My First Upholstering Project

A lot has changed since the fall; I left a job that was no longer serving me for one that is a complete 180, I’ve been a part of a wonderful fellowship, I got very sick, then regained my health (and an appreciation for it), and I’ve found my way back to my creative practice. At times I’ve been guilty of getting wrapped up in the busy trap, and I know how common it is for us all. We’re so busy, overly connected, overly committed, and minimally present. It’s easy to say I don’t have time for exercising or creativity, but it’s truly counterproductive because I know those are the practices that recharge me and give me more energy, rather than drain it the way the busy-ness does. I set some new goals for myself back in February and have been feeling much more well-rounded. I’ve been journaling again, started a large paper mosaic and even tackled a couple upcycling projects.

For years I had a small table that served me well in my studio apartment, but I always disliked the metal and wicker chairs. Fast forward to this March and I was trying to work on the computer and the table was too small and those chairs had only become more uncomfortable with age. That weekend I headed to my favorite furniture spot: Urban Ore, a massive thrift shop of high quality solid wood pieces in Berkeley. I found a set of four chairs with good springs in their seats and the most comfortable high backs. Time to get to work!

The first step was to remove the upholstery trim and sand down any scuffed edges. The chairs were all in good shape structurally but had a few dings to smooth out in the legs. Next, it was time to get painting. I chose this lavender brown chalky paint by Urban Rooster that I really love. Urban Rooster has gone off the radar in recent years, but I had an unopened jar to work with. For a project of this size I don’t mix my own colors because I’m never a good judge of quantity. Since these are pieces that could encounter some wear and tear I also like to have touch up paint to keep on hand.

When it comes to furniture, I like the ultra-matte finish of chalky paints because they allow me to color the wood without changing the natural feel. I find glossier finishes often feel lacquered or even plastic and I miss the wood texture.

Just a couple blocks from Urban Ore is Discount Fabrics, which for me is quite serendipitous, especially since they were having a sale on all their upholstery fabric. Using real upholstery fabric makes a noticeable difference in how chairs hold up to normal use and resist spills, trust me I’ve already put them to the test!

Each seat was in such good shape with no tears or stains, that I chose to leave them intact and add my new fabric on top. This saved me a lot of extra work, but without a pattern the process of cutting and fitting the fabric around the backs was tricky and took some trial and error. I went through a remarkable number of staples, but once secured the fabric really transformed the whole look of the chairs. I was working on them all in stages, turning our entire living room into a workshop for about a week.


The finishing touches were attaching the new upholstery trim, and then working on a coat of wood conditioner. I had never used upholstery trim, or had a hot glue gun for that matter, but it was the easiest step to learn. I did a little research and got an adjustable temperature glue gun and ordered the trim online. Upholstery trim is used to hide staples or nails. I debated using decorative nails instead, but since this was my first upholstery project I’m glad I didn’t!

For a finish I rarely use polyurethane, except for outdoor pieces, because of the gloss and smell. I found this bees wax and orange oil wood conditioner a few years ago that feeds the wood while adding a lovely finish and scent. These pieces take about a day to dry fully and depending on their usage I recondition them every year or two. My trick to applying conditioner is to use a clean sock on my hand and rub it in so the wood can really soak it up.

The final product deserved a new table, and of course, back at Urban Ore I found a gorgeous one! The top has a cup ring and a scratch or two which are currently being covered by a runner but may be a project down the line. In the meantime, I’m enjoying them greatly and looking forward to hosting more dinners!




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