Today’s post is about a really simple but lovely chair upcycle. About a year ago we rescued a couple of drop-in seat dining chairs from our neighbours’ bonfire (with their permission of course). One was badly cracked and damaged on the back, and one was missing a seat insert, but they were pretty chairs and I could see potential.
For one reason or another, it took quite some time for us to bring that out, but if I totalled up the actual hours spent on the project it would probably not exceed three or four! I hope this DIY isn’t an indicator of how long we will take to get things done on the house, but to be fair, we have had rather a lot of distractions this past year.
Anyway, I love the chairs now, they turned out brilliantly, and are now in use in our dining room. Since there are only two, and we need six, I’ll eventually sell these and get around to upholstering the set of six I bought on eBay that are in a serious state of disrepair, but they were a great learning experience. It was also my first experience with chalk paint, which I made myself. It was super easy and very effective, and if you have some paint already you need to use up, I’d recommend this, but otherwise the real deal does give a significantly better finish for a lot less work.
It was actually a very simple job, the hardest part by far being to copy the drop-in seat frame, and add springs to it, which Ste helped me with (okay, which Ste did, with a bit of help from me! Very handy to have such a practical boyfriend). He cut wood for the frame and fixed it into shape, and then added the metal springs to either side, which had to be cut to size. Here you can see the new frame:
Then the springs had to be added at the right tension:
Creating a replacement seat aside though – upcycling a drop-in seat chair is one of the easiest DIY projects for beginners and is a simple and cheap way of getting a bespoke item that matches your décor. You can pick up these kinds of chairs on their own (perfect for a bedroom) or in sets of 4 or 6 for your dining table at car boots or on eBay. You will need a staplegun for this project, but once you own one, I am sure you will find a million uses for it (I have!). Mine was about £5 from Lidl, and they often have them at their DIY events, so keep an eye out. The total cost of this project was about £20 for both chairs, which included the staplegun, and materials to make the second drop-in seat frame, so it could be done much more cheaply, especially if you use fabric you already have or pick up some cheaply at a charity shop (check old curtains which can be perfect for this sort of project, but make sure the fabric is hard-wearing. Basic cotton won’t last long).
So, step by step, here is how to upcycle a drop-in seat chair!
Step One – Preparation
Remove the drop-in seat from the chair. With a damp cloth, wipe over the frame to remove dust and dirt. If your chair is already painted or varnished, you will need to remove this, or as much as you can. If using chalk paint you can get away with a quick sand to smooth any rough bits, and then get straight on with painting. However, the varnish on mine was flaking so badly in places I wanted to remove it first. I painted a varnish-stripper (I used the cheapest from Homebase) onto the chair and allowed it to work it’s magic for the recommended time, before scrubbing it off with sand paper. If your chair is damaged like mine, you then need to fix the damage with glue or fill holes with filler, allow it to dry, and then sand smooth. The end result is a smooth surface to paint.
Step Two – Paint
If using ready-made chalk paint, this stage is really simple. Give your tin a good shake, open it, stir, and then paint it on to your furniture, working quickly as chalk paint dries fast. You may want a second coat if coverage doesn’t look smooth enough when dried. I kind of recommend using ready-made if you can afford it, it is so much easier and the colours in the Annie Sloan range are beautiful.
If using other latex paint you have lying around (mine was a tin of grey ‘oops’ wall paint from B&Q that I got for £1), you need to mix it with unsanded grout (i.e basic grouting powder) to achieve the chalk-paint look. This is a lot more effort than buying pre-made, but a fraction of the cost. The good thing about this method is that it does give you complete control over the paint colour, if you want a really specific shade for a particular reason. I would say though that it is only really suitable for smaller items of furniture, as by the time I was finishing the second chair, the paint was starting to thicken up too much to use, and I had to water it down again. Too much hassle if you have a lot of area to cover. You need 2 tablespoons of grout per cup of paint. Mix the grout with a little water until a smooth consistency, then stir into your paint. Paint quickly, and do a second coat almost straight after (it dries fast) so as not to let the paint thicken too much.
I needed two coats – the chair on the left only has one and you can see it is a little patchy.
I have since used Annie Sloan chalk paint on a few projects, and if I’m honest, I won’t be going back to homemade chalk paint ever, unless I really need a specific colour, simply because the finish is so much better and it is so much easier to apply. But this option is always there if you’re on a budget.
