Give an Old Set of Dining Room Chairs a New Life with Our Reupholstery Tips

A conservation and restoration expert reveals the most durable fabric and explains the step-by-step process.

upholstered dining room chair
Photo: Peter Ardito

Nothing dates a dining room faster than old, worn out chairs. Luckily, with the right materials, reupholstering dated dining room chairs is the perfect remedy. "Anything that has been upholstered can be reupholstered," says Jane Henry of Jane Henry Studios, a full-service antique conservation and restoration shop based in New York City. "Your chair may simply need recovering if the fabric is worn, but may need reupholstering if the filling is compressed and has lost its resilience or if the seat is sagging, or the webbing is ripped."

However, Henry says some types of dining room chairs are easier to reupholster than others. "Reupholstering a fixed seat takes a higher level of skill than reupholstering a drop-in cushion, as the staples or tacks used to attach the fabric will need to be concealed with something such as gimp or welting," she explains. "A drop-in seat can be as simple as stretching and stapling fabric around the bottom of a piece of wood."

Interested in learning more about how to reupholster dining room chairs at home? We asked Henry to share her advice and this is what she had to say.

Have the right materials handy for the job.

Henry says the right materials for reupholstering your dining room chairs will depend on the type of seats they have. "Most fixed seats are built using webbing, burlap, stuffing such as foam, and batting made of cotton or Dacron, as well as muslin and fabric," she explains. "For drop-in seating, you shouldn't need much more than foam and fabric."

Pick a durable fabric.

When it comes to picking the best fabric to use to reupholster your dining room chairs, Henry suggests sticking with ones that can withstand plenty of wear and tear, so they'll look newer for longer. "Synthetic fabrics that resist liquids and staining are always a good choice," she says. "Performance fabrics, such as Sunbrella, are very durable, as are Ultrasuede or other microfiber fabrics, and vinyl or leather."

Remove the old fabric and prepare the replacement.

Once you have all your materials handy, Henry says it's time to remove the old fabric from the dining chairs. "You can purchase a staple puller to help remove the old fabric more quickly, but in a pinch, a flat screwdriver, and some pliers will do," she says. After you've removed the old upholstery, she recommends preparing the new fabric for installation. "The rule of thumb when cutting dining room chair fabric is to measure the length and width of the seat plus three inches of excess all around," she explains.

Replace the dust cover if necessary.

Before you attach the new upholstery to your dining room chairs, Henry says to consider fashioning new dust covers to them if the current ones are worn down. "Drape the new fabric over to the underside of the seat, trace the edge of the seat and cut," Henry advises. "Fold under approximately one-inch, depending upon the width of the frame, and staple in place, saving the corners for last, which can be folded into a simple hospital corner for a tidy look."

Attach the new fabric with a staple gun.

Henry says all you need to attach new fabric to a dining room chair frame is a staple gun. "Start by stapling fabric to the frame if it's a fixed cushion, or on the underside of the seat if it's a drop-in cushion, at the center point of each side, and then working out from there to the corners, pulling fabric tautly around the frame," she says. "Pull the fabric snuggly around curved corners to eliminate tucks on the top side of the cushion."

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