Reupholster an old chair

reupholster an old chair

One of the most eco-friendly things you can do in home furnishings is to reupholster an old chair. There are always so many old chairs hanging around – dining chairs, arm chairs, slipper chairs and cute little boudoir chairs like this one. Two or three years ago, when a friend was cleaning out his parent’s home after his Mom passed, he gave me this adorable little chair that was his Mom’s bedroom chair. Okay, in reality I straight up asked him if I could have it – because I just fell in love with it. I loved the diminutive size – it’s only 32″ tall by 25″ wide – and the jaunty little pleated skirt. It definitely needed to be reupholstered and originally I considered doing a similar pleated skirt because I liked it so much.  I considered different fabrics, but it sat in my bedroom in this original condition for a couple of years, gathering discarded clothes, while I decided what to do.

I have a panel of this amazing embroidered fabric that was used to make one of Claire’s dresses when they were in Versailles on Outlander. I thought maybe I’d do the top half of the chair in the floral fabric and find a solid brown or green for the pleated skirt, sort of mimicking the dress. But, the more I considered it, I decided it wouldn’t showcase the fabric as well as it could.

This is a big consideration when selecting a fabric to use to reupholster an old chair. Unlike a sofa or larger piece of furniture, a chair’s relatively small dimensions will mean the pattern may get broken up in less than pleasing ways. Patterns may not be matched well enough and neither the fabric or the chair are served well.

reupholster an old chair JAB Anstoetz Tizian green cotton velvet

A couple of months ago, German fabric house JAB Ansteotz was running a giveaway on Instagram. They were offering five yards of their Tizian Edition cotton velvet fabric (to the trade only – let me know if you’d like more info!) All you had to do was say what you might do with the fabric and tag a friend. I actually said I might make a faux fur throw for my bed and use the velvet on the reverse side.

A few weeks later they let me know that I won! The fabric comes in 200 amazing colors and I debated between green and pink. Ultimately, I went with this apple green velvet which perfectly matches the greens already in my home. I also decided that I would use it to reupholster the boudoir chair, since 5 yards was enough for the job.

The next decision was what style I wanted to go with. A velvet isn’t a good choice for pleating because of the crush factor and pleating requires some serious steaming. This velvet is very soft and supple, so I know it would have a nice drape to it. I decided to go with a more relaxed modern style of covering and used the following images as inspiration.

Interiors designed by Giannetti Home in Roxbury Connecticut.


Inspiration Safavieh waterfall skirt upholstered chair
Safavieh waterfall skirt upholstered chair

Since the fabric is a plain solid, I knew I wanted something of interest, so decided a racing stripe in an interesting ribbon would do the trick.

Inspiration Century Furniture Seminary Skirted Chair
Century Furniture Seminary Skirted Chair

And so I pulled a bunch of samples of varying trims – printed and embroidered. I was also debating whether I should continue the pink and green theme or just stick with the green tones. I like to keep my options open and since my bedroom doesn’t have any pink in it, I decided to stick with all green. I had fun posting polls on my Instagram stories asking my friends which they preferred.

reupholster an old chair trim choices

In the end, I went with Schumacher’s Coquette Tapi embroidered ribbon in Leaf. (#affiliatelink)

I emailed my upholstery workroom – Cathy’s Concepts – photos of the chair with dimensions as well as the fabric and ribbon specs and the design style I wanted. She sent me back a quote and once I had all the materials on hand, we were ready to go! Cathy is an amazing one-woman show in upholstering and really, the best in my local area. She’s done most of the furniture in my own Nook Cottage – my upholstered headboard, Parson’s chair slipcovers and another old chair that was my parents as well as client work. One of Cathy’s real gifts is her ability to match patterns – which is often overlooked even in high-end furnishings.

She can also do a style she’s never done before and figure it out from the photos – which is what happened in this case. Every chair is different so even a well known style of upholstery requires creating a new way to apply it to the specific chair with the selected fabric. It’s truly an art and a science.

Reupholster an old chair the inside Cathy’s good a documenting the reupholstery process and these images above show what was beneath the pink skirted top fabric. Often, people get so enticed by a pretty fabric that they don’t even consider what lies beneath – and it can be pretty scary. This chair wasn’t originally upholstered well – the arms only had cardboard coverings with only a thin layer of batting. You could feel the wood directly beneath the fabric – which should never happen. When all was stripped away, you can see the remaining frame and seat springs.