Step Three – Wax and Distress
Instructions differ as to whether you wax first, then distress, then wax again, or whether you should distress first. My preference is for the latter – it is easier to get the right level of distressing without blobs of wax in the way, and it means that the areas exposed by sanding are sealed with wax afterwards, thus giving better protection.
Take a piece of fine grade sandpaper, and on the areas which would naturally be worn or well-used (e.g. corners, centre at the front, raised parts of detail) lightly sand away the paint until the wood underneath is revealed. It should look naturally aged, rather than scrubbed clean. If you sand a patch that you think looks strange, you can simply re-paint it.
Next you need to seal the chair, as otherwise it is very susceptible to wear and will scratch off easily. You need to use special chalk paint wax, which can be quite expensive, but I would recommend it as my experiment with normal furniture wax did not work too well! Using a brush or clean cotton cloth, work a layer of wax into your paint. You want to use as little as you can really, don’t slap it on. You will see the paint darken as you apply the wax, as on the left of the picture below, but it will fade as it dries.
Leave the wax to dry overnight. Then take a clean, lint-free cloth, and buff the chair vigorously. This will take away the tacky feel of the wax, give a soft sheen, and ensure that the wax stays put. You can do a second coat of wax if you feel it needs it, in exactly the same manner.
Step Four – Take the Seat Apart
Now you are ready to tackle the seat. If it is in good condition, all you need to do is re-cover it, which is very straightforward. Because I had to make a second seat from scratch, I took the existing one apart to see how it was all made. I then put it back together in exactly the same way, copying this for the new seat, and finally used my toile de jouy fabric to cover it, instead of the corduroy which was on there when I rescued it from the fire. If your seat pad has a big dip in the middle or stuffing escaping, you should take it apart and put it back together again, re-stuffing it as you do so (Stuffing is available cheaply on eBay). If all you need to do is recover it, you can even leave the existing fabric in place if it is not too thick/rough, as this will mean extra padding. However, take care to check that your seat will still drop-in to the hole with another layer of fabric on it – to check just wrap the seat in your chosen fabric and try to fit it in place. If you need to remove the fabric, turn the seat upside down, and using a flat screwdriver carefully prise the staples out of the wood. If taking it all apart, repeat this until all the layers are removed from the wood frame.
Step Five – Re-Upholster the Seat
If you have dismantled your seat, slowly staple the layers back to the frame in the same order you removed them. This image shows a seat frame with webbing rather than springs, but the rest of the layers are the same, except I used synthetic stuffing instead of the more traditional hair.
First the hessian goes over the springs to protect them. Then your stuffing needs to be piled on top. This is covered with a layer of wadding which is stapled in place using a layer of calico. Take care to ensure the stuffing is all on the top of the seat and you don’t add any extra width to the sides, as otherwise it might not fit into the frame properly. To staple the calico over the wadding, place the frame upside down onto your fabric. Starting at the middle of the flat back edge, pull the fabric up over the seat and staple it to the frame once in the middle. Opposite this on the front of the frame, do the same. Then one staple in the middle of each side. This will keep your fabric in place as you go around. Then staple all the way along the back row, stopping 1 inch before the corner, pulling the fabric tight as you go. Repeat this along the front edge, and then each side.
To fix the corners, first take the fabric in the centre of the corner, and pull it towards the middle of the frame, and staple it there, almost like the centre flap of an envelope. I didn’t manage to take any photos of this, I was too excited at how it was all coming together, sorry! Here is a pic from my upholstery book though which demonstrates it with the calico layer.
Once the calico layer is in place, you are ready to cover the chair with your final fabric. Take the old fabric you removed from it, and lay it flat on top of your new fabric, ensuring any pattern lies where you want it. Then cut around the fabric with a 1 inch margin. Repeat the process with the calico above, stapling the fabric in place first at each edge, then all along. Make sure this row of staples is a little further out onto the frame than for the calico so they all go in properly. Repeat the same process with the corners. When it is fully stapled, with sharp scissors, trim the excess fabric away, to within a quarter inch of your staples. Then turn the seat over, and drop it in to your frame.
Voilá, a brand new, beautiful bespoke chair!
So what do you think? Tempted to have a go yourself? Have you tried homemade chalk paint? How does it compare to ready-made?