REUPHOLSTERING A CHAIR… THE SAGA, PART I

Have you ever started a project and soon after you had begun you realize you were way in over your head… bitten off more than you could chew… that you were taking the final exam and had never read the text book?
I was so confident that I could recover a simple chair pad (silly me)… I bought the NEW FABRIC and the trim material and the welting, and a new staple gun. I was ready to go!!!! This would be a breeze, even though I had never covered a chair pad in my life!

 How hard could it be? No problem, it’s only a chair pad, for heaven’s sake…

So I dug in with a lot of excitement and a little hubris…

While Bobby was doing this…
(Bless his heart…. he has just spent the past two weekends painting all the windows and wainscoting)
I set up my “workshop” in the foyer, so we could work together.
I put a utility table on top of a dropcloth on the oriental and put one of my dining room chairs upside-down on it.

You have been wonderful, sturdy chairs for the last 26 years you have lived with me… but we need to update your wardrobe… it is terribly out of fashion!


Dear Ethan Allen people, I love your furniture! I love it so much I am giving 8 Ethan Allen dining room chairs a total makeover.  

The people at your stores are nice too! Linda is coming here tomorrow and we are picking out living room chair fabric. She even gave me an encyclopedia type book filled with all of your pieces. What a lovely take-home gift!
You are wonderful!

This reupholstering thing would be easy-peasy! I just needed to take the staples out of the dust cover on the bottom of the chair and then I could take off the fabric…
Pulling out the staples was not easy-peasy! Not easy-peasy at all. It was… well, a struggle!

Of course I did not have an upholstery staple remover! I had not actually heard of an upholstery staple remover before.  Bobby rigged me up with a chisel edged screwdriver, a hammer and a pair of pliers.  He even gave me a lesson on how to use them… and told me I had paint on my cheek.
Once the 40 staples were chiseled, hammered and pulled out of the dust cover… I thought I was home free.  Taking the staples out was harder than I expected, but that job was done… or so I thought!
Pulling off the dust cover I found… more staples… and cardboard stripping! This was a bit of a surprise. But at least I could see the seat’s webbing and the foam cushion!
 Now I was thinking that this job might be a little more complicated than I first thought.

 But, no problem… You’re leaning something new… look at it as a new adventure, Yvonne!

Carry on… carry on…
Another 40 staples later and lots of chiseling and hammering and pulling led me to….
More staples… lots and lots. Stapled every-which-way!  The staples were holding the welting on. Staples stapled on top of staples!
Now the complexity and work involved in this “easy-peasy” reupholstering job was starting to dawn on me. And my right shoulder was beginning to hurt from chiseling and hammering and pulling.
 Okay, so it is a little more work than you thought… and you have eight chairs to reupholster… and you can see that this is not the last layer! Get a drink of water… take two Aleve’s and get back to work! And above all  DON’T WHINE”!

press on…press on…






Forty staples later… more staples.. and the top of my rubber gloves had been chiseled off by mistake…

OUCH!

Tiny whines bubbled up! A feeling of fear started to gripped me by the throat! Hubris gone and replaces by

oh no, what have I gotten  myself into… why didn’t I go with my original plan and just slipcover them!


Limp on… limp on…





Forty more staples… lots of chiseling and hammering and pulling… 
Finally, the guts of the chair. Thank goodness the chiseling and hammering and staple pulling was over!
The chair had more guts than I thought… guts were popping out of the chair.
Stop that… I might not know how to stuff you back in! You need to stay in place. Oh my… 
Dear Ethan Allen furniture people… you make very well stuffed chairs. And a side note… you might want to think about giving the staple guy a raise… he does his job with gusto!






Righting the chair I lifted back the chair fabric…
My total naivete’ in chair reupholstering reached it’s peak when I began to pull away the layers of chair guts…
OH MY GOODNESS… what IS  all this stuff?




I could not totally remove the fabric, it was somehow stuck. I was still oblivious about what was to come!
 Underneath was some kind of bunny fluff… not fiberfull at all.  It looks like the people at Ethan Allen also have a man who steals bunny fluff from nests and crafts it into a floppy-moppsy padding that is very very soft.
I rolled it up against the fabric to find…
Finally, the foam seat cushion! 
IT WAS STAPLED TO THE CHAIR FRAME!
By now I was talking to the chair… not sweet talk. I was calling it names. Telling it that it was deceptive and evil and other things too… all the while I could feel sobs caught in my throat.
You’ve got to be kidding me… I have seven more of these to do! It will take me YEARS!

