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Salvaged Inspiration: A Lesson In Furniture Upcycling

Updated: Dec 22, 2021

This post is brought to you by the phrase 'Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.'

We all have (or have seen) that piece of hand-me-down furniture that is sturdy and functional, but just needs a little makeover so it will look fantastic in your house.

With this tutorial you'll be able to tackle those projects with confidence. Like with any new endeavor you'll want to start with a small trial project. This way you can try out the techniques and not feel the added pressure of possibly messing up a large furniture piece.

The piece I am showcasing is a dining room set I found for $70. I fell in love with the table legs and just knew it would be adorable redone in a French Country style.

The key to a good upcycle is to have a plan in place and to make sure you match the era of the piece of furniture with the style of the upcycle. For instance a super mod/retro piece might not look that great in a shabby chic style it would lend itself more to a super bold color or decoupaged using a great geometric wallpaper.

For this project the upholstery fabric used to redo the cushions was found in clearance at my local Hobby Lobby for $15/yard (such a steal) and the paint was picked to match, Dutch Boy Tender Cloud and Seemingly Perfect.

Before You Begin

Gather your supplies/tools: (brands listed here are not a paid endorsement)

  • Tarp/drop cloth

  • Moist cloth for clean up/accidental drips

  • Flathead screwdriver or paint can opener

  • Sand paper (220 grit)

  • Steel wool

  • Good paint brushes (angled 1 and 2 inch we prefer to use Purdy)

  • Sponge roller (4 or 6 inch roller)

  • Paint pan

  • Primer (we used Zinsser Bondz)

  • Paint (we used Dutch Boy Platinum Plus in an Eggshell finish)

  • Clear Polycrylic (we used Minwax Water Based Polycrylic in a Clear Matte finish)

  • Clear Water Based Polyurethane Spray (we used Rust-Oleum in a Satin finish)

  • Stir sticks 2-3

Prep Your Piece

  • Using a moist cloth removed all dust and dirt then dry.

  • Sand any rough spots, flaking paint, or imperfections as they will show through the painted finish.

  • If you are working with an upholstered seat remove the seat before priming/painting (one you'll need to do this anyway to recover it and two it makes it so much easier to paint)

  • Tighten screws on all legs and chair arms (no one wants to work on a wobbling piece of furniture)

  • If you are using a chalk paint you will only need to prime the piece if it it over 40 years old. If you are not using a chalk paint (like we did) you will need to prime everything that will be painted.

  • Time to Prime (non-chalk paint only). When applying the primer remember that you do not need it to be a solid finish there will be see through. You can do this with a brush or the sponge roller. We used the brush for all of the chairs and the table legs while the sponge roller came in very handy for the top of the table. Remember not to put the primer on too thick otherwise it will drip and then you'll have to come back and sand those off (no need to create more work for yourself). Once everything is primed let it cure for 24 hours ensuring everything is nice and set up for your first coat of paint.

Notice how the primer is not completely solid but everything is covered, that is what you want

Let's Get Painting!

  • Stir your paint well, especially if it has been sitting for a bit as the color tends to sink to the bottom and you want to make sure it's mixed all the way through. 

  • When painting with a brush use the 1 inch for smaller areas and the 2 inch for larger and if you are confident use the sponge roller for all of the large flat surfaces.

  • Do not apply heavy coats you're going to need to do at least 2 so for the first coat make sure your coverage is good but if there is some show through hit it on the next coat as putting on a thicker coat or going over it again before it dries will lead to bigger issues.

  • Use back and forth strokes and try to paint in the same direction to avoid a weird brushstroke pattern. Work in a relatively small area feathering the next area into the last.  

  • You'll want to really watch out for drips if you have any feather them out with the brush but do not go over the area again leave it for the next coat. If you didn't catch your drips in time and they are dry sand them off before the next coat.

  • Typically most pieces will take two coats to cover completely make sure you let each coat dry/cure for 24 hours in between (unless you're using chalk paint then you can paint every 2 hours).

Final Step: Poly

While a poly finish coat is not required we always recommend it especially for pieces that will get a lot of wear like our dining room table and chairs as it will add a nice layer of protection to the painted piece. If you are using a chalk paint you'll want to do a wax layer to finish. When it comes to poly make sure you use a water based product if not when it dries it can leave a yellow/amber hue to your piece altering any colors.

We used two different poly products for our project, a clear polyurethane spray for the chairs and table legs and a brush on polycrylic for the table top. Why not use the spray everywhere you ask. Well the dining table is going to get the brunt of use so we wanted something that we could apply a decent layer of protection on and we felt with the spray to get that same layer we'd go through several application so it just made sense to do a two coat and done.

I will say the spray was awesome for the chairs and legs. It's the same application as any spray can paint and dries to the touch in 30 minutes letting you recoat in an hour and you don't have to worry about brushstrokes and drips.

For the application of the paint on polycrylic we used a sponge roller to give even coverage and to avoid the brush strokes. With the paint on polycrylic you can recoat in 2-3 hours and you'll want to go over the surface with steel wool in between coats.

Here is the finished product:

Recovering A Dining Chair

  • Since you've already removed your seat cushion to complete the painting the next step is to remove the dust cover and fabric from the seat along with all of the nails/staples.

  • Evaluate your cushion if it is not in great condition you'll want to replace it with new 2 in thick foam padding to the dimensions of the seat.

  • Place the seat on top of the padding and trace an outline cut out with a serrated knife.

  • Place the foam padding and cushion onto a piece of batting and cut the batting 2 inches past the seat's edges.

  • Staple the center of each edge of the batting first, and then continue stapling along the edges on each side.

  • Place the padded seat on top of the backside of the new upholstery fabric. Leave 3-4 inches of extra fabric around cushion mark and cut.

  • Put one staple to hold the upholstery to the cushion in the center of each of the 4 sides.

  • Pull and staple the fabric working out towards the corner stop stapling about 2 inches before you get to the corner.

  • Fold the fabric at the corners and staple in the center of the fold. Then, fold the fabric over the corner to create a pleat and staple the fold to hold it in place. Fold over the other side and staple. Repeat to all corners.

  • Once everything is stapled cut off the excess fabric leaving about a half inch past the staples.

  • Reattach the dust cover and attach the cushion back to the seat.

The Online Fabric Store has a great video tutorial on this whole process that you can watch here. I suggest you watch the video first as she does a great job explaining all of the steps above while she covers the seat before you tackle this project.

I know it sounds really intimidating but you can do it! If you don't feel super confident then you can always take your fabric and your seats to a professional upholsterer to have them recover them for you for a minimal cost.

Take On The Upcycling World

As with any new hobby there is a small learning curve, but after you accomplish just one piece (even if it is something small) you will have transformed that piece and that is something you should be proud of. Who cares if you have more to learn or if your skills need some fine tuning, keep at it. The more pieces you do the better you'll get and the more confidence you'll have to take on larger projects. So go out there be creative and economical!

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