I first learned to reupholster about 10 years ago when we first moved to LA. After living in a pre-furnished home in Vancouver for years and finding myself unable to quench the DIY bug that had taken a firm hold on me, I hit the SoCal ground running and tackled every single project I had been dreaming about for the previous four years- woodworking, interior decorating, upcycling, DIY home goods and artwork, refurbishing vintage furniture, tiling, building- you name it! The (sadly) now defunct Design Sponge did a lovely feature on our home many years ago after we got settled into the space, and you can see a lot of the original DIY that I did to decorate and furnish our abode. Some of the elements are still around and others have been replaced over the years, but I love that we have a bit of a time capsule in this article (and in the indie movie filmed at my house, Suicide Kale!) to see exactly how things once were.
I generally love referencing DIY books when I am learning something new but when it came to reupholstering furniture I felt like I needed more hands-on help to build up my skills. Thankfully I found a community college in Cerritos that had an incredibly inexpensive (I’m talking like $100 for 8 weeks worth of classes!) upholstery course taught by a skilled upholsterer who had been in the business for decades. I soon learned that you get what you pay for; so many folks signed up for these classes that we actually got very little hands-on help from the teacher and most of my time was spent waiting for him to finish with other students so he could tell me what to do next on my particular project. But I was a diligent student and once I completed my first chair, I bought all the tools necessary to use what I learned from him and continue working on projects at home.
The mint green herringbone chair (seen above stripped to her undies) is the very first piece I reupholstered completely on my own without supervision, and I bought it at the Rose Bowl flea. In hindsight I paid too much money for it (SoCal is notorious for selling vintage clothing and furniture at an absolute premium compared to other places in the country) but what can I say? I fell in love with the gorgeous shape! I don’t recall what the original upholstery looked like, other than that it was very stained and tattered, but I do recall that I was going through a weirdly intense mint green phase in my life, and the herringbone fabric I originally used found its way to SO many places around our home- our bedroom reading nook cushion is in this fabric *and* I made and covered a vanity stool in it (which has since been replaced).
Fast forward after many years with this chair and I’m perusing my local World Market for fun (I don’t buy their “fast” furniture because it’s cheaply made, but I do love getting inspiration from their designs) and I stumbled across the most gorgeous armchair. It was petite with a simple silhouette, and it was covered in a white boucle fabric that I absolutely could not stop thinking about. The chair was soft and a little fuzzy and it just looked so cute! I knew I didn’t want to spend money on it because of the quality (and I also need a new piece of furniture like I need a hole in my head lol) but I quickly realized I had the perfect chair already in our living room that I could maybe reupholster in a similar fabric.
It wasn’t til I got home that I realized how dirty and bedraggled the chair had gotten over the years! Our dog Rosie has gotten accustomed to leaning on it when it’s time to go for her walk and you could literally see the imprint of dirt from her body engrained in the fibres on the side of the chair. Of course you can get furniture like this professionally cleaned which can soak up a significant amount of the dirt, but upon closer inspection I saw a lot of flaws in my original upholstery that I knew I could address if I redid the chair. My skills have gotten a little better since I first worked on it all those years ago and I was excited about the opportunity to make it look even better with a makeover.
I ordered some boucle from an international shop on etsy in a sunny, warm yellow color (warm earth tones have now taken the place of my mint green obsession) and the quality of the textile is great, but it is *not* a proper upholstery fabric as the listing claimed. The weight of it is fine but the weave is not very dense and it even has one directional stretch, which is not exactly unheard of for upholstery but it’s not always ideal. My worry with this fabric was that any small tear or rip would create a visible hole because of the stretch factor and loose weave, but returning the fabric would have been a hassle so I decided to keep it and make it work as best I could- I knew that the worst case scenario would be that the chair wouldn’t last long before needing to be reupholstered again, a possibility I could handle.
I went to work removing about a million staples to carefully keep the wood frame as intact and un-splintered as possible and keep the herringbone fabric in one piece so that I could use it as pattern pieces for the new fabric. The cool thing about reupholstering furniture is that if you go slowly and pay close attention, the previous work will show you exactly what you need to do to rebuild it, just in reverse, and if you can preserve as many of the original articles as possible, you will be able to replicate them almost precisely. As soon as I removed the dust cover from the bottom of the chair, I was in awe of the spring tieing I had done years before- I literally could not remember how or why that part worked, only that they still looked good and were intact! And this was the best part of reupholstering the chair this time around- I had already repaired, replaced and re-foamed everything in the body of the chair so literally all I had to do was take off the chair’s “clothing” as it were and put a new outfit on it, which is a lot of work but certainly not as laborious as going all the way down to the wood frame.
I addressed some of the issues I had with the original chair, mainly with the arms where I used a folding technique to manipulate the fabric around curves instead of sewing seams and darts to make those areas look smooth and sleek. I am so very happy with the seamless silhouette of the chair’s arms now and, proud of how far my skillset has come. I think that when I was working on this chair nearly a decade ago I didn’t trust my intuition as much so I didn’t take many risks, but now I know that the worse thing that can happen is having to redo the piece over again- all things considered, the stakes are pretty low, so why not give it a shot!
It took me a couple of weeks to finish this chair only because I needed to order more flexible tacking strip to adhere the fabric to the curves of the back of the chair (a detail that folks on instagram really loved seeing when I shared the process in my stories), but it probably took about 5 full days of work to complete. By far the most laborious part was taking all the old tacks out of the chair and removing the herringbone fabric- from there the process requires more thoughtfulness in how to piece everything back together but the work goes much more quickly and is so very satisfying to see come together.
Although the fabric is not as tightly woven as I would like and I am a little anxious about something sharp poking a hole in it at some point, I do adore how beautifully it came out. The color is vibrant (and in my seasonal palette, natch), and I made a little matching pillow (not seen in these pics) out of the leftover fabric scraps so it’s just an adorable little set. This chair was positioned in our living room for several months where it lived prior to being re-reupholstered, but a couple weeks ago we needed to make room for our christmas tree so we moved it to the office. It was supposed to be temporary, but now that we finally finished the facelift in that space, the chair just seems so at home in it, especially next to the beautiful book case I also finished making this summer!
Overall I am quite pleased with how the chair turned out, and as I am embarking on a serious investigation of my own consumerism (sparked by the book “The Day The World Stops Shopping”, which I haven’t even completed yet and which *still* is having a huge impact on me), I am feeling so grateful that I have developed the patience to try, fail and succeed at tasks like these. I want to continue to get better at invigorating the aesthetics of my spaces not with buying all new things, but with repurposing, upcycling, sourcing secondhand, and building from scratch. Thanks, as always, for spending your time with me!