You never really know how a vintage purchase on Craigslist will go. Maybe the seller is a trendy yuppy purging it all to move to Thailand. Or, maybe the person you’re buying from grew up with it and it’s been waiting for you in their basement for twenty years. Fortunately my dining chair search led me to neither scenario. I bought my chairs from Thelma, an older but hip lady who purchased these chairs in the 80’s for her shoe shop. I absolutely loved them, we closed the deal. Thelma’s only hope for her beloved set of chairs? That someone bring new life to them and get as much use out of them as her business did. Here I chronicle the revitalization of these thrones through my DIY chair refinishing. Thelma, if you’re reading this, I hope I didn’t let you down!
When I found Thelma’s chairs, I knew they would be absolutely perfect. It’s pretty difficult to find vintage bentwood chairs that come in a set and are not over priced. These six chairs were $125. Total. WHAT?! That was a screaming deal compared to $149 version (for a single chair!) I’d seen on Crate and Barrel. Better yet was the fact that these bentwood chairs had arms (which I had never seen!). I knew that with a little hit of paint and tuck of flirty fabric these dining chairs would be strutting with Frida in no time.
Check out my dining chair upcycle DIY below – as always, feel free to reach out if you have questions! To keep from a three hundred scroll page, I’ve split this project into two parts. Don’t miss Part 2 where I detail the reupholstering process!
- Screw Driver
- Green Scrubby Pad
- TSP All-Purpose Heavy Cleaner, what I used
- Rubber Gloves
- Large Cleaning Bucket
- Wood Filler, what I used
- Putty Knife
- 220 Grit Sand Paper
- Tack Cloth
- Plastic Drop Cloth or Sheet
- Spray Paint With Primer (I used about 1.5 cans per chair), what I used
- Felt Pads (one for every leg!)
DIY Chair Refinishing
Prep Your Chairs for Cleaning
- Remove the old seat cushions (set these aside for later)
- Take out any old nails/staples/screws/foot pads that are not serving a purpose – obviously keep the screws that are holding the chair together!
- Remove any gunk (or gum, in my case) from your chairs
- Using your screw driver, tighten up any of the structural screws if the chair is a little wobbly
TIP: Don’t over-tighten screws as you might split the wood. Then obvs. you’ll cry.
Scrub Those Babies
- Mix your TSP heavy duty cleaning solution per the directions
- Wearing your rubber gloves, take your sponge and scrub each chair with the heavy duty cleaning solution – get as far into the nooks and crannies as you can
- Let them sit and dry completely
Sand Them Down
- If you’ve got scratches or gouges in your chairs, use a wood filler and putty knife to fill them in – once the filler dries, you can sand down again to a smooth finish
- Taking your 220 grit sandpaper, give your chairs a light all-over sanding. Again, make sure to get into the crannies of each chair
- When you’ve completed your sanding, use your tack cloth to remove the debris and get those babies ready for some paint
TIP: If you’re working outside and have a leaf blower…you can give your chairs a quick blowout – this reduces the amount of tack cloth you’ll need to use!
- Set up your paint station with a drop cloth in an area where you’ve got plenty of room and good ventilation.
- Apply an even coat of spray paint to each of your chairs, flipping them upside down and around to get in the crevices – I literally flipped these chairs a dozen times each.
- Allow to dry completely, I let mine fry for 24 hours to reduce the odors brought into our house!
TIP: Weather permitting, let your chairs sit outside for a night or two. This will keep those nasty fumes out of your house!
Gussy Them Legs Up!
Use your pack of felt pads to gussy up those chair legs for a nice, clean finish that won’t mark up your floors!