Before and After: A $40 Vintage Desk Chair Gets a $7, 3-Hour Glow Up

published May 12, 2021
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About this before & after
Home Type
Project Type
Mid-century Modern
Skill Level
Rental Friendly
Before: Vintage desk chair with old tan cushion

Quality desk chairs have become staples in many homes during the pandemic — they’re an important part (perhaps the most important part?) of any truly workable WFH setup, for adults and kids alike.

When Michael Stack saw this vintage gem — a Shaw Walker chair on Craigslist for $40 — he snagged it for his daughter’s room. “I knew from the posting that it was going to need some love, but just how much I wasn’t sure,” Michael says. “Obviously this chair has been around for a while and was previously updated and repaired. Unfortunately not all the repairs would have been something that I would have done, but I wasn’t about to try and correct them at this point.”

When he got it home, he saw the chair was missing some screws and bolts, and the mustard fabric would obviously need replacing. A quick run to the hardware store and a few hours of elbow grease later, he ended up with a good-as-new vintage beauty with form and function in mind.

First, Michael removed the cushions and scrubbed down the metal frame with Bar Keeper’s Friend, an acidic powder cleanser that can do everything from strip paint off wood to keep porcelain looking polished. To get some of the rust off and to get the chair swiveling smoothly, he used WD-40, another more-versatile-than-you’d-think home staple.

To level out the seat, Michael added some extra foam he had at home (about $7 worth) before reupholstering with the retro black and white geometric fabric, a gift from a friend.

“The fabric is a nice complement to her room and brings in a bit more pattern than the white painted Woodite chair it replaces,” Michael says. “I don’t think I’d do anything different. The only exception might be adding more foam to the seat, but I was trying to use what I had on hand. Also maybe trying to pattern match the fabric on the seat and the back.”

But Michael’s proudest accomplishment is that the project only took one afternoon. “I had a vision about what the chair was going to look like, and the completed project matched that vision,” he says.

His easy DIY chair is a lesson for vintage shoppers everywhere: “Trust yourself and see the opportunities in items that might not meet your initial needs.”