Industry Secrets: DIY Antique Chair Reupholster Tutorial

Mar 17, 2008 by

You found the PERFECT chair on Craiglist – complete with mesmerizing legs and beautiful curves (sounds like a 1950s supermodel!). Unfortunately, the ghastly fabric makes your design spirit cringe, but you have the foresight to look beyond the dilapidated print to see its beautiful soul. Thankfully, with this DIY reupholster tutorial, you can unleash the beauty from within that antique chair!

Reupholster DIY antique chair tutorial

You could take your chair to a professional re-upholstery company, who will charge you anywhere from $250 – $350 for a single chair. Or, you could take matters into your own hands and complete the DIY reupholster. Reupholstering an antique chair is time-consuming, but it’s fairly simple to do. Set aside two or three days of time for this reupholster, since it is easy — just not easy and quick. Here’s how to reupholster antique furniture – specifically an antique chair.

Before you Move on

Considering it is antique furniture, you’ll need to clean it out. There might be a lone spider living comfortably in grandma’s antique chair, so before reupholstering it, carefully clean it out, using a soft brush and gloves. Gently brush out the cobwebs and dust from the furniture, turning it from side to side, gingerly cleaning out the mess. Once the furniture is clean from dust and cobwebs, you’re ready to reupholster your furniture.

Reupholster Pre-Steps: How to Remove the Cover

These steps mainly deal with drop-in chair seats. The steps differ slightly with other chairs, so consult a guide before continuing – or check back soon as we update frequently with new antique furniture reupholster DIY tutorials!

Now for the steps.

Step 1: Remove the chair seat. Use a screw to unscrew the chair seat, gently removing it. Put the screws in a box if you can, so it’s not lost. Wouldn’t that be a downer if you couldn’t find it after all of this reupholstering?

Step 2: Turn the chair seat on its bottom. You should see some sort of foam under it. Staples or nails should fasten this securely all around the edge. Gently remove the staples or nails with a plier or staple remover. You won’t be using these staples or nails after reupholstering your furniture, so you can discard these elements.

Reupholster antique chair DIY tutorial

Step 3: Remove the foam and cover, throwing the old seat cover away. Take a look at the foam. Is it in good condition? If so, then you can keep the foam. However, if there are any signs of mildew, mold, or an interesting smell, you should replace the foam. You can buy chair foam at fabric stores, especially ones that specialize in furniture fabric.

Now you’re ready to reupholster your antique chair.

How to Reupholster with New Fabric

You’ll need the fabric, a Sharpie, and a heavy-duty stapler for these steps. This is the actual reupholster portion.

Step 4: Fold your fabric in half, so you know where the halfway mark is. Mark it on the backside with a marker.

Step 5: Flip the chair seat upside down carefully onto the fabric. Trace the outline of the chair onto the backside of the fabric. Cut the fabric 2 to 3 inches over the outline with a pair of scissors.

Step 6: Take the foam and place it back on the underside. Staple this securely to the edges of the chair, making sure to be careful.

Antique chair reupholster DIY tutorial

Step 7: Place the chair seat back down on the fabric. Wrap the fabric around the chair seat, stapling the extra fabric underneath the seat frame. Staple carefully every inch or so, making sure the fabric is tight and smooth. Go all around from top to bottom, making sure every staple is stapled securely.

Step 8: If you would like to add detailing to the chair reupholster, you can place double-piping along the edge of the seat. You simply need to utilize a hot glue gun to add a portion of piping onto the chair seat.

Reupholstering Antique Chair DIY Tutorial

Now you’re probably wondering why I suggested two or three days time. It comes from removing the staples carefully. You’re dealing with a fragile, antique chair so you must take the utmost caution not to break it (you know, otherwise you can’t reupholster it, but it makes great firewood).

I would recommend starting with the antique chair with the drop-in seat as your first reupholstery project. Then you will be ready to move onto other types of chairs, and even antique sofas! Stay tuned as we present more advanced reupholstery DIY tutorials. We are in the process of re-upholstering a dining set and an antique settee, and we can’t wait to show you the results!

The images presented in this tutorial are courtesy of Country Living.

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  1. Monica

    The result looks quite amazing! Thanks for posting this.

  2. mimi

    Thank you, but how about the back of the chair?
    It has been years and I forgot.

  3. Judy

    We have done the seats. Now, how do we do the backs? Our dining chairs have this same fabric covered backs as shown in the photo above.

  4. Grace

    Hi Mimi and Judy!

    The back of the chair can be tricky, depending upon its original construction. Typically, after you have inserted the foam and then batting (and support bands, if any), what you can do is pull the fabric taunt and staple it right along the very close edge of the frame. Then, you will take piping or other matching trim and hot-glue it down to cover up the stapling.

  5. Laura

    I have antique dining chairs that I am reupholstering. Actually, I have done this many times, but these chairs are different. They have a spring in the middle of the wood frame. They were orginally upholstered with wool batting and straw (not horsehair). I would like to use foam. Should I use batting too? My concern are the springs. If I just use foam, will the cushions sink down too much when you sit on them? Any suggestions? Thanks.

  6. Grace

    Hi Laura!

    If you are looking to use foam, I would definitely recommend utilizing wool batting. Wrapping the batting around the foam and placing it over the springs will help the foam breathe — and give it more support so that you can enjoy your re-upholstered chair for many years to come.

    I’d love to see photos when it’s done!

  7. ilike your site.

