Den Redesign: Upholstered Chair and Ottoman

I’m coming to you on this beautiful morning from the back patio, where it’s in the mid-70s and mostly shady, though the sun will hit any minute now and it will jump to 85 and sunny, causing me to flee inside to the air conditioning.  It was very cool (for May) here over the weekend, so we were able to break in our new firepit the other night.  It was a nice change from our usual evening routine, which mainly consists of watching tv together after dinner.

But onto the main topic of this post – the upholstered chair.  We bought this chair and matching ottoman at a furniture consignment store about five years ago, and it’s been in need of attention ever since.  It wasn’t in horrible condition – and it’s always been super comfortable – but it looked a little sad and needed some help.

Why is there a bare down pillow on the chair?, you ask.  
I was testing different sizes of pillows to see what should
go where and decide which fabrics to use on which pillows.  
And I forgot to move this one before I took the photo.  
I lucked out when I found this great upholstery fabric on for only $12.98/yard (8/2016 Update: Unfortunately, it has since been discontinued.  I can’t find it anywhere online now!).

Richloom Pennline Upholstery Jacquard Midnight

I kept on looking for a while, though, because I wasn’t certain about it – I was afraid that on such a large piece of furniture, the smaller pattern might look too busy.  But I kept coming back to it since it appeared to be the perfect color to match our wall and fit in with the new gray couch, and it was the best price I was going to find on true upholstery fabric.  I needed something heavy and durable since the back of the chair is the dogs’ favorite spot to lounge, especially when the afternoon sun hits it.  And they’re diggers – they dig on carpet, bed sheets, and furniture, so the fabric needed to be able to withstand their little claws scratching it over time.  I ordered a swatch of it and as soon as I saw it in person (and it got the Mister’s seal of approval, too), I knew it was the right choice.

Sittin’ pretty in their favorite afternoon hangout.

Having reupholstered one chair about 3 years ago, I went into this project with more confidence than I otherwise would have, but it was a massive chair and was both newer and better put together than the first one, so it was still a challenge.  I invested in a few tools that made the whole process much easier:

1. The Dritz Home Heavy Duty Staple Remover (which I got for only $4 by using a 60% off coupon at JoAnn’s – it would have been worth paying the full price, though!).  Using a chisel on the first chair was a rookie mistake and left my hands all cut up because it slipped often and I wound up with quite a few broken fingernails and cuts all over my hands.  Gloves would have helped then, and I did wear them this time throughout the staple-removing process.
Fun fact:  Dritz Home is based about 90 miles up the road in Spartanburg, SC!
2. An electric staple gun (for around $30).  I did the entire first chair with a regular staple gun, which was heavy-duty but made for a man’s hand, so it was big enough that I really had to use both hands to steady it so it wouldn’t kick back and leave the staples sticking out halfway.  I wound up having to go back and hammer most of them in the rest of the way, adding time to the already lengthy process.  Also, using the regular staple gun aggravated my little old lady wrist/thumb joint problem, and with this chair being ginormous, plus the ottoman, I knew I had to upgrade to a new power tool.
Bostitch Electric Stapler/Nail Gun
3. A magnetic parts holder (which was free with a coupon at Harbor Freight tools when I bought some sandpaper or a dropcloth or something last fall).  I had been using it as a second magnetic pin holder in the sewing room, but it was the perfect place to hold all the staples I removed from the chair so they didn’t wind up all over the floor.  I didn’t need one of the little doggies swallowing one, and not a single one got lost on the carpet with this thing by my side (It also stuck to the springs in the underside of the chair, so that was pretty cool).
Magnetic parts holder
The fact that it stuck to the springs was helpful when the chair was turned at weird angles, since it otherwise would have slid off of the wood onto the floor.
So for a total of about $35, I made things WAY easier on myself, protected the dogs (and our feet!) from staples hiding in the carpet, and shaved off at least a full work day (maybe even two).  And I would highly recommend all three of these tools to anyone considering a project like this one.

Warning:  This is a very long post with lots of words and lots of pictures.  You might want to grab some coffee or a snack and settle in somewhere comfortable before proceeding.  Go on, I’ll still be here when you get back!

