Infest the Waters: A Blog About Design, Life and Making Stuff

Adventures in Upholstering

dining chair - cropped

Last winter I decided it was time to reupholster my dining room chairs.  They had been gradually deteriorating for several years, and they finally got to the point where they looked so miserable that it was time to do something about them.  My dining room furniture belonged to my paternal grandparents, and it’s this interesting mid-century Danish modern design.  I had been considering getting rid of the chairs because the needed a little structural help in addition to their upholstery woes, but Ben thought their design was unique enough that I should hold onto them.  After doing a little research on Danish modern design, I found a dining room set very similar to mine listed on eBay for somewhere around $1500.  It was enough to convince me that I should probably hang onto the full set and just give the chairs a little facelift.

Dining room chair - BeforeHere’s what they looked like.  Pretty bad, right?  In addition to being that hideous brown color, the foam was pretty much completely shot, making it feel like you’re sitting on a slab of wood, which, of course, you kind of were.

I started by deconstructing the existing chairs.  I had some leftover material from our wedding that I really liked, so I thought I might use that to reupholster them.  Once I got the back and seat removed, I spent several hours removing what seemed like an inordinate amount of staples with a screwdriver and needle-nosed pliers.  (Seriously, why so many staples?  It’s not like they were holding together something really important, like, say, the framing of a house.  It’s a chair, for Christ’s sake!) It was pretty mindless manual labor, but it wasn’t such a bad way to spend a few hours on those dark winter nights.  I find manual labor like that to put me in a bit of a zen-like state, so sometimes if I’m feeling stressed out, it’s nice to have those projects hanging around.

I used the existing upholstery material (now removed) as a guide for sizing the new material and discovered that I didn’t have enough material from the wedding to upholster all six of my chairs.  (That material ended up becoming some curtains instead.)  I also realized that I was going to have to buy some foam and batting, so after several months of the project lying fallow while I did other stuff (and living with only 3 functional dining room chairs, which was annoying), I took a trip to fabric row and picked up some new fabric and foam.  At this point it was the fall.

Let me digress for a moment about the length of time it sometimes takes me to complete projects.  Really, all I want to say is that it sometimes takes me years.  It’s not that I don’t want to finish the project–it’s just that sometimes I get distracted by another project, or 3.  And sometimes I get distracted by needing to actually make money.  When I start having too many open projects, though, I get a little twitchy and stressed out.  That’s usually when there’s a flurry of activity, and I power through finishing a few of them.  No doubt this is a character flaw of some sort, but it’s also kind of the way I approach reading books.  I have several going at any given time; I have one book on my nightstand that I have been reading for at least 8 years.  At this point, I think it’s probably safe to say that I’ve forgotten everything I’ve read so far so I’ll have to start reading it again from the beginning should I ever go back to it, but it’s still sitting there because one day, the stack of books may get so big that I will actually finish it.  Maybe.

But back to the upholstery project.  After my trip to Fabric Row, I cut out the material, foam and batting, and I was ready to bring those 3 de-upholstered chairs back to life.  Until I realized that it was going to be virtually impossible to finish the project with the manual staple gun I had.

Cutting new upholstery fabric  Foam

I did a little research on pneumatic staple guns, and once my head was done exploding from the sheer quantity of options out there, I ordered one.  It was now November.  I figured I might have a little time to work on the project before I started my holiday crafting spree.  Unfortunately, the Philadelphia Postal Service was not on my side.  After losing my package containing the staple gun and spending several weeks astonishing me with their gross incompetence in taking any sort of responsibility for it (a rant for another day), it was now early January.  I finally bit the bullet and ordered another staple gun but had the forethought to have this one sent to my mom’s house.

Upholstering - underside detailBy mid-February, I finally had a pneumatic staple gun.  They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but I think they’re wrong.  I think it’s really a pneumatic staple gun.  The gun and my canvas pliers made quick work of reupholstering the chairs.  Because the seats attach to the chair frame via a screw through the bottom of them, I had to be careful not to cover up the screw holes with the upholstery.  I also had to restrain myself from STAPLING ALL THE THINGS, partially because it was so damn fun to use the staple gun and partially because I never want to remove as many staples as I did the first time should I decide to reupholster the chairs in the future.

A couple hours later I had a finished chair.  (Ta-da!)  I really couldn’t be happier with it.  It’s like night and day from the original chairs, and the best part is that my delicate tush is now cushioned while I eat my meals.  At this point, I have two down with four more to go, but I am confident that I will finish them sometime before summer.  But, um, maybe you shouldn’t quote me on that.

Dining room chair - after reupholstering

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