  8. How do you remove piping that was hot glued to the chair . . . as you suggested doing here, that was done to the chair I purchased.

  9. Theresa

    Thanks, your site is very helpful. I am in the process of restoring an antique oak table and the chairs. Although I have had to replace the foam, the seat covers are in fab condition and I would like to reuse them. Do you know of a safe way to clean them?

  10. Terry

    Hi i really like this site it has really helped me in understanding what sort of a job im letting myself in for My grandfather has 2 lovely chairs that badly need done. I am also wondering if anyone knows about different styles of chairs i currently have the queerest looking chair which we acquired It is quite badly damaged. With no seat but its really big and has quite alot of wood carving round it and is leather upholstered. Any help would be really appreciated. I can send photos if any one feels they could help identify it.

  11. Christine Welsand

    Wondering how much fabric I need to recover the piping on a chair? I am using a striped fabric, do I try to get the stripes straight or do I put this on at a bias? Do I hot glue the fabric onto the piping too? Thanks for help with this last detail!

  12. Krista

    Where can you find some of that raised velvet scroll type fabric? I’ve been searching online and haven’t ran across anything promising. My local fabric stores are heavy asian print, so they do not carry anything like this.

  13. Jason

    Who knows what style this chair is, it is basically what I am looking for for an upholstery project.

  14. Ashley

    Jason, it looks like Victorian Rococo.

  15. How do you reupholster an antique chair that has nails holding the material in place? In this case ,old leather that has cracked. I think underneath the leather is some material – haven’t started to take it apart yet and I think some old springs.
    This nails are decorative type – abt. l/2 inch big.

  16. Tessa

    That is very neat! I ‘m trying to figure out how to reupholster my husbands riding lawn mower…it’s a bit trickier because it want to bunch so much.

  17. Nancy E.

    Very informative, but I am questioning how to handle the springs. I just bought an old oak rocking chair with springs very close to the ones in the picture. They obviously need to be re-tyed for a smoother seat, and I have never done this. Can I just tie spring areas that seem too high?? My father said there are special knots to use in furniture can you help? And then what would be the best covering for the springs?? What I removed looks like it is cotton batting w/straw. What do you suggest I put on before the upholstery fabric??

  18. Beth

    I have an antique wooden frame couch with buttons on the cushion for the back…how do I remove the old fabric and be able to repleace the buttons in the same pattern?

  19. O widze masz podobne zainteresowania do moich, fajna strona, zajrze tu niedlugo

  20. Thank you so much for this post! You inspired me to reupholster my old chair this past weekend. Here it is (with credit to you):

  21. Penny

    HI! GREAT pic. Gorgeous. I was hoping you could steer me on releasing the seat of a Victorian settee. I have the old fabric released and waiting at the crease between the seat and the back. Could it be that I need to pull nails from the burlap backing at the back of the piece? I have felt down into the crack as far as I can and really can’t tell what needs to happen. Any suggestions? THANKS!!

  22. Debbie

    Thank you for thye clear concise tips!

  23. Thanks again for the blog. Awesome.

  24. Where I struggel is balancing it all out. How do you guys balance things out?

  25. I mean consider whoever wrote this post, they must have been working hard to write that good and it took a good bit of their time I am sure. I work with people who couldn’t write like this if they tried, and getting them to try is hard enough as it is.

  26. Highm8ntce

    How do you go about reupholstering an antique chair that was once caned? I know I need to cut a piece of hardboard or something similar out to use as a base but how do you get the same shape and is that going to be sturdy enough and will the staples hold that up along with the fabric/foam? Any better ideas please? I have 3 of these I’m working on.

  27. thanks for sharing

  28. In response to an earlier comment concerning springs, I found that the springs in my cushion had been held together by heavy wire, some of which had broken or otherwise come loose. I took a good look at the arrangement, got some similar wire from the hardware store, and reattached the springs, using the undamaged part as a pattern. I put a piece of heavy velvet salvaged from the old chair on top of the springs, then the polyester wrapped foam, and proceeded as above. It’s now time for a new recovery job, and I hope to have pictures and instruction on my website in a few weeks.

  29. It’s a fantatic post, very well written.NICE JOB!- Red Bull Hats

  30. I have done this many times, but these chairs are different. They have a spring in the middle of the wood frame. They were orginally upholstered with wool batting and straw (not horsehair). I would like to use foam. Should I use batting too

  31. very nice blog, thanks.

  32. lighting and breathable mesh upper gives a exceptional efficacy feel. Stitchless overlays provide a snug.

  33. This is beautiful – what a transformation.

  34. Nonie Barker

    I have an old chair that has the straw and batting padding as well has the burlap seat straps and burlap cover over the straps. should I leave the straps and burlap cover and insert some foam on top then recover, the back of the chair also has straw and batting as well as a very thick cardboard type material as the back, all have been penny nailed in place.

  35. Sabine

    Great home improvement ideas! I have been blogging my home improvement projects on What do you suggest using for home improvement products?

  36. Of importance but not addressed is the spring-set, I’m re-working a 1922 hardwood chair that has/had 3X metal springs that popped-out from the 1/2 in. thick plywood. Overly big tushy, I think. I’ve corrected the spring bends and used the flip side for strength, but aren’t the springs to be tied together in some fashion? Nothing mentioned in the article. Seat pan has a cut-out hole in it to accommodate the springs. Please advise to Thanx!

  37. shawna

    how do i reupholster a wood framed coushioned backwith no trim of any kind between the wood frame and the upholstery? on a a dinning chair


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