The Ottoman
I started with the ottoman since it would be a quicker process than the chair and would give me a little bit more motivation to keep going on the chair.  Plus, when I finished the chair, I wanted to be FINISHED instead of still having the ottoman to work on.
First step was to unscrew the legs.  I wanted to save these so I could pull the casters off and reuse them somewhere else, but they seem to be bolted together permanently, so I think it may be a lost cause.
This is what the underside of an ottoman looks like.
Next, I carefully started removing staples and took off the dust cover, because I wanted to reuse it when it came time to reassemble the thing. 
Once the dust cover was off, I removed the staples securing the pillow top to the bottom frame piece.   There’s a zipper on the bottom of the pillow piece, but pulling the pillow out of its cover is harder than you would think – it’s made to fit super snugly in its cover, so getting it out was a bit of a challenge.
Once the pillow piece and the frame piece were both uncovered, I moved my attention to fixing the one corner on the frame of the ottoman that had at some point busted and, therefore, sagged when weight was put on it.  All it took was a couple little mending plates, a corner bracket, and a screwdriver, and it’s now as strong as the others.
It was funny when the dogs would jump on and the would
all of a sudden cave in, sending them on a little ride back to the floor.
There will be no more collapsing for this ottoman!
Before moving on to the fabric, I used a piece of twin size batting to wrap the two pieces together for added stability.

My original plan was to put the fabric on, wrong side out, pin up the corners, and stitch the corners up, resulting in a snugly fitting cover. 

This only half-worked.  On the front two corners, it fit perfectly, but on the back two, it left little bulges at the top of the corners no matter how tightly I pulled the fabric.  I wound up picking out the seams on these two corners as a result and just folded them into something resembling hospital corners instead, then pulling the fabric as tight as possible and stapling it down all the way around the perimeter of the frame.


After the fabric was secured, I drilled new holes for the new legs to go in to.  The old legs had wider screws attached to them, so I used a smaller drill bit that the screws on the new legs would fit into.
At this point, I went around and trimmed off all the excess fabric from the bottom of the ottoman, extracted the original dust cover from the pile of discarded fabric, and stapled it down.
The last step for the ottoman was to add the new feet – which I stained as I worked on the curtain rods, so they’d been just sitting in the den waiting to be used.  First, I put a few drops of glue into each hole for a little bit of extra stability since the screws on the new feet are fairly short – though it probably would have been fine to skip this step – then screwed each new foot on.
And then I flipped it over!  It was really rewarding to finish the ottoman, but the giant chair was still waiting for me so I couldn’t celebrate yet.
There was much more work to be done at this point, as you can see by 
the abundance of tools and stacks of fabric in the background
The ottoman gets the Little Black Dog Seal of Approval!
The Chair

Let me remind you how ugly this thing was one more time:

“Help me!” says the chair.
Ok, now we’re ready to move on.   I started the de-upholstery process (I have no idea what the proper term is.  Disrobing? Dismantling? Disassembling?  That will do.) by trying to remove the feet off the chair.  But they wouldn’t budge at all.  So after attempting to unscrew them (using one of those gripper things you use to get the lid off the jelly), smash them sideways with a mallet hammer, and wedging a chisel underneath them to pry them off, I gave up and just cut the dust cover off, keeping it so I could use it as a template for the new dust cover a week later as the last step.
I found out later how the feet were attached, 
at which time I understood why my earlier efforts were futile.  
Removing the dust cover revealed the next step, which was removing the skirt at the bottom of the chair.  
From there, the next section to remove was the seat cover, which also covered the front part of the frame,
followed by the back panel,
I wedged a chisel underneath the tack strips on 
each side of the back fabric panel to pull them up.
Since the tack strips on the chair were made of metal and 
wound up getting all kinds of bent up, I picked up some 
replacements at Joann’s.  With a coupon, of course!
I did not replace the cardboard strips at the top back of the chair.  
They were easy enough to reuse, despite being slightly torn.
This is what the inside of the back of a chair looks like.
then the panel under the armrest, 
The poor man never knows what he’s going to encounter when he gets home.  On this particular day, I was up under the chair like a mechanic under a car.  All that was missing was the little rolling trolley and some grease.
followed by the decorative cover in front of the armrest, 
The chisel strikes again!

and last, the armrest covers themselves.  
It sounds simpler than it is.  It took a day and a half to disassemble the thing, taking tons of photos, making detailed notes, and labeling both the pieces and different parts of the chair frame with stickers made of masking tape as I went so things would be easier when I got ready to re-assemble the thing.

