Sunday, September 25, 2011

Painting Upholstered Furniture

We recently decided to change up our living space by swapping out several rooms. While trying to decide which furniture would work best in which rooms, I realized that I was in need of a sewing chair in my studio. I wanted something pretty, pink and comfortable. I watched Craigslist for over a month with no luck. Finally, I spotted a listing for this chair, just a short distance from my home. In the listing it looked pink, but when I went to see it in person, it was definitely a peachy orange. Still, it was a great style, clean, comfortable, and in good condition. And the price was right...$50. I convinced myself that I could make it work.

When I got home, I moved the chair upstairs next to the window and looked at it. I let it sit there for a few days, hoping it would grow on me. It didn't. It looked awful in my pale pink world. This is when I decided I'd change the color. After an extensive internet search, I determined that there was no colorfast way to dye the chair...then I came across Kristy Swain's blog, hyphen interiors. Kristy posted a tutorial that showed how to paint upholstery. I was intrigued. After reading and rereading her instructions many times, I thought, "I can do this!" 

I gathered my materials. 

1. One quart of  Behr indoor, satin latex paint.  (There's enough left over to do 30 more chairs-you could probably get away with a sample size paint)
2. A large bottle of Delta Textile Medium (I used 2/3 of the bottle)
3. Six Foam Brushes (I used one brush)

I already had a spray bottle for water, painters tape, and a pint jar. And although this project was surprisingly not messy, you'll probably want some sort of drop cloth under your project...just in case.

Getting started was the hardest part. I had to tell myself that if I ruined the chair, it wasn't the end of the I took a deep breath and jumped in.

First things first. Even though it was in great condition, the chair had a wee bit of what I like to call, "old lady smell". I am a bit of a germophobe, so I decided that before I painted it, the chair must be shampooed. This is a photo of the clean, damp chair, before. The fabric on this chair was a beautiful nubby silk with a flame stitch pattern in the weave. Because the color I envisioned was an old fashioned dark pink, I chose a bright pink paint, hoping the combination of colors would be exactly what I had in mind. 

Before getting started, be sure your piece is clean with no lint, dust or dirty spots. This will ensure that the paint goes on evenly as possible.

I used the upholstery attachment on my Bissel Rug Shampooer to clean my chair, making sure I didn't leave it too wet. While the chair was damp, you could see lines where the various types of stuffing begin & end...which was a little worrisome at first. But by that point I was already too far in to fret over it.

Next, I mixed equal parts paint, textile medium, and water in a pint jar. If your paint is really thick you might need to add more water until it's about the consistency of a glaze. I refilled my jar only once, using about 1.75 pints of my paint concoction altogether.

I began by taping off the wood with painters tape. Since I planned to replace the faded gimp trim on the chair, I left it in place and painted right up to it. The trim acted as a natural barrier between the wood and the painted areas. 

 My chair was already pretty damp from cleaning. If you are starting with dry upholstery, you will want to get it damp before beginning. As Kristy said, don't be want the fabric damp. Keep your spray bottle handy, the upholstery dries out as you are painting. 

To begin, I took the seat cushion off and painted the inside arm of the chair. I painted slowly and deliberately, blending the paint as I went.

I worked my way around the chair, spritzing with water and blending the paint. On the deep sculpted back, I used the foam brush to paint between the tufted folds of the chair. I finished the seat of the chair last, then tackled the cushion.

After I finished painting, I used a fan to dry the chair. I painted it late at night and it was completely dry by morning.

I'm sure different fabrics will react differently to the process. I found that one coat of paint was all I needed on my chair. The color is perfect and the fabric remains soft & pliable. In Kristy's tutorial she used several coat of paint to achieve a darker richer color. She also recommended sanding areas that might be too stiff. 

I finished my chair by pulling off the old gimp trim and using a hot glue gun to attach the new trim. I had a hard time finding trim to match so I did what I always do...I checked I found Peggy's Shop there...she was offering 6 yards of  (new) vintage trim in the exact shade I needed. In retrospect, I think I'd buy my trim first and match the paint to it.

I think you'll have to experiment with your own upholstered piece to see what works for you. Kristy's tutorial is a must read...and be sure to read through her tips at the bottom. It's also a great place to see more painted upholstery projects done by her readers. Some of them are really incredible.


  1. WOW!! It's beautiful -- who would've thought you could paint upholstered furniture? Not me!!
    You did a wonderful job!

  2. it is just beautiful!! i think i'm gonna try it on an old blue chair....

  3. Wow! That is impressive, Rhonda! I LOVE the color. The fabric was pretty awesome to start with. I think with the fabric type and the one coat it was ideal in the way that you managed to keep it soft rather than the texture of painted canvas. Thanks for the shout out and great work!! Fantastic post. I'm going to link to it.

  4. Looks fabulous! I would have thought it would have been too stiff after finishing, am amazed that you said it was still soft. Thanks for the information! Love the step by step photos. Great post!

  5. Hi Rhonda,
    You did a fabulous job and I can't wait to go check out the other website!
    The chair is just wonderful!!

  6. Who ever would have thunk??? Wow, what a difference a coat of paint makes and it sounds fairly easy. I will definitely be trying this someday. thanks for sharing, Rhonda.

  7. Wow - just wow, Rhonda....(I'm late finding this post as it would not display the post page for some reason when you first posted it....) This is amazing....It's a wonderful transformation, and I can't believe that it doesn't look like you painted it. I'm thinking I'd be too make it look and sound so do-able!! Thanks for sharing the step-by-steps....Great job! Smiles & Hugs ~ Robin

  8. Thanks so much ladies! It was a fun project...a challenge to be sure, but I'm thrilled with the result. I too was amazed that the fabric stayed soft and pliable. It's very comfortable. I hope some of you will give it a try.

    Robin, I WAS chicken, but figured I had very little invested in the chair-financially or emotionally. :) It might have been different if it was a family heirloom. It is very doable. I was really surprised at how simple it was. Most of my adventures turn out to be harder than they look. LOL This one was a pleasant surprise.


  9. WOW!!!! Great idea!!!! Thanks for posting this. And I think you are right the before color was a bit hard to stand. The pink looks wonderful!

  10. Oh my gosh! The finished product is beautiful!!! You did such a fabulous job on it. I had no idea you could do this to upholstered furniture. That is really cool.

    I also love your cabinet/shelves behind the chair! I need something like that!

  11. I can't believe the finished project! I have a couch that has faded a lot from the sun. This would be too good to be true to be able to paint it rather than fooling with expensive slip covers. Do you know if this will work on any material?