By now I was sobbing… just a tad!


From the dining room, Bobby commented that he loved the way I talk to things… I told him to please be quiet or I would “talk” to him! Sniffle…
More chiseling and hammering and pulling… and the foam seat came off… I was so surprised to find a funny little “seat” made out of foam underneath the large seat… just where people’s bottoms would sit… how thoughtful!
No wonder the seats of my chairs were comfy and dinner guest lingered so long at my table. For years I thought it was my cooking or our great wit!

Note to self, memorize Proverbs 3:7 AGAIN… DO NOT BE WISE IN THINE OWN EYES!

It’s funny what brings a person joy… Finding that little-surprise-of-a cushion for some reason made me brighten up! I thought it was so nice of the Ethan Allen people. They’re certainly a kind group. I loved the idea that I had been sitting on extra padding lovingly being placed in just the right spot with my comfort in mind!
This is a very well made chair… I’m glad I did not get rid of them…

Dear Ethan Allen people, you do great work and I think you are thoughtful too! I have 8 sturdy and well made chairs… albeit, I have to reupholster and paint them and it will take me years… and we will probably have to use card table chairs in the dining room for a long long time… and I will certainly have to endure shoulder surgery because of all the chiseling and hammering and pulling…but, KUDOS to you for making such fine furniture!
I soon discovered why I could not remove the fabric from the back of the chair… you guessed it…

IT WAS STAPLED ON!

Seriously?… Seriously!

Not in just one spot but two!

Seriously?

My mood darkened slightly… okay, a lot… and I could feel myself becoming a little snarky!
Think of the funny little cushion, think of the funny little cushion…

Dear Ethan Allen people, I think you need to get your staple guy some much needed help. It is clear that he has issues and he is taking his aggression out on your beautiful furniture…do you really think he should even have a staple gun?






The end was in sight… after more chiseling and hammering and pulling…and shoulder pain and Aleve…and sniffling… and talking to the furniture… and wanting to talk to Bobby… and conjuring up letters to the Ethan Allen people…
TA DA!

Done!
I’m not touching the batting strip around the chair… it’s staying!
I did it… I did it! 
Thank goodness I took 86 pictures because I’d never be able to put it all back together without pictures…


Dear Ethan Allen people does your furniture come with assembly instructions? I think it should…
There were 350 staples in this chair… I counted them!

350 times 8 chairs... whining starting again
Don’t think about it now… don’t think about it now…
At the end of the ripping up process… I felt accomplished… no hubris… no more sniffles… no more potty talk to chairs… I had actually learned something!
Now I need to find a good physical therapist for my shoulder… and I must order an upholstery staple remover ASAP!
I was surprised one little chair had so much inside of it… and it certainly had way too many staples!
Hobbes, couldn’t believe his eyes either!

Dear Ethan Allen people, you have beautiful and well made furniture… but… I will not be buying new dining room chairs from you in the future… 

I would like to give you a litttle advice. Is this any way to run a furniture company? Are you a not-for-profit company… I don’t think so!  Maybe your furniture is a little too well made… get my drift! Thank you… lots of love and best wishes… 
One of your biggest fans,Yvonne @ StoneGable
Here is a little look at how the painting is coming along… if you are one of the people who wrote an e-mail or FB note begging me not to paint the chairs… please divert your eyes NOW…

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Comments

  1. says

    This is a project that you will never forget I bet! However the end result will be beautiful! My father-in-law was an upholsterer (museum pieces, Andrew Wyeth, DuPonts, etc) mostly on high end and priceless furniture and I know it is a very tedious job! However the profession is dwindling. Great job!

  2. says

    I know the feeling. I finally gave the chair away. I just could not deal with it. Now I know why it’s so expensive to re-upholster furniture. Labor intensive.
    Your chairs look wonderful and I love the white paint color.

