottom and the seat edge. I sewed the piping in between these two pieces. Make sense?

If someone was to try something like this at home, would they need another person?

Trent helped me put it all on. I would say it’s much easier with 2 people. You really need someone to pull the fabric tight in just the right spot while the other person staples it in a couple of times. I did some of it by myself, but other spots required Trent’s hands too. We used an airgun stapler (official name?) bc we have one. But, it could be done with a regular heavy duty staple gun.

Confession: I’m not sure I’d know where to start. What steps did you take to put it all on?

We did the seat part first. If you’ve followed the old pattern, then it should go on perfectly. It did for us! Except for a few spots where my non-precise nature met the sewing machine’s exactness. Oh well. I’m ok with that.

Then we moved to the top front with all of those tufts. I followed what I discovered when removing the old fabric. I placed a couple of flowers (that pattern placement thing) in central locations so they would show nice and prettily, then I tucked in the fabric in thecut lines along the foam. At the top and bottom of each tuck, I creased the fabric and stapled it to the wood frame on the back.

Around the edge of the top, we stapled some piping. On the back, we placed the same piece of cardboard that we had found when we took off the old fabric. It helps to makethat back curve look smooth. We stapled this cardboard to the wood frame. Then we stapled the back piece of fabric, starting at the top first. We tried our best to conceal the staples as much as possible along the back, but there are a few places that you can see one or two. This could have been avoided by using stripping, but we’ve never used that. Maybe for the next project…


As for the smell, we still get a wiff every once in a while…

WOWSA. I absolutely LOVE their go-get-em moxie with this project. I can honestly say I probably would have passed this one by, because I get all intimidated on reupholstering anything beyond a dining room chair. But they did an awesome job! Thanks so much for sharing, Emily!

I know I certainly feel inspired. Is there something out there you’ve wanted to try but you’ve been afraid? What reupholstery projects have you guys tackled lately?

As usual, I’d love to see!


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10 Responses to the five dollar flip : a clever chair redo.

  1. Suzy says:

    Amazing! It looks like it was done by a professional and I adore the fabric. Great job.

  2. Kai says:

    Good job and thanks for the very detailed walk-through. I’m intimidated to get started with reupholstery because you seem to need so many specialized tools. Good to know you can improvise a bit and still get a great looking final product!

  3. Rachel says:

    That chair looks great, but honestly, I would have to remove and replace that foam.

  4. absolutely GORGEOUS chair redo! Thanks for sharing!!! (totally a bummer about the smell though)

  5. I know! I think they did a wonderful job. As far as the smell, I think it will eventually fade. Anyone have any tips to add?

  6. Jennifer says:

    in awe!!! makes me think that *maybe* i could redo a living room chair of my own; maybe :) btw, I love that rug too!!

  7. Wow – this chair is fantastic! I absolutely love reupholstering furniture like this – they always turn out to be your most favorite piece in the house – the one that you wouldn’t get rid of for a million dollars (well…..maybe a million, lol).

    Great job!

  8. Tiffany says:

    Great job on this chair! Very good choice on the fabric! A little tip for next time, try covering your foam with upholstery batting (Dacron) before you apply the fabric, and that will put a clean barrier between the old foam and your new fabric and might help with the smell. You can buy Dacron by the yard from most upholstery supply stores.

  9. louise says:

    Too funny, your posts always seem to be timed perfectly for me. I just saw two chairs this weekend at a grage sale that I wanted, but have no idea how to upholster so I walked away…. Now I’m kicking myself! :)

  10. Katie says:

    I actually re-upholstered one of our swivel rocker armchairs and am still amazed I was able to do it. Like this post, I basically took each piece off one at a time, labeled it, and used them as templates. Luckily, there was no yucky smell to deal with! I highly recommend a stapler with an air compressor because you won’t believe just how many you end up using! Take a look: http://2-miracles.blogspot.com/2010/09/finally-finished.html