How to update a vintage armchair – before and afters

So you walk into a charity shop or second hand store or you inherit an old chair from your grandmother and have grand visions of it looking totally cool in a new piece of fabric. But it can be a bit daunting, the prospect of doing it yourself – if you even have the skills – or finding someone to do it for you. What fabric is suitable and what will look nice? And what to choose so you will still like it in a few years time, rather than a quick funky makeover that you might only like for a little while?

before and after lloyd loom chair
A vintage Lloyd Loom chair I transformed for a customer, using Farrow and Ball paint and a gorgeous piece of purple and grey patterned fabric.

I have revamped a number of chairs for customers and to sell in the shop. In some cases I did it totally myself (the more straight forward type of seat) or I would come up with the design and hand the actual job over to a professional upholsterer. It is amazing to see a smelly and tatty old chair being transformed into a fabulously stylish piece. My advice? Go for it. There are just a few things to keep in mind.

There are pros and cons for both tackling a project like this yourself or getting someone else to do it. If you are on a tight budget and have lots of time, then it might be worth-wile learning how to do it yourself. It will be a fantastic achievement and something to be really proud of. On the other hand, especially when you have little patience, some things are better left to people who make a great job of it and spend that little bit extra to get the result you are after. After all, ask yourself how much you would spend on a new chair in a high street store. Probably not even of the solid quality of your old vintage find.

upholstered vintage wing back chair

For a more complicated vintage wing back chair I selected the fabric and designed the new look and asked a professional to reupholster it for me. I painted the feet in a graphite chalk paint to match the fabric.

People are sometimes surprised by the cost of getting a chair reupholstered. It is however a mistake to think that just by buying a second-hand chair that needs new covers, you are going to save lots of money. Apart from the amount of time and material it takes to bring a chair back to life, it’s not about saving money really. It should be regarded as a different, far more interesting and exciting option. Plus you are saving something from being thrown away by giving it a new lease of life. How cool is that?

Here’s a quick comparison of doing it yourself versus handing the job over to someone else:

Doing it yourself:

  • Pros: you will be learning/practicing new skills, potentially saving some money, get a feeling of great achievement and have a fab creative project to work on.
  • Cons: it will probably take you a long time to do, it is quite technical when trying to tackle a big chair such as a wing back. You may not get the professional looking result you were aiming for.

Paying a professional:

  • Pros: they know what they are doing, using the right materials (fire retardant etc) and make your chair look amazing. They have the knowledge and expertise to advice on fabrics. They work a lot faster than you!
  • Cons: it is more costly than doing it yourself.

reupholstered rocking chair
An old rocking chair I revamped using Ikea fabric, which is now living in the Dell of Abernethy holiday accommodation in the Cairngorms!

Choosing fabric

When choosing fabric for an a chair or sofa, make sure it is suitable for upholstery. For smaller seats such as kitchen chairs it is OK to use curtain material or fabric you would use for making cushions, but for the bigger chairs it needs to be suitable for upholstery and fire retardant. If in doubt, just ask a specialist fabric retailer.

There are of course millions of fabrics to choose from and it is totally up to you whether you want to go wild and patterned or choose a more classic and timeless fabric such as plain wool. I love the furnishing fabrics at Ikea. They are fun and inexpensive and most are suitable for (light) upholstery. Ideal for a quick makeover of kitchen chairs or box cushion seats. John Lewis also has some great fabrics, ranging from around £11 per meter for some of their printed cottons to well over £50 per meter for a quality wool. Keep in mind that for a wing back chair you will probably need around six meters of fabric, so the fancier your material, the more costly your project.

scion axis tangerine fabric
I love the fabrics by Scion (Harlequin), which come in fabulous graphic patterns. This is Scion Axis Tangerine.

Other sources for finding fabric I have used are good old eBay (you can often find some good value remnants of wool, linen and other quality materials) and Fabric Rehab, a great website with beautiful patterned fabrics, which you will love if you like the Scandi look like me. Always try and get a sample if you can when buying online, to prevent getting a roll of fabric that is not what you were after.