  3. says

    That was so funny! I have been seeing people all over blog land reupholstering their chairs and just yesterday I was looking over at my no doubt well made dinning chairs and thinking that I could find some fabric for them that I liked better, but now after reading this I think the fabric looks just fine. Love the paint on your chairs and I am looking forward to the reveal. Have fun! lol

  4. says

    Oh but just look at that little snippet you gave of the chair painted. It will be gorgeous and so worth it! I can only imagine eating one of your amazing meals in your beautiful ‘new’ dining room!

  5. Anonymous says

    My idea of reupholstering would have been to re – cover the old top ,not professionl but only you and i would know .haha .gotta love ya ,good soul.paint job is beautiful.

  6. says

    Great story, ok ya gotta give….you said potty talk. I gotta know, which word did you utter? I have you on such a pedesatl that if I ever heard you say anything that wasn’t in the bible I think I’d actually “guffaw”. LOL and BTW those Ethan Allen Staple People…they cheat by using electric staple guns.

  7. says

    LOL!!! I know exactly what you are going through. The chair I remade for my bedroom was filled with staples. I did have the special staple remover. BUT the wood was so hard I couldn’t remove the staples from the wood. I finally gave up and sent it the the upholsterer. After they were done, I asked how they removed the staples from the wood and they said, “we just grip them with pliers and wiggle a little and then they slip right out.” I was tugging and pulling…but I guess the trick it to wiggle…

  8. says

    Why? Why, I wondered, would you ever start the project. Still wondering. Becasue I would never be that brave! Guess this is why Ethan Allen furniture holds up so well! Brave to paint your chairs. If I tried that there would be mutiny! But I am in love with the finish! So pretty and so perfect. Can’t wait to see the finshed room, chairs and all! Hope it doesn’t take years. :)

  9. says

    OMGosh, I just love your story, it made me laugh, it made me totally picture the process in my head…and instead of water and Aleeve, I would have had to bring out the rum & Coke. But you persevered, and your chair/s are going to look wonderful!!

  10. says

    Yvonne, I laughed so hard I was crying. Wow, no wonder EA furniture costs so much. Thank goodness mine are just a seat screwed to the frame and I have covered them twice and getting ready to do them again. Love how your paint is looking. I need to get started on mine. Mine don’t have the details yours do though.

  11. says

    What an incredible story, Yvonne, told with much humor of course! I totally admire you for plugging along. I definitely do not have that tenacity! I will forever admire Ethan Allen furniture!

    Love the paint by the way!

    XO,
    Jane

  12. says

    I was hanging in there with you for the re-upholstry, but did you hear me cry, “Noooooo” when you wrote the word ‘paint’? I am not one to paint beautiful furniture. (And those chairs are gorgeous.) I guess that since I grew up with less than top-of-the-line furniture and my mother always wanted better furniture, I can’t imagine painting my beautiful cherry dining room furniture. I waiting so long to get it it…almost 20 yrs, so I will now leave the computer and go hug a chair and reassure it that it won’t be painted in my life time. Not going to promise that for its lifetime.
    Beckie in Brentwood, TN

  13. says

    OMGoodness, this was funny. I didn’t mean to laugh but………. 350 staples?????????What the heck are they thinking? They are thinking that NOONE would attempt this. I wuld have had a hard time persevering. Are you REALLY going to do all of them???? You are a better woman than me. XO, Pinky

  14. says

    LOL… I’m laughing here. My parents re-upholstered furniture as a business for almost 40 years, and people never really understood the labor that goes into just getting the fabric off before you can even start again… you DEFINITELY need the staple puller, you’ll be amazed at how much easier that will make it!

  15. says

    Oh my goodness!!!! My heart rate started going up the with every layer of staples you found! But honey, those chairs are gorgeous painted! I know it’ll be worth it in the end! Whew…I can’t wait to see your finished room, hang in there, wish I could come help you :)
    xo

  16. says

    I just love your story. I read it word for word and found myself completely engrossed in your saga. I love Ethan Allen as well. Nice to know how well made they are. Good luck with the rest. Can’t wait to see the final product.

