DIY expert Georgina Burnett shows Oliver Stallwood how to give an unloved chair a stylish makeover.
While it’s tempting to go and buy a new set of dining chairs, upcycling an old, unwanted one is kinder to the environment and the wallet. Second-hand chairs are cheap – and often even free – on local websites and auction sites and, with not a lot of work, can be turned into something ready for a dinner party.
Georgina Burnett is an interiors and DIY expert for ITV’s This Morning, specialising in upcycling. She recently upcycled a set of tired armchairs – which were a little bulky for the dinner table – into a more modern-looking dining set with paint and reupholstered pads.
Step 1: Start by fixing anything that’s a bit wobbly. If the legs are loose, you will probably find they just need a bit of wood glue at the joint. Or if one leg is shorter than the rest, glueing a penny to the bottom often does the trick. I’ve even had to sort chair legs that have been chewed by dogs. As we are painting them, all you need to correct this is some wood filler, which will then need a bit of sanding before painting.
Step 2: If the pad is easily removed, you should do this next. If it’s well-fixed, either with glue or screws, you may want to remove it before repairing legs in case anything is damaged in the process.
Step 3: Lightly sand all hard surfaces with a fine sandpaper to create what is known as a ‘key’ – this abrasion ensures the paint adheres. Make sure you brush or wipe away any dust and that the surrounding area is clear before any paint is opened.
Step 4: Use sugar soap – I prefer a pre-mixed one in a spray bottle – or white spirit to clean the hard surfaces. It’s best to use a lint-free cloth for this. Always remove residue with fresh water and leave to dry.
Step 5: You can either use a chalk-based paint or a multi-surface primer for the first coat. You can use a brush on the legs but it’s best to use a roller on any flat surfaces. Make sure you adhere to the product’s drying times in between coats.
Step 6: If you used a chalk-based paint in the colour you want, you will need two to three coats, followed by varnish or wax. If you used a primer, you can use eggshell paint – I would suggest water-based – to finish. You will likely need two coats of this.
Step 7: If the foam of the pad is sound, remove the outer fabric and place the foam on your new chosen fabric to cut to shape. The fabric needs to be wide enough to overlap the base of the pad by about 3cm. Err on the side of too much (rather than not enough) fabric, as it’s best to be able to cut away any excess than not have enough to play with.
Step 8: Use a staple gun to fix the fabric to opposing sides on the underside of the pad, keeping the fabric taut. Do the same for the other two sides, folding the fabric neatly at the corners. Once all sides have been stapled in a few places, you can fill in the gaps so that there is almost a solid line of staples. If the fabric had been pinned around the edge, it’s much harder and more time-consuming to reupholster, but not impossible. Just remove all the pins to start, then follow the same steps and replace the pins at the end.
Step 9: It’s best to screw the pad to the base of the chair if possible, but in some cases it’s possible to just glue it.
Step 10: If you just don’t like the colour of the original fabric, you could try using slightly watered-down chalk paint on the fabric, followed by a wax or varnish. It will take a few coats and you won’t get a soft finish, but I’ve certainly had a lot of success with doing this.
1. If the chair is old, or has a darker wood, it’s a good idea to use a stain blocker first, which will prevent stains bleeding through after all your hard work. Depending on the product, this can usually be used instead of a primer.
2. If you are looking to match colours in a room, you could take some leftover wallpaper or a cushion and get it colour-matched. Most decorator centres provide a service like this.
3. When painting chair legs, an old pair of socks can be handy. Put them on your hands, dip into the paint and slide up and down the chair legs. It’s an efficient way of painting legs and spindles.
4. In between coats of paint you can tie brushes up inside a plastic bag, or wrap them in cling film rather than having to wash them multiple times or risk them drying out.
5. It helps to start with the chair upside down on a table edge, so the legs are sticking up. Not only does it give you a better angle, but it’s also easier on your back. Once the legs and underside of the chair have been painted, turn it the right way up, and paint the top half.
6. The conditions of a room will affect drying times, so make sure you are in a warm, dry room, otherwise it will take you longer or the next coat of paint may drag, then giving a poor finish.
7. If you are using chalk paint and it’s drying out as you paint, dip the brush in water and shake off any excess so it’s only just damp. This should then thin the paint to give a more even finish.
8. To prevent a build-up of paint around the tin, place an elastic band across the middle of the tin and use this to scrape the paint off the brush. If you use the side of the tin, not only does it clog up, preventing the lid from closing properly and therefore shortening the lifespan of the paint, it also dries off and the flakes fall into the paint over time.
9. Leave the chair for as long as possible before using it in order to allow the paint to cure properly. This way, it’s less likely to chip.
10. Chairs can take a bit of a battering, so it’s a good idea to keep some of the paint that you have used for touch-ups at a later stage. Rather than storing a whole tin, save space and decanter some to a clean jar – just remember to label it.
Five common mistakes
1. Don’t be tempted to skip the cleaning part. Chairs, particularly dining chairs, often have a lot of grease on them, so if this isn’t removed, the paint will become patchy.
2. Abrading hard surfaces with sandpaper gives a better surface for the paint to adhere – if you miss this out, the paint is more likely to chip over time.
3. The care taken on the first coat can affect the finish, so take as much care on the first as you do on the final coat.
4. You can reupholster a pad over the top of the original fabric, but you may find it slides and it certainly won’t be as neat a finish.
5. When upholstering the pad, not holding it taut enough will give you a baggy finish over time.
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