Webbing and foam

Mid century armchairs, including those made by Ercol, often have rubber Pirelli webbing rather than traditional webbing, which is fairly easy to replace, using the metal clips that come with it. The rubber straps are quite costly, so make sure you measure up how much you need before ordering. Pirelli webbing can be found on eBay or online shops specialised in upholstery. Furniture from the 1950s and 60s also often has foam blocks inside the seats (as supposed to horsehair filling used in traditional, antique furniture), so this is another thing that is pretty straight forward to replace. You can get foam in various thicknesses and density. For an armchair seat I usually buy a 4″ thick block, for a kitchen chair 1″ or 1.5″ is often enough. A useful website to buy foam from I find is Easyfoam.

Pirelli webbing mid century furniture project
Two Pirelli webbing projects I tackled myself: a small sofa and an armchair


Greaves and Thomas armchair
A gorgeous mid century armchair by Greaves and Thomas I replaced the Pirelli webbing and box cushion for.
grey linen mid century vintage sofa
The small vintage mid century teak sofa, with new webbing and grey linen box cushions
Paint or strip?
Then there is the question of what to do with the woodwork. Strip it, paint it, leave it the way it is? I stripped a chair once (see picture below) and it was a LOT of work. I was super pleased with the result, yes, but it is not something I would want to tackle every week. Still, much better than the horrible shiny mahogany stain it had before. Painting is an option if you really don’t like the look of the wooden frame, but if it is a nice oak or teak then it is best to just give it a good oil or wax and polish and it will look just fine. (Please don’t ever ‘Annie Sloan‘ a mid century piece!)
before and after mid century chair
A £12 vintage find at an auction, stripped bare to a beautiful light wood, oiled and reupholstered in a black Marimekko fabric.
Conclusion? A revamped vintage chair is money and time well spent. A chair with a story to tell beats any mass produced seat any day. Whether you do it yourself or ask a professional to do it for you, the choice is yours. You will have a unique statement chair for years to come, that’s for sure.

Get in touch with us if you want advice, have a project you need help with or would like us to come up with a design and help select fabric for your chair. Or have a look at the vintage armchairs we have in stock, which would look great reupholstered. We are happy to help!

A few of my other local upholstery contacts:

Professional upholsterers in Aberdeen, specialised in traditional upholstery as well as mid-century, and who can do bigger things like wing back chairs and sofas:

How to reupholster a vintage chair. Costs, fabrics and tips

How do you reupholster a vintage chair? What are the costs, is it worth the effort? What are the best fabrics to use and can you do it yourself? Today I am sharing some tips on what to do when you find a gorgeous vintage chair in need of new upholstery.

So you walk into a charity shop or second hand store and spot a beautiful old chair. Or you inherit an old armchair from your grandmother and have grand visions of it looking totally cool again. It can be a bit daunting, the prospect of doing it yourself.  Even if you have the skills. And what does it cost if you find someone to do it for you? What fabric is suitable and what will look nice?

how to reupholster a chair
A vintage Lloyd Loom chair I transformed for a customer, using Farrow and Ball paint and a gorgeous piece of purple and grey patterned fabric.
 

DIY it or hire someone? The pros and cons

I have revamped a number of chairs for customers and to sell in my shop. In some cases I did it totally myself, when it was the more straight forward type of seat. In other cases I would come up with the design and hand the actual job over to a professional upholsterer. It is amazing to see a smelly and tatty old chair being transformed into a fabulously stylish piece. My advice? Go for it. There are just a few things to keep in mind.

What to keep in mind

There are pros and cons to tackling a project like this yourself or getting someone else to do it. If you have no money but lots of time, it might be worth-wile learning how to do it yourself. There are plenty of books and Youtube videos out there. It will be a fantastic achievement and something to be really proud of.

On the other hand, especially when you have little patience, some things are better left to people who make a great job of it. It is worth every penny to spend that little bit extra to get the result you are after. After all, ask yourself how much you would spend on a new chair in a high street store. Probably not even of the solid quality of your old vintage find.

how to reupholster a chair
For a more complicated vintage wing back chair I selected the fabric and designed the new look and asked a professional to reupholster it for me. I painted the feet in a graphite chalk paint to match the fabric.

 


What does it cost to reupholster a chair?

