How to Totally Transform Your Current Furniture—Without Paint

updated May 15, 2020
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Fabric-covered chair in front of wallpapered wall

Paint is a go-to for refinishing old furniture, but it’s not your only option! For a fresh spin on your old stuff, why not try decoupage? Yes, decoupage—the stuff eighth-grade me used to shellack Devon Sawa’s face to every surface of her room. I guess I always knew decoupage was created for more than crafty teens with subscriptions to Tiger Beat, but hadn’t seen anything projects I’d wanted to try until recently, when I came across this decoupaged bentwood chair by Camila Pavone of Effortless Style. I had a bentwood chair of my own that needed a refresher, plus some fun fabric, so I ordered a tub of Mod Podge and created my own statement chair. It wasn’t difficult, but I do have some tips to help make your project a success!

Supplies you’ll need to decoupage a chair

Directions for how to decoupage a chair

Here’s what I started with: a thrifted, wood chair that I liked, but didn’t love. Decoupage seems to work best on projects that are paintedm as opposed to bare wood, but can also be used on plastic—just be sure to test an inconspicuous area before you start. Grab your #0000 steel wool or a fine grit sandpaper and work it over the surface to make sure everything is nice and smooth. Wipe down with a damp rag and wait until the piece dries before starting your project.

Observe your piece and try to see it in multiple sections: left leg, right leg, center bar, left back bar, etc. The way you’ll approach cutting your fabric is the way that will create as few wrinkles or creases as possible when it’s wrapped around your furniture. For instance: the backrest on my chair is simply two pieces of wood, but I ended up using five separate pieces of fabric in order to get a clean wrap. If you’re the least bit intimidated, just pick a really wild fabric that will draw attention away from any mistakes!

If your chair’s seat is padded, like mine is, you’ll need to pop it off before beginning. This is a great time to re-cover your chair’s seat in a complementary fabric—it’s a super easy project with big payoff.

1. Cut strips of fabric

Working with one section at a time, wrap the fabric around (or use a cloth measuring tape if you have one) to measure the circumference of the section you’re covering, measure for length, and add a few inches for wiggle room and cut the strip. Trim all strings and frayed areas from the fabric strips before applying.

2. Apply the Mod Podge

Brush the Mod Podge liberally to the section of furniture you just cut a fabric strip for. The glue should be thick, but not drippy—you don’t necessarily want it to soak through to the top of the fabric. Foam brushes work well if you’re working on a completely flat surface, but wide bristle craft brushes work best for projects with curves or little nooks and crannies.

3. Add the fabric

Position the fabric on the section so that the seam faces an inconspicuous area (toward the back or facing the inside), the fabric can be repositioned if you work quickly, but try not to move it more than once. Gently smooth out the fabric so that there aren’t any wrinkles or bubbles, and trim the excess with sharp scissors. Try to cut as close to the seam as possible, without exposing the surface underneath. Add a bit more glue to the seam area and press so that it lays flat. Don’t freak out if your lines aren’t perfectly straight—I promise no one will notice if you’ve attempted to hide the seams!

4. Trim excess fabric

For areas that butt together, like the back legs of this chair, it’s best to apply your fabric and trim the excess with a super sharp utility knife.

Some areas will be tricky and may require you to notch out small sections, or create cut lines so that your fabric will lay flat around a curve. If you end up having to make cut lines, be sure that they are facing the inside, or an area that isn’t necessarily front and center. Glue the cut fabric to the furniture, then add a bit more glue and place a fabric patch over top to hide any exposed areas.

5. Add a topcoat (optional)

Once you’re finished covering your furniture you can either choose to leave the surface exposed, or add a topcoat of decoupage. It’s inevitable that dust will collect, so a topcoat is recommended, but keep in mind it will change the color of your fabric just a bit, so it’s really up to you whatever you decide to do.

If you decide to do a topcoat, here’s how: Apply a thin coat of Mod Podge with a quality soft bristle brush, or a foam brush and let dry for 20-30 minutes. For this step, a foam brush is great because you don’t have to worry about a bristle coming off and being visible in the finish.

One topcoat is sufficient for furniture that is decorative, but two to three coats are recommended for furniture that gets heavy traffic. For a super smooth finish, wet sand between each topcoat layer with 400-grit sandpaper, then wipe dry. To finish, you can polish with #0000 steel wool, or spray with a clear acrylic sealer to help with any tackiness.

That’s all there is to it! A few hours is all you need to create a totally custom piece in any pattern or color of your choice. This is an especially great way to use up fabric scraps from other projects that might be too small for any other DIYs!