This chair has been around for quite a while; one of those things I adopted from my parents at some point in time. And while it's a great chair that I'm committed to running into the ground before I get a new one, I just don't like the fabric for two fairly simple reasons. First, I have a personal preference for an office chair that has a little more character and adds something to the room. And second, it's a fabric that just seems to pick up everything I don't want, from dust to cat hair.
I was up for the challenge of trying something I'd never done before. I figured there was nothing to lose. And I was going to reupholster the fabric either way, so adding paint didn't seem like a wrong move. Everything went better than I could have expected, and the experience was totally worth it. And if the finished product doesn't have character, I don't know what does.
Step 1. Assemble Materials
Your materials will be based on the kind of chair you're dealing with, and how it comes apart. Measure the cushions to determine how much material you'll need to buy, keeping in mind that you'll want enough material to wrap and staple in place.
Start by assembling your tools based on how your chair disassembles. Ours involved four hex screws on the bottom of the seat, a knob on the back (allowing the back cushion to slide up and off the stem), and four Phillips-head screws to separate the two pieces of the seat back.
Step 2. Disassemble the Chair
Remove the hardware from the cushions; we'll deal with taking the cushions apart later on. As you begin, be on the lookout for sharp or rusty pieces. I gave myself a bad cut on a (thankfully not rusty) piece of metal that was sticking up from one of the threads. Keep track of all screws, washers, and more—as well as where they go. Take pictures if that helps you, and keep all hardware in a box or dish so that it stays in one place.
Step 3. Paint prep
If you want a different color for the frame that better matches the cushion material, then you can paint the frame of the chair. First clean the frame (we learned to do this step before sanding, thanks to Robin Daly in our How to Paint a Front Door post). Sand with 220 grit sandpaper to add texture to the frame, so the paint has something to grip. Wipe away the paint dust from sanding with a damp rag.
Step 4. Paint
Evaluate the pieces you'll be painting, and tape off any parts you won't be. We didn't paint the wheels because it seemed like it would be hard to coat them evenly, and we figured the paint probably wouldn't last very long if it were rolled across the ground. We also skipped the parts that weren't easy to see. Do your spray-painting on a plastic drop cloth, and allow to dry.
Step 5. Deconstruct the seat cushion
Each office chair will be slightly different, but just in case yours is like ours,we're going to walk you through the details.
Remove the fabric from the bottom of the seat cushion. Our cushion had really cheap fabric stapled to the bottom of the seat which was already starting to rip, so we just tore it off. Pull out the staples, and remove the seat cover. We found most of the staples to be so deep that we couldn't pull them out with a pair of pliers. We used a hammer to wedge a flat head screwdriver underneath the staples, loosening them up enough to then pull out with pliers. Keep a garbage can on hand to throw your staples into, so they don't end up all over your floor. Pull off the seat cushion fabric; it may be a little sticky from old glue, but it's okay if it takes a little bit of the foam with it.
Step 6. Deconstruct the back cushion
Pry the back away from the back cushion. Our back cushion had a plywood back that was nailed in place. It took going around the edge a couple times with a screwdriver, gently lifting as we made our way. Don't be too forceful with the screwdriver, or you might break the plywood. Taking the back off left us with a bunch of old nails sticking out. Grab a pair of pliers, and pull them all out. Then remove all staples on both sides, just like you did with the seat cushion. Pull off the fabric—we removed the fabric from the front part— but not the back—because it seemed to be completely attached to the small layer of foam cushioning underneath, and we wanted to keep that in place. The reason to take off the old fabric is to remove unwanted bulk, but if this seems unnecessary on your chair, just stretch the new fabric over the old.
Oh, and there are those threads in the back of the cushion that gave me a nasty cut. Watch out!
Step 7. Cut out the new fabric
Lay out the fabric across the cushions and cut your shape with a sharp pair of scissors. Make sure there’s plenty of overlap for stapling the fabric in place. If the fabric has a directional pattern like ours, pay attention to how it lines up as you make the cuts. Iron out any wrinkles before attaching to cushion.
Step 8. Attach fabric to the cushions
Stretch the fabric across the top of the cushions. Apply spray adhesive to the foam, and carefully pull the fabric taut across the front of the cushion. Now staple in back (for the seat cushion, keep your staples at least an inch from the edge). Pull as tight as possible to avoid folds along the edge. There will be some folds along the corners. It's definitely something that you get the hang of as you go, so if you need to go back and pull out some previous staples to re-staple it more neatly, do it! Cut off excess fabric with a pair of scissors. Attach fabric as described to the top of the seat cushion and the front, and plywood back (located on the back cushion). Cut holes in the middle of the plywood back so the screws can fit through.
Step 9. Attach fabric to the bottom of the seat
Take your cutout, and spread it out on the bottom of the seat. Fold the edges under themselves and iron flat. Cut off any excess folds. Mark the location of the four screw holes in the bottom of the seat. Staple neatly along the fold of the fabric. Now with a utility knife or a sharp pair of scissors, cut the fabric over the four holes to allow the screws to go through.
Step 10. Wait for the chair to dry
Apply multiple coats if needed, allowing the paint to fully dry before completing the rest of the project. We painted three to four coats in certain ares before we were happy with the result.
Step 11. Reconstruct the cushion
Since we couldn’t reuse the nails that used to be between these two pieces, we chose an all-purpose glue to hold them in place, and then screwed them back together with the four screws in the middle. The glue offered an additional hold (the screws would have held the pieces together).
Step 12. Reassemble the chair
Remove the tape from the legs of the chair. Work the screws through the fabric into the threads on the bottom of the seat, making sure they fit before trying to reattach the frame. Screw the legs back onto the seat cushion. Reattach the back support piece, slide the back cushion into place, and secure.