  17. says

    I’ve stopped laughing at your story just long enough to say I love the paint on your chairs, and I just know they’ll turn out beautifully. I wonder if there is someone you can hire to deconstruct your chairs and save the creative refinishing part for yourself. After all, you only have two shoulders and will want them working well for future projects.

  18. Anonymous says

    Maybe you should get to the stage where the old fabric is and cover over it. It is very hard to get it smooth and professional looking by going right back to the very start.

  19. says

    Yvonne, I have a chair in my garage that I need to reupholster and have been too afraid to tackle it… I can’t decide if you gave me the courage or made me more afraid. I will let you know. At least it can wait until I am done teaching for the year.

    Cynthia
    accomplishedwoman.blogspot.com

  20. says

    Yvonne,
    The look on Hobbes face speaks volumes, dear friend!!!
    The comment from Bobby about paint on your face…truly from the heart!!!
    These chairs are going to be exquisite when finished!!!
    Remember to replace the added “seat” cushions, for you will linger after many a meal reliving this story with your family, friends and guests!!!
    Oh, and I have ONE Ethan Allen chair I was thinking of recovering the seat on. . .
    NAH! Not for a L O N G while!!! Ha!
    Fondly,
    Pat

  21. says

    bravo to you for not giving up..I think I would have given up and sent them to a pro to do all that hard work…I used to love to do seat cover jobs like those, then all the pulling and tugging began to hurt my hands…I can’t wait to see the end result, love the paint, so on trend …light and bright and cheery

  22. says

    Oh Yvonne, I don’t think I could tackle that. Those chairs were meant to last!! The paint is looking beautiful and to all those who don’t like painting wood, you can always remove paint if you change your mind.

  23. says

    Lawsy Mercy girl! I feel your pain and I would feel the same way! You poor thing, I really do feel bad for you! The hardest part is knowing in the back of your mind that you have seven more to do. I commend you though! Bravo! You go woman! I think this would involve a bottle of wine and a hot bubble bath after each chair for me though!

    LOVE the cats face LOL LOL!

    I am loving that you are painting them! You are doing a fab job! You will love them so much!

  24. says

    Laughing out loud. Makes me want to just buy new Ethan Allen chairs for their obvious quality. You do know that they have gorgeous painted finishes now? XOXO

  25. says

    Oh what fun to read this…love it..you will be dreaming of staples for a long long time, I am afraid!!
    I have a set of very old chairs that look quite similar only in a different wood or finish. You have encouraged me to paint them…now I just need to know the color that you are using…please share…thanks so much!

  26. says

    I have always always always wanted to do a project like this (I am still looking for that perfect chair to try) and I am so glad you didn’t sugar coat the process as some other blogs say it’s so easy, and I am sitting here scratching my head thinking… is it really? I feel more inspired than ever to get stuck in and try this – they are looking fab!

  27. says

    I was skeptical about painting the chairs, but I LOVE the paint finish!! Could you please share what type/color of paint and stain or wax you are using? It’s beautiful!! Can’t wait to see the finished chairs.

  28. says

    Do you have a place in your area that sells upholstery supplies? They make a tool that is for removing those staples, as I’ve used one. If not, you can get one on the Internet. Search for upholstery tools. Good luck..it’s no fun! But can’t wait to see the results

  29. says

    Oh my…I’m terrified now! I just purchased a used dining set (NOT Ethan Allen), but 8 chairs to reupholster!!! I LOVE the paint, by the way. I can’t wait to see the finished set! -Andi

  30. says

    Whew… a lot of work and a lot of chairs…”Hats off to you!” I know they will be perfectly gorgeous when you finally complete them!

  31. says

    I know I will love the new look of the chairs but also love the wood, I have to make this decision a lot too,to paint or not to paint! I do have a suggestion though since you are going to change the existing chair covers can you not paint with the chair cover in tact? If you get paint on them it wont matter you are going to recover anyway and then just remove the black liner off of the bottom, if you want to. Then you can put it over your new fabric and replace for a finished edge. I have recovered several chairs over what is already there, just makes it more fluffy and cushy. I could not tell if you can not get on the side or back very well to paint, but that would be the only reason I would remove everything!

  32. says

    Sorry I laughed at your staple and layer abundance, but you have me thinking twice about tearing into the 6 chairs I have to redo. Maybe I could just cover over what is already there.

