Friday, September 27, 2013

Cane Chair Makeover - Part 1

I think it's safe to say this is the most exciting makeover I've done so far...well, for me, anyway! I can't wait to show you all, but I'm going to have to break up the transformation into a few posts. I was hoping to be able to share it all at once, but there's just too much information and too many photos that I want to include.

This is definitely the biggest upholstery project I've done so far, and I was definitely learning along the way. It's certainly not a professional job, but I'm extremely happy with the way it turned out. I did take a few shortcuts along the way-some necessary, some not. My hope is that my step-by-step on how I transformed this particular chair will help you with one of your own. If you are a seasoned pro, I welcome your comments and tips!

Here's what I started with.

The chair belonged to my Aunt Ange. Like I mentioned in this post, she took such great care of her things and this chair was no exception. I'm sure it is at least 40 years old, and it was in great shape, including the fabric. Unfortunately, the rose-colored velvet doesn't really go with the decor I have in mind for our home, so I knew I wanted to change that. Just by looking at the chair, I could tell this was going to be a BIG project to take on...and it was. I'm just glad that was my expectation from the beginning, or I may have given up!

Can you already see the potential it has?!

Ok. My last note before we really get going (I promise!) is that I worked on this chair all over the house - meaning ignore the mess in the background...and in all different kinds of light - meaning some pictures are too bright, others are dark, etc. Bear with me! :)

Cane chair makeover - Part 1
Removing the existing fabric and painting the frame

The first thing to do before starting a similar project is to take lots of pictures of the detail on the chair. How the piping is attached, where seams are, how the pleats are done on the tufting, etc. You'll need to use these photos for reference when reassembling the chair. 

Besides giving this chair some new fabric, I also wanted to paint it, which would have to happen before the new fabric went on. I began by removing any existing fabric that was covering the wood of the chair so it would be free to be painted.  

I pulled the piping off of the arm pads first, using needle nose pliers. After the piping was off, I just grabbed a corner of the fabric underneath (again with the pliers) and pulled it off as well. Try to pull the fabric off in one solid piece if you can. This way you can save it to use as a template to cut your new fabric. 

You could remove each staple in order to just lift the fabric off rather than tearing it away, but I could barely access the staples on this chair. They were set deep inside a groove, which you can see in the second picture below.

Once I removed the fabric, I was left with a thin layer of foam and batting, which were both in good shape.  

Then, I removed the piping from the back of the chair in the same way.

Next, I needed to take the seat cushion off. I tipped the chair upside down and removed this thin, black fabric (no clue what the technical term is), and then unscrewed the seat.

Now, I was ready to paint the frame. I decided to leave the pink fabric on the front and back of the chair to protect the foam underneath from the paint. Since I was tossing the pink fabric anyway, a little paint on it wouldn't matter. 

I thought that spray paint would be the fastest and easiest way to go, but I was wrong. It's hard to tell in the picture, but after 4 coats, the finish still looked blotchy and uneven. I knew it would need at least 4 more, and I just wasn't up for it. Josh had to drag the chair out into the side yard for me each time and then drag it back in...and I was only able to do 1-2 coats each night before it got to cold for the paint to dry properly... 

I decided to throw in the towel on the spray paint and just grab a paint brush. I bought the cheapest can of white paint I could find.

After just one coat, I was happy with the results! You can see the top is brushed on and the bottom is spray painted. Big difference!

When painting the cane, I used a very small amount of paint on the brush, so that I didn't get and drips or block the smaller holes with gobs of paint. 

Once the paint was dry, I removed the tufted fabric from the front of the chair. I just ripped it off with the pliers, being careful to pull the buttons out as I went along. 

Then, I went to remove the fabric from the backside of the chair. There was no piping there, which told me that the fabric went on before the front tufted part was put in place. In order to replicate that, I would have to remove the foam and cardboard backing behind it. I saw no reason to do so since it was in good shape. Removing it would probably tear the cardboard and I didn't want to have to purchase more and reinstall it, so I came up with a little shortcut. 

Professionals....turn your eyes away.

I simply cut the fabric off the back, getting as close to the frame of the chair as I could. 

Once all the fabric was off, I was ready to distress the frame. I did this by using coarse, medium, and fine sanding blocks. To get your distressing to look realistic, sand heavier on the edges of the chair where there would naturally be wear and tear. Vary how much pressure you use so that you get some heavy wood exposure as well as some lighter exposure.

I decided at this point that I wanted to glaze the chair as well, to make it look even older and more worn. Usually I would glaze first, because I like to sand after that step as well - and that way you can just sand one time instead of twice - but I just decided to glaze at the last minute. 

To glaze, I used what I had on hand, which was a stain and poly in one. This does not replace your final coat of poly since you will essentially be wiping this one off!

You could also use brown paint or regular stain without poly. See more detailed tutorials on how I've glazed in the past here and here.

Start with a dry brush, and barely dip it in the stain. Then dip just the ends in a cup of water. 

Brush it on your chair, then immediately wipe it off with a paper towel or rag. Play with the ratios of stain and water until you get the depth of color you want.

Once the glaze is dry (it dries pretty quickly), sand it down lightly to make it blend in more and expose some of the white paint underneath.

Once your sanding is done, wipe off all the dust with a damp cloth. Brush on a protective coat, like this one:

Ok! Now that that's done, we can get on to the real fun....the new fabric! 

I'll show you what it looks like now, and then give you the details on it in my next post!



Stay tuned!


  1. Hi Rachel,

    What brand of stapler did you use for this project and would you recommend it? I need to order a stapler on Amazon to redo our kitchen chairs but can't decide what kind to order. Thank you!

    1. It's an Arrow model JT27....just picked it up at Home Depot a couple years ago. I have no complaints about it!


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