Ramen Noodle Budget DIY: Chair makeover

I did this project a little while ago, but I thought I'd share it because I'm super proud of how it turned out. And, of course, how insanely cheap the whole project ended up being.

Last summer (or was it the summer before? Hmmm....), my mom, Ali and I headed down to the Boston-Edison Historic District Attic Sale, which happens mid-August every year. Boston-Edison is a famous neighborhood in Detroit full of big, fancy, gorgeous houses where a veritable who's-who of prominent Detroiters used to (or still do) live. It was a gloomy, humid day, but it's always cool to get a close-up view of these properties. We paddled around and scored a few deals. I saw this pair of early-70's chrome-armed chairs perched at the edge of someone's lawn, and just as the guy was telling me he wanted $75.00 for the pair (STILL a deal in my mind), the sky opened in a downpour that sent everyone running back to their cars. I told the guy no, and started to walk away, not really willing to wheel and deal in downpour. As I was walking away, he stopped me and asked how much money I had on me. After buying a vintage typewriter and a few other doodads, I only had $3.00. He said, "Okay fine." I handed him the cash and he sighed and ran to move or cover the rest of his items. So I scored these bad boys for $3.00 for the pair. $3.00! 

Here's the before.

Man these chairs are pretty. Those sassy chrome legs are the the real deal. Solid. Heavy. But the upholstery was just yuck. 

I thought about paying to have them reupholstered, but who am I kidding? That's megabucks. I didn't have much more to spend on them then the $3.00 I already spent. And doing it myself wasn't possible. The way the chairs are constructed, I think they'd need to be taken apart, recovered, then out back together. That scares me. My number one rule of DIY projects is that if you start it, you should be able to finish it without calling in a professional. I wasn't up to it. So to the web I went.

The seemingly easiest solution beyond reupholstering I found came in the form of using upholstery spray paintBy all accounts, this stuff is bomb. It is specifically designed for this purpose. Also, not cheap. And living in an upper flat with no real outside area to work in would be tricky (one more reason to buy a house). It's also pretty pricey, there's not a ton of colors to choose from, and it was difficult to find a purchase point. So using this product was out, but I liked the idea of using paint to get a custom look. 

I scoured Pinterest, and based found a an upholstery painting technique I thought I could pull off. The tutorial I finally found, posted by Hyphen Interiors, uses Latex house paint and acrylic medium to achieve a smooth finish. With a few tweaks to her method--like using cheap acrylic craft paint instead of wall paint--I was in.

Here's the supplies.

  • Two Cheap medium-sized paint brushes (I only really used one)
  • Painter's tape
  • Eight 2 oz. bottles acrylic craft paint (scale up for larger pieces)
  • Eight 2 oz. bottles of fabric (or textile) medium (scale up for larger pieces)
  • One spray bottle filled with water
  • Water
  • One container you can use to mix stuff up (I used the bottom half of a water bottle)

Not pictured (but necessary):

  • Dropcloth or piece of cardboard that will keep the mess contained
  • Plastic fork or knife or something for stirring you can throw out

For those not in the know, textile medium basically works to make the fabric more pliable and helps the paint stay wetter longer so you have more time to work with it. Or something. You can buy it in larger bottles than the 2 oz., but I found that having bottles the same size worked to my measuring advantage.

So the basic idea is to add one whole bottle of acrylic paint and one whole bottle of textile medium together along with 1 oz. of water (of half of one little bottle), and mixing it up. The most annoying part was getting the shit into the mixing container. You can make it in larger batches, but my chairs weren't very big, and I did them one at a time, taking breaks in between to watch Buffy eps.

So keep stirring until the textile medium is entirely incorporated. I used painter's tape to tape off the chrome, but you won't need it if your furniture is entirely fabric.

That's my awesome cat Sailor. He was very unhelpful during this process. I kept having to do cat hair checks when I finished a coat.

In retrospect, I wish I would've covered ALL THE CHROME. This technique is very drippy, and I ended up doing a ton of paint scraping after they were finished.

So, working one section at a time, use your spray bottle to soak the fabric. I mean really soak it. You want the fabric WET. This is the only way to get the paint to spread. Working with the grain of the fabric, start painting. You just want a light allover coat.

The grain of my fabric ran on the diagonal, so that's the direction I painted in. As it dries, the paint soaks in, revealing the areas that still need paint.

Soon I realized that I needed a drop cloth.


Once I cleaned the sloppiness, up, I continued until I had a complete coat on. Remember to use the shit out of your spray bottle and keep everything really wet. Also keep in mind that the seams and corners will take a lot more paint an may be harder to reach. You might consider using a smaller brush for these sections. I only thought of it later, unfortunately. 

Thirty minutes later, the first coat looked this this once the paint soaked in and dried.

This was after the the third coat.

It was around the fourth coat  realized I'd missed painting the bottom edges of the seat cushion and that I needed to work on the seams.

Once I fixed that, I did a fifth and touchup coat, then worked on the second chair.

Then, they were done.

All told, the process took about six hours total, including dry time. The paint and other supplies totaled out to about $16.50. That's just $20.00 total for the project.

The chairs are in storage now, but I used them for a while before they got tucked away with all my favorite stuff. The texture isn't soft, but it's not sandpaper. They clean up with a wet rag. All in all, great bang for my ramen noodle budget. These might be the head chairs in my new dining room, or side chairs in my office. When I get a house, that it. The frames are in really great shape, and eventually I'll pay someone qualified to recover them in a pretty charcoal mohair. For now, I'm still in love.

The cheaper the DIY, the sexier the results. I'm convinced.