Cathy reused the original cotton batting that was on the seat and back because often the old stuff is better than new – another reason why reupholstering is an eco-friendly thing to do. Original materials can often be reused – keeping them out of the landfill.

chair frame new seat and arm cushioning

As you can see, the original cotton batting is now on the arms and the seat was entirely re-built with new materials.

chair frame new seat angled chair frame


Linda Merrill reupholster an old chair JAB fabric straight

Linda Merrill reupholster an old chair JAB Tizian angled

Linda Merrill reupholster an old chair velvet JAB fabric angle

Linda Merrill reupholster an old chair JAB velvet Tizian fabric schumacher trim full back

Linda Merrill reupholster an old chair JAB fabric Schumacher trim side view

Linda Merrill reupholster an old chair JAB fabric Schumacher trim seat closeup

Linda Merrill reupholster an old chair JAB tizian velvet fabric Schumacher trim closeup 1


Linda Merrill reupholster an old chair JAB Tizian velvet fabric Schumacher trim seat closeup 1

Linda Merrill reupholster an old chair JAB velvet tizian edition fabric arm closeup

My new design assistant had to check out the workmanship. She’s not allowed in my bedroom much at the moment – too much to get into, chew and pee on. But she enjoys a periodic visit!

Linda Merrill reupholster an old chair JAB velvet fabric Sansa puppy

A huge thanks to JAB Ansteotz for this beautiful Tizian Cotton Velvet Fabric and my upholsterer for the beautiful workmanship. And to my bff Rob for not only giving me his mom Zoe’s chair, but also gifting me the price of the upholstery work as a birthday present. Zoe was a lovely, gracious and vibrant woman who also happened to have great taste and I’m so happy that I have a piece of her with me.

Have I inspired you to reupholster an old chair? You must have one hanging around that could use a refresh!

Breathing New Life Into an Old Chair from Linda Merrill


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14 thoughts on “Reupholster an old chair”

  1. Wow!!! I love the way the chair turned out! So beautiful! You started out with good bones, so I think you could have done just about anything, but this is really spectacular!

  2. Great choice for that chair, Linda – I love the velvet color and the trim choice, so fresh and pretty! And I am a total sucker for a dressmaker skirt. I wish more people would reupholster older pieces. They certainly don’t “make ’em like they used to” in most cases, and, as you so rightly point out, it is the most eco-friendly option you can take!

  3. Now *that* is a prized possession!
    Love the apple green velvet and the jaunty trim. I’m so envious of your Cathy! What a treasure. I’ve taken a couple of upholstery classes – I appreciate that work and attention to detail.
    Wait! You have fabric from Claire’s skirt?!!!
    And is that the Queen trying to claim it as her throne?!

  4. I adore the outcome of this reupholstery project. It looks so fresh and wonderful! I have noticed it on Instagram…We need more people working with what they have or and been handed! It’s to sustainable and can be wonderful, as you so clearly have demonstrated!

  5. Hi Linda,
    That chair is adorable – what lovely fabric and trim! I appreciate that you rescued an old chair and made it new again. It is truly a great way to recycle and end up with something of much better quality than most of what we can buy today.

    • Certainly for the cost of having the chair reupholstered I would never have gotten the same quality in a new chair. I’d guess this chair with this fabric and quality of the upholstery and frame would be easily 2 – 2.5 times higher than the reupholstery cost.

  6. I love what you did with that chair, and I appreciate rescuing old, well made furniture. Thanks for a lovely post!

  7. Hello Linda, Congratulations on your new acquisition and its transformation. I was looking around my mother’s and my apartments, and realizing how many objects have an interesting history, perhaps an family heirloom or a gift from a close friend. Other pieces have special (often humorous) stories connected with their acquisition. All of these go into creating a meaningful and layered home. What a difference from simply going out and buying the same types of pieces!

    • Thanks Jim – you’re so right! Most of my furniture is a mix of things from my parents (or friend’s parents in the case of this chair!) – reupholstered, repainted, repurposed. It just makes so much more sense to me.


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