People are sometimes surprised by the cost of getting a chair reupholstered. It is however a mistake to think that just by buying a second-hand chair that needs new covers, you are going to save lots of money. Apart from the amount of time and material it takes to bring a chair back to life, it’s not about saving money really. It should be regarded as an alternative option. A different, far more interesting and exciting option. Plus you are saving something from being thrown away by giving it a new lease of life. That is worth something as well.

Here’s a quick comparison of doing it yourself versus handing the job over to someone else:

Doing it yourself:

  • Pros: you will be learning/practicing new skills, potentially saving some money, get a feeling of great achievement and have a fab creative project to work on.
  • Cons: it will probably take you a long time to do, it is quite technical when trying to tackle a big chair such as a wing back. You may not get the professional looking result you were aiming for.

Paying a professional:

  • Pros: they know what they are doing, using the right materials (fire retardant etc) and make your chair look amazing. They have the knowledge and expertise to advice on fabrics. They work a lot faster than you!
  • Cons: it is more costly than doing it yourself.

How to find an upholsterer

You can of course google upholstery firms in your area. But great upholsterers often work for themselves, running their own little businesses. It is worth around in your networks for recommendations or post the question on your local Facebook pages. There’s bound to come some names out of the woodwork!

how to reupholster a chair
An old rocking chair I revamped using Ikea fabric, which is now living in the Dell of Abernethy holiday accommodation in the Cairngorms!


Practical Reupholstery tips


1. Reupholster a chair: Choosing fabric

When choosing fabric for an a chair or sofa, make sure it is suitable for upholstery. For smaller seats such as kitchen chairs it is OK to use curtain material or fabric you would use for making cushions, but for the bigger chairs it needs to be suitable for upholstery and fire retardant. If in doubt, ask a specialist fabric retailer.

There are of course millions of fabrics to choose from and it is totally up to you whether you want to go wild and patterned or choose a more classic and timeless fabric such as plain wool. I love the furnishing fabrics at Ikea. They are fun and inexpensive and most are suitable for (light) upholstery. Ideal for a quick makeover of kitchen chairs or box cushion seats. John Lewis also has some great fabrics, ranging from around £11 per meter for some of their printed cottons to well over £50 per meter for a quality wool. Keep in mind that for a wing back chair you will probably need around six meters of fabric, so the fancier your material, the more costly your project.

upholstery fabric for chairs
I love the fabrics by Scion (Harlequin), which come in fabulous graphic patterns. This is Scion Axis Tangerine.

 


Other sources for finding fabric I have used are good old eBay (you can often find some good value remnants of wool, linen and other quality materials) and Fabric Rehab, a great website with beautiful patterned fabrics, which you will love if you like the Scandi look like me. Always try and get a sample if you can when buying online, to prevent getting a roll of fabric that is not what you were after.


2. Reupholster a chair: Webbing and foam

Mid century armchairs, including those made by Ercol, often have rubber Pirelli webbing rather than traditional webbing, which is fairly easy to replace, using the metal clips that come with it. The rubber straps are quite costly, so make sure you measure up how much you need before ordering. Pirelli webbing can be found on eBay or online shops specialised in upholstery.

Furniture from the 1950s and 60s also often has foam blocks inside the seats (as supposed to horsehair filling used in traditional, antique furniture), so this is another thing that is pretty straight forward to replace. You can get foam in various thicknesses and density. For an armchair seat I usually buy a 4″ thick block, for a kitchen chair 1″ or 1.5″ is often enough. A useful website to buy foam from I find is Easyfoam.

reupholstering midcentury furniture
Two Pirelli webbing projects I tackled myself: a small sofa and an armchair
Greaves and Thomas armchair
A gorgeous mid century armchair by Greaves and Thomas I replaced the Pirelli webbing and box cushion for.
 
reupholstering midcentury furniture
The small vintage mid century teak sofa, with new webbing and grey linen box cushions
 

3. Reupholster a chair: Paint or strip?

Then there is the question of what to do with the woodwork. Strip it, paint it, leave it the way it is? I stripped a chair once (see picture below) and it was a LOT of work. I was super pleased with the result, yes, but it is not something I would want to tackle every week. Still, much better than the horrible shiny mahogany stain it had before. Painting is an option if you really don’t like the look of the wooden frame, but if it is a nice oak or teak then it is best to just give it a good oil or wax and polish and it will look just fine. (Please don’t ever ‘Annie Sloan‘ a mid century piece!)

 
how to reupholster a chair
A £12 vintage find at an auction, stripped bare to a beautiful light wood, oiled and reupholstered in a black Marimekko fabric.

