How To: Reupholster a Drop-in Chair Seat

My husband bought four of these chairs at Pier 1 ten years ago, for his first post-college apartment. We’ve kept them around because they’re actually comfortable, but let’s face it: that grayish-brown pleather seat won’t be winning prom queen anytime soon. So in honor of DIY month, I finally decided to tackle the quickie reupholstery job I’ve been contemplating for months. It’s a pretty simple project for a chair that has a drop-in seat, and maybe you've seen it done on a house-flip show—but to help out my fellow less-than-handy folks, I’ve broken it down step by step after the jump.
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So, here’s what you’ll need:

  • Fabric of your choice
  • Scissors
  • Measuring tape
  • Screwdriver
  • Staple gun (mine was light-duty)
  • Staples (I used 5/16”)
  • Hammer
  • Chalk

    Step by Step:

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    1. Unscrew the chair seat and put the screws in a safe place.

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    2. Use your measuring tape to determine how much fabric you will need. Wrap the tape around the seat to where you will be stapling on both sides—and allow a few extra inches (you will need extra fabric in order to get a good grip and pull it taut before stapling). For four fairly standard drop-in chair seats, you’ll probably need a yard and a half of upholstery fabric (55-inch width).

    3. Go shopping! Think about how your fabric, as my friend and helper Sarah put it, “will stand up to a lot of butts.” I chose a flax-colored linen with a little bit of stretch (which made it nice and easy to pull the fabric taut) and a cute flocked coral design in blue.

    4. Back home, clear off a table and lay out your fabric. Use the chalk to mark off a rectangle or square according to your measurements. To ensure a relatively straight line, fold over the fabric neatly where you plan to cut, and cut along the fold.

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    5. Fold your piece of fabric in half lengthwise to find the center and cut a little notch out of each end to mark the front and back. Also mark the center front and back on the bottom of your chair seat with chalk.

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    6. Lay the seat upside down on the fabric and line up your notches with your center marks. Then staple below your front center mark, and continue with a few more staples to either side, along the front edge of the seat (leaving the corners till later).

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    7. Now work on the back. VERY IMPORTANT: Before placing each staple along the back, you’ll want to tuck your arm under the seat and swipe the surface of the fabric with one hand while pulling the fabric tight with your other hand. Also, staple a little bit to the left or right of where your hand is pulling. This is just a way of ensuring that there’s no slack in the fabric.

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    8. Once you’ve stapled all along the back using the “swipe and pull,” work along each side with the same technique. Use your hammer to finish off any staples that don’t go in all the way. Also, mark the screw holes with your chalk as you go along.

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    9. Now it’s time for the corners. Trim the excess fabric from the corners (but not too much—you still want enough to grab onto—but you don’t want it to bunch up and cause a gap between the finished seat and the chair). Fold the fabric in small pleats all around the corner, stapling each pleat in turn, checking the other side as you go to minimize visible puckering. You may need several pleats for a smooth surface.

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    10. Add more staples as necessary, then trim the edge of the fabric to within about a half-inch of the staples.

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    11. Replace the seat on the chair and screw it back in over your chalk-marked holes.

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    Tada! Much improved, don’t you think?

    One caveat about these instructions: They assume that your cushions are in decent shape, in which case it makes more sense to leave the existing fabric intact. That’s why I’m calling this a “quickie” reupholstery. If you’re going to remove your existing fabric, this video tutorial might be helpful:

    Upholster Magazine: How to Upholster a Dining Room Chair Slip Seat

    Also, Shelly posted a couple of reupholstery projects a few months back on AT:Chicago, along with great instructions:

    How To: Upholster an Open-Armed Side Chair
    How To: The Lazy Upholsterer's MidC Dining Chair Redo

    I also found some great tips here:

    Home Envy: A Quick Chair Upholstery Upgrade

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