    Bliss

  33. Anonymous says

    OMG….you are so funny! I was reading this during my lunch break and needless to say I was getting quite a few weird looks… I love the paint too!

  34. says

    Yvonne…I’ve done the same thing..started out thinking I’m going to whip this project out in no time, and then find out things just don’t always work out that way. Bless your heart…giggle.
    Have a Happy Valentine’s Day,
    Babs

  35. says

    I laughed in sympathy from beginning to end on this post, Yvonne!
    You poor thing…what a job. Are you sure you want to tackle the rest of them? Like Phyllis, I’d be sending them out. You could permanently damage your hands &/or shoulder doing this kind of manual labor. Not to mention your beautiful manicure!! *wink*

    Hugs to you for what you went through.
    fondly,
    Rett

  36. Anonymous says

    Oh, my dear. i haven’t laughed so long or so sympathetically in a long time. Ruefully also. I have just begun to deconstruct an ottoman for my son. I will be recovering it. My wrist, my wrist! I am with you in spirit all the way. The paint job is beautiful. How lovely it will all be when completed. Regena in Tn.

  37. Anonymous says

    Funny story. Yes it is a suprise to see how good furniture is upholstered. And profesional tools can and do make a huge difference. And there are specifc staples and gun for the project. I learned in upholstery class unless the batting, foam or any part under the fabric is damaged, has as odor or the seat is sagging there is no good reason to replace it all and if the piece is old enough to have springs you never untie or mess with them unless they are broken. For anyone interested in learning to upholster (and usually there’s a discount on the tools from an associated shop) take a look at your community colleges or adult education. Their sewing machines can handle heavier fabric for the welting and cushion pieces.
    Good Luck with your project, you definately have the will power to take it on!
    Dee

  38. says

    I hope you and Bobby are having a big glass of wine or two. Man, you deserve it!

    I think EA would be getting 7 chairs to work on. LOL!

    I’m a little scared you are painting the chairs, but everything you do turns out so nicely, so I am going to look at your next post with one eye shut until the shock wears off.

    Mary from Virginia

  39. says

    I feel your pain! And you have my sympathy that you have seven more to do! ;) You have a lot more gumption that I do. I’m such a wienie that I would have given up about half way through and told my hubby that we were going to have to come with the $$$ to get the chairs professionally recovered. lol It would be hard for me to paint those chairs, but I can already tell that they will look wonderful!

  40. Anonymous says

    Yvonne Dear, I laughed so hard at your witty, charming comments on getting ready to upholster your dining room chairs. And you told me that I should do mine, and it would be a breeze…..really??? Your projects are wonderful and just think, when I come back from Texas, I can always come over and enjoy your beautiful home….and a cup of coffee, anytime. Miss you so very much. Bob is truly a great man, and does such good work both in his office and at your home. Love, Mother

  41. says

    Oh Yvonne, you made me laugh sooo much! It reminded me my first chair reupholster project. I had never thought how a chair can have so many staples and pins…. By the way, I love the color. Looking forward to the final result.

  42. Kathy Funk says

    Yvonne,
    My Mom and I have done some upholstering it can be so hard on your hands. We have a tool to help with staples. You are welcome to borrow it if you like (Looks like a screwdriver with a split in the head.) One tip we would have is don’t forget to cut you fabric on the bias when you are making cording. (Pa Fabric Outlet is a great place to buy bulk cording) I admire your determination!! Go get those other chairs!!!

  43. says

    It’s a good thing you have such a sense of humour. You really made me laugh. I have just reupholstered a chair seat that I had done before & was cursing about all the staples that were in it & I’d put them in the chair, nowhere near as many as yours. I doubt very much that 350 staples will certainly not be being put back in !! Love the look of the paint job you are doing, I can’t wait for you to reveal all your info soon of what paint & colour you used & how you did it. Your dresser also looks fabulous, great work.

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  45. Anonymous says

    I took an upholstery class at the local vocational school several years and re-upholstered an occasional chair that was probably made in the 1940s as part of the class. It looks fabulous and professional. I have been contemplating my hand at another chair that I have, but after reading this, I am having second thoughts!! Enjoyed your story.

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