Sunday, May 4, 2014

Take a Seat

There are certain things that are true when two semi-adults blend apartments. One of those true-isms is that someone will wind up with furniture about which she's (oh, um, I mean they're) not wholly fond. When Jake and I moved in together almost ten years ago, he was mostly happy to toss the furniture from his studio apartment in favor of mine.

But there were The Chairs.

The Chairs had lived with Jake since 1999, and were the very definition of institutional-chic. Like, they looked like they belonged in a hospital waiting room, which is not exactly the look anyone is really going for in their home. Except for a 19-year-old college boy, who may-or-may-not have gotten them extremely inexpensively.

And so they were sequestered to our bedroom, buried under laundry and piles of books, and only sat upon if both of us were putting our shoes on at the same time, and someone needed a surface to perch on for a second. In the midst of The Great Purge, I decided that there was no way these chairs were moving to Michigan with us. I hated them: I hated the color of the wood, I hated the look and feel of the upholstery. There was no way these chairs were getting loaded onto a moving van and getting shipped 800 miles away, just to get buried again.

Unless I made them different chairs.

The practically-free status of these chairs made them perfect candidates for experimentation. I figured, I could teach myself upholstery and painting/staining (via Pinterest, of course!) and if they turned out looking awful, well, I wouldn't have sunk a lot of money into them, right? So, I set off to research, as is my wont.

First consideration: what color should the wood be? I looked into Chalk Paint, but ultimately decided that I didn't love any color enough to commit to opaque paint, and that I'd rather let the wood show through. That led to a trip to Strosnider's with The Kid. Oh, how I love my neighborhood hardware store! I bought sandpaper, a brush, and a dropcloth, my mini-consultant helped me choose a stain color, and we were good to go.

Next, of course, I had to choose the fabric for the upholstery. After far too many hours browsing on, I finally bought five samples. Five minutes with my mini-consultant after I got the shipment, and I had chosen Premier Prints Suzani Summerland/Natural(No, I don't let The Kid dictate my life, but the boy has an eye for color and pattern!)

Then, I just had it. It took me several days, since I could only do so much while (a) I was at home, and (b) The Kid was sleeping or able to help me. And I was seriously proud of the outcome! The pseudo-before/after is at the top of the post, and the how-to is after the jump!

It's never too early to teach a toddler "lefty-loosey, righty-tighty." So, if you have a mini-consultant like I do, taking the backrest off of the chair is a great project for him or her. If not, hey: if it's easy enough for a toddler, it's probably easy enough for you. Take the backrest off of the chair. If the seat comes off of your chair, take that off, too. Mine didn't, so the backrest was the only thing that got removed.

The backrests of these chairs were weirdly in two pieces. That made the reupholstery part easier, but it was unlike anything I'd read about on the Pinterest, so I had to get creative. More on that later.

Sand the existing finish off of your chair. I used two grains of sandpaper, to make sure the finish was completely removed, and the wood was even all over. Wipe the wood down with a damp cloth in between sandings, and after you're done, to get rid of the dust.

Apply the stain. I had it on good authority that the stain would sink in better if the wood was slightly damp, and that worked for me. Apply all over (I did the bottom first, then flipped it over and did the top), and wipe off the excess. I let the stain dry for several hours before applying the second coat.

Oh, I had to apply the stain in my kitchen--hence the oven in the background of the picture. It's the only room that I can keep the cat out of. You can also see the baby gate on the right side there; it doesn't keep out the baby any more, but the cat doesn't even try to navigate it. If you're doing the same, make sure your exhaust fan is on, as well as any other nearby fans, and that close-by windows are open.

Remove any existing upholstery you can. Trace around it, leaving about an inch (or more) extra. If you can't remove some of the upholstery, do your best, making sure you have at least an inch border.

It was important to me that the front of the backrest (the cushioned part where you put your back) was nicely centered on one of the big parts of the design, and that both chairs matched. That part took a while, but it was totally worth it. With a less ostentatious fabric, the centering-and-tracing would probably be easier.

I'm a master gift-wrapper (blurg), and so I felt comfortable essentially wrapping the two pieces of the backrest like a present, using hot glue. I laid a two-inch line of hot glue, pressed down the fabric, pulling it taut, lathered, rinsed, and repeated, until the whole back was covered. I then had to trim around the excess to expose the screw holes, which I marked with a Sharpie and punched through with my scissors. They didn't have to look pretty, since they would be behind the wood frame.

Since the seat cushion wouldn't come off of the frame--I think this was part of the institutional nature of the chairs--I had to staple the fabric right on top of the existing fabric on the chair. I borrowed my mom's staple gun, which was intimidating, but made me feel like a super-bad-ass. I stapled all the way around, then trimmed and secured the fabric under the chair with hot glue, so you can't see any excess hanging down.

I reattached the backrest with the original screws, which I had put in a labeled baggie. (HOT TIP!) I was really glad that I had made screw holes, especially since I had to figure out how the two pieces of the backrest perfectly fit together. The screws go through the chair's frame, through drilled holes on the back of the backrest, and into threaded holes on the front cushion-y part of the backrest, so the pieces had to fit together just so. It took some work and elbow grease (and a little bit of sweat when I didn't think it was going to happen), but ultimately, it worked out just fine.

To cover the staples, I used yet more hot glue and some pretty braided trim. Hot glue is now my god.

After I finished the first chair, and in doing so, learned anything about what I was doing, it was time to tackle the second. It took less time since I kinda-sorta knew what I was doing now, but I apparently hadn't washed the brush 100% correctly, and so the stain got sort of...splattery. No harm, no foul, except I looked like I had contracted a tropical disease for a short while.

And so now I have two matching chairs that I absolutely love. It wasn't free like I had thought--the chairs themselves were free-to-me, but I spent about $40 in materials. All told, thought $20 per chair is not that expensive, and I think they're wonderful now. They'll definitely be making the move to Michigan with us.

And I want a staple gun of my very own.

1 comment:

  1. Reupholstering was a skill my mom (and I'm thinking your mom, too, since she owns a staple gun) honed in the 80s. I don't know why reupholstery was so big back then but I remember thinking Mom was a badass with a staple gun. The chairs look awesome!