$30 Reclining Wingback Reupholster Project

11 September 2015

So, the $30 is a little misleading, because I found this chair on the curb.  It was free.  I know, you are rolling your eyes at me.  I, too, thought that I would never find a chair for free, so my dream of reupholstering a wingback chair (hey...I don't judge your dreams) was on hold for years.  But then, one day, at a time that reeeallyy did not fit into my timeline of projects that need to get done, a neighbor put their chair on the curb. Mind you, these are nice neighbors, who don't smoke, and I trusted them that the chair was being put on the curb because they got a new one, and not because the old one was covered in flesh-eating bacteria...or something like that.

That being said, the chair was still in rough shape.  It was originally purchased when I was in 7th grade, making it none of your business nearly twenty years old, and it looked it.

In the chair's defense, I will say that it was much more than just a chair.  I was also an old water squirt gun, a dime, a nickle, a quarter covered in something sticky, a hair tie, a paper clip, a surprising amount of dog/human hair, dust, and a few popcorn kernels thrown in for good measure.

Since I was not ready for this project, the chair sat in our entryway for a couple of months.  It did make for good conversation whenever people came to the door and saw a huge chair taking up half of the space. Okay, maybe the conversations were more like, "You still haven't done anything with that chair?" Nevertheless, it was a conversation piece.

Visitors were not the only ones questioning my chair hoarding.  My husband gave me one or two loving eye rolls as I talked about how quick this project would be.  But seriously people, it was a wing back chair...for FREE.  I couldn't NOT take it!

Let's just say that reupholstery was never on his home project bucket list.  And the day I started ripping the fabric off he more than once tried to convince me that we should follow in the wisdom of the original owners and show the chair to the curb. But once we got started and I asked my husband if he had a few tools to take apart the reclining pieces, well...if tools were involved, then...you know....that was Man Work, and so he very generously helped me take apart the chair.

I don't really have a tutorial to offer you, but there are several out there that are worth looking at if you ever find yourself with a free chair and a dream.  However, here are the steps that I took:

Steps to Reupholster a Reclining Wingback Chair 

  1. Go to Home Depot and get yourself some fabric!  Canvas drop cloth, that is (I got the huge one for $32, and I have plenty left over to do Court's headboard...yes! more projects!).  And while you are there, get some extra staples for your staple gun, you're gonna need those.  Wash and iron your drop cloth.

  2. Find a spot in the middle of the house, that the kids will play in while you work with sharp objects. This will add a level of difficulty as you try to simultaneously not stab yourself, watch the boy with the screwdriver, watch the girl picking up staple bits, and not curse the small house, and hot humid air outside preventing you from just going in the garage with a door that can lock the kiddos safely inside. 

  3. Take a bunch of pictures of how the fabric is laying at the seams.  Does the arm fabric wrap over or under the back fabric?  Take a picture of it now, and you will have your instruction manual for how to put it back together. 

  4. Begin taking off the fabric (following some the tutorials you find online), and save the pieces.  They will be your template for cutting your new fabric.  This step sounds easy.  It is not.  It is 4-5 hours of staple removal.  It is tedious, annoying, and a good time to catch up on your online history lectures DVR episodes.  You will now consider the wisdom of ushering the chair to the curb, but will not do so, because if the neighbors see it before the trash guy comes, you will feel very guilty that you took their chair, slaughtered it, and then left its entrails strewn about on the street. And that just doesn't seem neighborly.  

  5. Take the naked chair to the garage (with the door open for ventilation) and Lysol that sucker like you have never Lysol-ed before.  There are two sets of directions on the disinfectant can, one for a light spray to clean, and the other for a soaking spray to irradicate 20 years of who-knows-what, that might still be in the cushions after I watched all that dust and hair and other people-ness fall out of the chair upon stripping it.  You'll want to follow that second set of directions.  Leave the chair parts in garage overnight to thoroughly dry.

  6. Cut scraps roughly the same shape as the old fabric.  Give up on the idea that those pieces are really a template, since you ended up cutting chunks out of them just to get around the staples that wouldn't come out.  

  7. Find an old cardboard back to a very large sketch pad and stuff it between the springs and foam on the seat back to give it a little more support, because once you take apart the chair, you realize the tutorials were right...these things really are put together with a little bit of wood and a whole lot of cardboard.  Spend ten minutes discussing the advantages/disadvantages of having the bright green drawing pad cover facing the front vs. back of the chair with Husband.  Wait for him to stare blankly, then roll his eyes.  Decide to leave it the way it is.

  8. Start to staple your new fabric back onto the chair, in roughly the same way that those smart furniture makers put the original fabric on.  Refer to your photos and those online tutorials when you get stuck.

    Important Note:  No tutorial for this job is the same, because no two chairs were put together the same way.  This means that you, dear reupholsterer, do not have to stick to one supreme method of getting the fabric back on the chair.  If removing those 32,796 staples didn't teach you that this is less of a science and more a "just stick it on any which way it sticks" kind of project, then you probably stopped reading this as soon as you found out it wasn't a real tutorial, but I digress...

  9. Cloister yourself in the laundry room during naptime, so the staple gun doesn't wake the kiddos. Realize that you have just maximized the sound and minimized the space...think about those nifty ear plugs you had at swim lessons as a kid...huh...well, back to stapling, naptime is almost over.

  10. Get husband to reassemble the newly fabric-ed pieces with tools and manliness.  

  11. Realize that the final step of putting back on the front arm panels can't be done, because you poofed the fabric out too much on the arms, trying to re-fluff the twenty years of matted foam, and now the tacks are hidden.  Fear not!  You will not be deterred from glory in the final moments.  Whip out that hot glue gun (yes, hot glue gun), and stick those suckers on.

  12. Sit in your chair and check this bad boy off your life's to-do list, because you, my friend, just reupholstered yourself a chair!

Mid-job, someone found himself a seat. 

This is a closer-up look at the canvas fabric.  It does have some imperfection in the weave, and that is okay by me. There was a grain to it as well, so I tried to keep that in mind as I placed the fabric before stapling it in. I didn't want one wing to be covered in grain going vertical, and the other horizontal. It is not perfect, but as long as it is going the same general direction, no one will notice it being off by a degree or two.

Isn't she pretty?  She sits in Court's room now, since we really didn't actually have space for another chair anywhere else.  And while I wouldn't think that a four-year-old's room needs a wingback chair, I will say that it is a great spot for her to cozy up with all her stuffed animal buds and read books (and is cozy for me while I help her get ready every day).
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