 


A unique chair with a story to tell

Conclusion? A revamped vintage chair is money and time well spent. A chair with a story to tell beats any mass produced seat any day. Whether you do it yourself or ask a professional to do it for you, the choice is yours. You will have a unique statement chair for years to come, that’s for sure.

Book tip:
The Beginner’s Guide to Upholstery : 10 Achievable DIY Upholstery and Reupholstery Projects

This is not a dry, highly technical professional upholstery manual, but a bright and accessible book that presents 10 simple projects using modern methods that are quick and easy to achieve. Readers are taken step-by-step through the process of how to upholster desirable pieces of furniture – using items found at antique markets, street sales and thrift stores that are designed-up and given a modern twist. Readers will learn about fabric choice and other materials, discover essential upholstery techniques and then embark on the projects.

Is winter over yet? We think so! Bring in some colour!


Vintage directors chair £45.00
It is February, it is freezing, it is dark and we are all longing to see the first signs of Spring, right? Not long now until the first daffodils pop up in the lawn and I am sure I have spotted some snow drops already. In the meantime, why not bring some sunshine into your home? Add some bright colours, fresh flowers, new cushions, a funky light shade or a statement chair to your living room and lift that winter mood. We have been doing our best as always to source to most beautiful and unique vintage furniture as well as complimentary home decor products to add to the mix. We hope you like them.
As usual we are open every Saturday between 10am and 5pm and by appointment during the week. Pop in on a Saturday, or just phone or email us if you want to come and have a look around at another time.
You can never have enough cushions! Starting at £15.00

Beautiful solid teak mid century wardrobe and chest of drawers – in one! 185cm tall x 124cm wide x 55.5cm deep. £165.00

How funky is this chair? Mid century teak armchair with new seat cushions £195.00. Industrial ‘cage’ light shade £28.00. Star burst 1960s clock £49.00, Anglepoise 1960s light £49.00. Red trunk £70.00, black trunk £55.00, suitcase £18.00. Vases from £15.00.
Add a gorgeous hook to your hallway, bathroom door or bedroom. Beauty is in the detail! £14.50 each.

Niels Møller Danish mid-century modern dining set new in the shop


We acquired a beautiful original teak mid-century dining set by Danish designer Niels Otto Møller. Wonderful craftsmanship and quality, timeless design.

This is surely one of the most classic designs you’ll ever see come out of Denmark. So much of this design sets it apart. From the perfectly executed joinery that connects the teak backrest to the rear legs to the unique arms of the #55 chair. It all creates an expressive, sculptural form. The curve in the backrest allows for comfort. The teak has attractive grain patterns throughout. The seats are made from woven paper cord which proved to be a worthy alternative to fabric. This set includes two more difficult to find #55 armchairs. This classic Danish design was one of the most popular chairs to come out of Denmark and for good reason. Although the design goes all the way back to 1951, they would make a great addition to any modern dining environment.

About the designer: “In 1944, Niels Otto Møller founded J.L. Møllers Møbelfabrik in Denmark, a company that has received many awards, including the Danish Furniture Prize in 1974 and 1981. “My father never compromised on anything,” says Jørgen Henrik Møller. “When he designed a chair, he would find the materials and then design the furniture. Each design took him five years to complete.” This work ethic is why the Møller collection is relatively small for a company that’s been around for more than 60 years, but that’s what makes Møller so special”(source)

The set includes six dining chairs (model #71), two arm chairs (model #55) and an extending dining table.

SET IS NOW SOLD

The Model #71 and Model #55 chairs

Midcentury modern gorgeousness: Greaves and Thomas armchair

Sometimes you come across such beautiful pieces that you find it hard to part with them. The Greaves and Thomas armchair I recently acquired and fully restored is one of these. A gorgeous chair formed out of two-tone wood, in such a nice shape it is almost a sculpture. The seat is reupholstered with new pirelli webbing and foam with a removable cotton-blend blue-grey cover.

