How to Paint and Reupholster an Upcycled Folding Chair
Folding chairs in their dull, utilitarian glory are nonetheless a necessity in most households. The basic idea of folding frame chairs has been around for thousands of years, notably in ancient Egypt in the form of a folding stool, but we have inventor Nathaniel Alexander to thank for the basic design of the chair that we use today. His 1911-patented design originally included a book rest on the back of the chair, and was intended to be used in churches, schools, and other community gatherings. The collapsing features made it easy to store away and pull out when needed. Though the style has changed slightly to accommodate modern households, the fundamental use of the chair is the same: community.
Chances are, you are using folding chairs in your own home with the same basic intentions: at parties, when extra guests show up for Sunday dinner, or to pull out when neighbors walk over to join you for an evening on the front porch. Whatever the reason, folding chairs are an act of consideration for those around you, so why not take it to the next level and make the chairs as beautiful as the sentiment behind them?
Recovering your chair—whether found at a yard sale, estate sale, or in the attic of your own house—is a lot easier than it might sound. When shopping for your fabric, keep in mind you'll need at least 20 inches by 20 inches for the seat pads, and 20 inches by 12 inches for the seat backs. Depending on the design, you should be able to cover a pair of chairs with 1 1/4 yards of fabric. If you feel unsure about this process, trace a template of the seat cover and back and take it with you to the fabric store.
Decide on a Design
First, determine if you want to paint the frame of your chairs. If the fabric you've chosen contrasts nicely with the existing frame, then skip this step. If not, simply remove the padded seat cushion and back, and prep your chair to be painted. (Note: This is how the folding chair looked before its makeover; you can shop a similar one in Cosco's Vinyl Folding Chair.)
In addition to your folding chair, all you need to get started are a few basic supplies: a yard of upholstery fabric per chair (1 1⁄4 yard is enough for two chairs), scissors, a screwdriver, staple gun, and 1⁄4-inch staples. If painting, you will need #0000 steel wool (like Homax Super Grade #0000 Super Fine Steel Wool) or fine grit sandpaper, spray paint (we used Krylon ColorMaster Gloss Enamel in "Ballet Slipper" pink, allowing for one can per chair), primer (like Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Plus Flat White Interior / Exterior Primer Spray), and sealant (such as Krylon ColorMaster Acrylic Crystal Clear in Flat).
To begin, lay the chair on a flat work surface. Remove the seat pads and back by unscrewing the screws. The seat pad screws may differ in size from the back pad screws, so take note and, if needed, label them and store them temporarily in a separate bowl. Once the seat pads are removed, set them aside while you prepare the frame of the chair for painting. If you don't plan to paint the chair frames, skip the next step.
Metal can be a tricky surface for paint. To allow the paint to adhere better, you can scratch up the smooth surface. You can do this a few different ways: 150-grit sandpaper or #0000 steel wool. The goal is to rough up the surface, not necessarily remove the paint, keep this in mind when going over the entire surface of the frame.
Place the chair (and screws) on a table or another work surface at eye level. First, apply a primer (unless your chosen spray paint contains a primer) and allow to dry completely; then, apply at least two coats of the paint color, and allow to dry completely. Fold the chair up and paint any areas you may have missed when the chair was in the open position. Lastly, spray a protective clear coat on all areas of the chair. Clear coat, if given the proper dry and use time, should keep the paint from getting chipped and will and will also make it easier to wipe clean. (Note: While it isn't necessary to completely paint over the areas the seat pads will cover, be sure to outline them, painting around the edges just a bit to cover any areas that might show if the seat pad sits higher on one side.)
Position the seat pad over the desired portion of fabric and trim around the edge, allowing the 2- to 3-inch overhang you'll need to wrap and staple the fabric.
Load your staple gun with 1/4-inch staples, pull the fabric up and over along one side, and place a staple in the center. Continue to staple along the side, keeping the fabric in place.
Once you've completed the left side of the seat, pull the fabric taut and place a staple in the center along the right side of the fabric. Work out from the center staple in both directions, pulling the fabric ever so taut as you work down the sides.
Repeat these steps for the top and bottom sides, stapling as close to the the corner as possible without going fully around it.
Once you get to the corners, pull the fabric at a diagonal and work it around until any pleating or bunching on the sides is eliminated, and staple. The goal is to keep the sides as smooth as possible, although bunching on the underside is fine since you can trim it down once you've finished.
Trim any excess fabric, making sure to keep all four pre-drilled screw holes exposed.
Lay the chair on a towel and re-attach the seat pad and backs, and you've got yourself a lovely, newly-redecorated set of folding chairs.