Easy DIY: Upholstered Flea Market Chair Flip With Nailhead Trim

British journalist and economist Evan Davis thoughtfully observed, ‘A chair’s function is not just to provide a place to sit; it is to provide a medium for self-expression. Chairs are about status, for example. Or signaling something about oneself. That’s why the words chair, seat and bench have found themselves used to describe high status professions, from academic to Parliament to the law.’

Today’s chairs are multi-functional and varied in purpose: they range from simple accessories to works of art. A chair may function as an accessory that helps us comfortably enjoy a meal or complete an assignment, or it may exist as conversation starter, the piece de resistance of your home décor. Throughout history, the chair, as Evans points out, has graduated to something of a status symbol, not just in figure of speech but also in its ability to invite entertainment to a physical space.

I have a little hallway at the top of my stairs that always feels a bit lonely. Last fall, I spotted this small, sweet chair sitting in the grass outside the antique store and knew it was the perfect accessory for my bare hall. Isn’t there something about an empty chair in a hallway that begs for company? Adds a little life? Anyway, I knew that chair would fit perfectly in the little hallway, small enough to fit in the nook between the stair railing and the first bedroom. Because the walls and carpet are a neutral, I figured I could really add any color scheme to the chair and change the space.

For years, though, I had avoided chairs with old or more complicated upholstery, dismissing them as projects that would be too difficult and demanding to complete. But that was all before I discovered just how easy it is to use a staple gun, and just how handy nailhead trim can be at finishing off a crisp, clean edge.

What You Need:

  • Chair
  • Paint (I Used Behr’s Oklahoma West)
  • Paintbrush
  • Nailhead Trim And Hammer
  • Batting
  • 1-2 Yards Upholstery Fabric
  • Staple Gun
  • Optional Knife/Flat Head Screwdriver (To Remove Old Padding)

The Hunt: Antiques stores and flea markets are the best places to hunt for a solid wood chair that requires a medium level of upholstery work. Ideally, you’re looking for a chair with a wooden frame and fabric backing and padding: trying to reupholster an entire fabric chair can be tricky yet and often requires more professional tools/sewing expertise. After I found my chair, I visited the fabric store, where I selected a modern, geometric print that both followed the lines of the chair’s architecture and put a fun modern twist on an otherwise antique accessory.

Tip: I loved that this fabric had two colors, a turquoise and a yellow wheat color. I brought my fabric to the hardware store, where I played around with paint samples. Ultimately I went with the Oklahoma Wheat (the lighter color) over a matching turquoise to help make the fabric pop.

Step 1, Remove Old Padding: This can be a tricky job. Be careful, because if you’ve purchased an old chair, it’s likely that it might have some hidden rusty nails or staples holding the fabric to the frame. To remove the old padding and nailtrim, I used a flat head screwdriver to help pull it off and expose the entire frame. Discard old nails and batting.

Step 2, Sand: If your chair has a stain over it, go ahead and lightly sand the frame to ensure an adhesive surface.

Step 3, Paint: Now, paint your wood frame, ensuring you get all the nooks and crannies. I used a paint plus primer in a satin finish, but feel free to use whatever finish you would like: semi-gloss can be especially beautiful! If your frame is wood that has never been painted before, make sure you prime it and wait a few hours before adding your color.

Step 4, Add Batting: There is a wide range of batting, foam, or stuffing you can use depending on the chair padding and what it requires. Typically, I prefer to use foam, especially if the chair is going to be a functional chair and not just a mostly decorative piece. For this chair, however, I stuffed it with a few layers of batting.

Step 5, Measure Fabric and Staple: Hold your fabric over the chair, measure and cut. Be sure to leave at least an inch and a half of slack on each end because you’re going to fold the fabric over itself in order to create a clean, non-fraying edge. Then, take your staple gun and loosely staple the fabric to the back or the seat every four or five inches. Don’t worry if some of the staples show, your nailhead trim should either cover the staples or further eliminate the need for them. When you work on the corners of the chair, try to make a fold like you see here and pull the fabric tight:

Step 6, Attach Nailhead Trim: For projects like this chair, I prefer purchasing the line of nailhead trim that allows you to insert a nail into every five or six trim buttons. This provides a cleaner, smoother line. Simply line up your trim and cut to fit and nail!

The Grand Reveal:  See, that wasn’t so tough!  What will you signal about yourself?