*Chair is now sold*

New stock: rocking chairs, sofas and retro writing desks

‘Upcycled’ metal rocking chair £135

Pair of kitchen stools, recovered in floral oil cloth £35 each or £60 for both

Mid century Danish teak sofa, reupholstered in grey cotton blend fabric £295
Mid century Danish teak sofa, reupholstered in grey cotton blend fabric £295
Lovely collection of purple glassware, from £6

Mid century Danish teak writing desk £160

Mid century Danish teak writing desk £160

Mid century Danish teak writing desk £160

‘Upcycled’ (painted top, sides and front details) vintage writing desk £95

‘Upcycled’ (painted top, sides and front details) vintage writing desk £95

Rocking chair revamp – patchwork project

I recently picked up a rocking chair – not incredibly ‘vintage’ (probably less than 30 years old), but a good shape and well built – possibly G Plan. The cushions had seen better days though and when a customer showed an interest in buying the chair I suggested doing it up for her in a patchwork style, using lots of lovely blue and grey fabric scraps I had lying around in the studio. I left the frame in its original blond wood state as I felt it matched the ‘Scandinavian’ look of the patterned fabrics and style of the chair. This is the result. I’m pretty pleased with it and I am sure it’ll look lovely in its new home!

Create an eclectic country cottage look with this vintage Ercol style suite, glass light shades and upcycled kitchen dresser.

Wonderful vintage cottage suit Ercol-style. Painted cream and with new foam cushions in sage green. £195.00 for the sofa, chairs £125.00 each or buy the whole set for £395.00. Width of sofa approx 120cm, chair 70cm.
Please contact me to arrange a viewing or to purchase.

 

 

Lovely delicate glass pendant light shades. One small, one larger. Great for kitchen or hallway. £15.00 and £25.00.

Beautifully painted and lightly distressed kitchen dresser in duck egg blue eggshell paint. perfect for your country kitchen. Top shelf bit can come off. Dimensions 170 (incl top bit) x 96 x 45cm. £195

 

 

Update your rooms with mid-century and retro furniture

I love mid-century (50s/60s) furniture, particularly the clean lines of sleek sideboards and elegantly designed chairs and tables. The Scandinavians were – and are – very good at this style, and back in the days various British manufacturers started producing furniture in this more ‘airy’ style to be part of the trend that became very fashionable after heavy wooden, carved and dark furniture had been filling the houses for decades. Some of the better known British brands producing beautiful mid-century pieces are Ercol, G Plan and McIntosh, using solid teak wood and creating furniture that lasts.

As I am based in Britain it is hard to come across true Scandinavian made vintage furniture (I guess it wasn’t readily available up here to people in those days), but I do sell beautifully crafted pieces made in Britain in a style that reminds you of classic Danish design.

I regularly stock retro sideboards that look stunning in a contemporary setting, especially combined with some great artwork hung above it and some ceramics grouped together on top. Recently I also picked up a lovely small chest of drawers, a 1960s plastic woven chair and a wonderful Ercol dining table and chairs. Even though all of these pieces are up to 50 years old they would make any modern interior look stylish and up-to-date now. You only have to open one of the many Home Interior magazines and they are full of vintage and retro style items.

I was told that Marks & Spencer now does a replica of the 1962 iconic Ercol dining table and John Lewis has also started selling 1950s/60s style furniture. Great news that it has come back into fashion, but I still believe that you cannot beat the real thing. Yes, old stuff often comes with scratches, but what is nicer than introducing some well-made key designer pieces to your home that last, have a story to tell and have been loved by many?

Ercol dining table and four chairs £350.00

 

Mid-century chest of drawers £95.00 / chair SOLD

Furniture in stock right now: Danish design, retro sideboards, storage units and more

Ladderax unit with desk £395

‘Trioh’ Danish design teak coffee table £160

Solid wood chest of drawers £85

Danish design teak coffee table with glass top £95

G-Plan low sideboard £140

Retro – super comfy! – swivel chair £150

Vintage ottoman £40

Upcycled bedside cabinet £45

Lloyd Loom ‘Lusty laundry basket £35

Retro 1960s sideboard £245

Upcycled chair. painted and slightly distressed, plus recovered seat £85

Vintage stackable school chairs £40 per chair or £200 for six