I can’t resist sharing these pictures of two of the adorable positions I found the dogs in while I disassembled the chair.
I let it sit there undressed for a day of grocery shopping and running other errands while I debated whether I should buy new foam and batting or save $50-60 and just reuse the old.  I wound up reusing the old since the chair is relatively new and the foam is in good condition (I found a stamp with its production date, April 2003, during the dis-assembly process). 
Waiting for its pretty new clothes!
The first step of re-assembling the chair was to use the old pieces as a pattern to cut pieces of the new fabric out, which took about a full work day (a ‘work day’ for me is anywhere from 4-10 hours long depending on what else is going on and whether or not the Mister is working late; this particular work day was one of the shorter ones).  I lined each piece up so the pattern would be straight and face in the proper direction, double checking everything before cutting anything.  Each new piece got a masking tape label with the same name and number as the label that was on the old piece.
I also needed new coordinating piping, so I made several yards of it for the entire chair.  I really dislike making piping, but I didn’t have to make much since I decided to change the look of the chair.  I decided against including the outer row of piping on the front of the armrests, opting to add it only on the front panel and down the side to hide the joining of the two pieces of fabric.  I also omitted the skirt around the bottom of the chair, just like I did for the ottoman, which now is also piping-less.  The skirts seemed to date both pieces of furniture to me, so I wanted to give them a more modern silhouette with a tightly wrapped front panel (and show the ottoman’s pretty new legs).
I originally wanted to put pretty new legs on the chair, too, 
but had to change my plans when the old ones wouldn’t budge.
Th decision to leave out the skirt on the chair was a problem for two reasons:  1 – I had no guidebook for reassembling it without the skirt, so I had to figure that out as I went along, and it made the reassembly process a bit more time-consuming, and 2 – Though I had been considering not using a skirt on the new chair all along, I only decided for sure AFTER I had cut out all the new pieces, including those for the new skirt.  That is part of the reason that I had to order more fabric, which set me back a few days (the pieces for the skirt weren’t quite tall enough to become the new front panel of the chair).  
I was able to completely remake the chair in the meantime, since the pieces were all cut, but I had to wait until the extra fabric arrived to make the covers for both the seat and back cushions. 
I didn’t know where to get any of the brown paper bag fabric (I also don’t know 
what it’s actually called),and I didn’t have it in me to separate it from the old pieces 
in order to reuse it, so all of the new pieces are made completely from fabric.
I had to put the left armrest back in place to make sure I was putting the new one 
on the right side on properly.  Note the decorative covers for the front of the 
armrests have been recovered and have piping on their borders (but the new 
armrest cover itself doesn’t have any, though it’s hard to tell in this picture).

You may be wondering how the decorative covers for the front of the armrests are attached since you can’t see the backs of them.  It’s not glue; trim nails with tiny heads can easily be nailed through all layers, including the fabric, until their heads go through the fabric, securing them to the front of the armrests.

The Mister was a good sport during this whole process.  
The den was a mess the whole time!
The side was tough to get pulled tight; I had to redo it
a couple of times to get it just right. The sides were the hardest part.
I reused the brown paper bag fabric from the original seat. I wasn’t about to 
waste my good fabric under the cushion, plus I didn’t think it would be as strong.
So close!!!!!!
I bought a whole bolt of this cotton fabric a few years ago, 
intending to use it as a swag over the old den curtains that I never finished.  
It’s a good thing I never got around to finishing them; the fabric was all wrong for it.  
But it was a perfect substitute for dust cover fabric.
Closed up nice and snug.  No dust is getting in here!
While I waited for the second batch of fabric to arrive, I worried that it wouldn’t be an exact match.  Fortunately, there appears to be no difference between the original and second orders, so you can’t even tell they weren’t from the same bolt!
Once the additional yardage arrived, I got to work creating the seat and back cushion covers.  The back cushion needed some additional fluff added to it as it had gotten quite smooshed due to years of a certain 17-lb little dog and his 11-lb little brother nesting in it. 
Getting the cover off of the seat cushion was nearly impossible.  It was made so snugly that I have no idea how they got the pillow into it in the first place!
I had ordered JUST enough extra fabric.  Half a yard less, and I’d have had to cut some of the fabric with the design facing in the wrong direction.  Or I wouldn’t have had enough to make throw pillows for the couch.  
When I made the cushion cover on the green chair in 2012, I thought I was never going to get it right.  This time, I had 3 more years of sewing experience under my belt and things went quite smoothly!
This is possibly the weirdest selfie ever.  
I literally had to sit on the seat cushion to keep it 
folded in half so it would squeeze into the new cover.
I’m pleased to say that after about a week and a half of work, the chair now looks absolutely amazing.  And it’s still really comfortable.
There’s a normal selfie.
De-upholstering and reupholstering a chair is kind of like one of those choose-your-own-adventure books:  you do a few steps, then you have a couple of choices as to your next step, and it keeps going from there.  You just hope you pick the right next step so your character doesn’t wind up lost on a dirt road somewhere – or in this case, you hope you don’t choose the wrong step because you’ll make more work for yourself.  Though you can guess, you certainly don’t know for sure what your next step will be until you complete the step you’re on.  And what I’ve learned from my second upholstery project is that each piece of furniture is assembled differently.  So the main take-away is this:  If you’re planning to reupholster a chair for the first time,
  • Take DETAILED notes.
  • Take WAY too many photos, but make each one count.  Write a description of the photos or the filename in your notes so you know what each photo is actually showing you when you go back to look at them.  For example, what the heck is this photo showing me?  

    I apparently thought it was important when I took it, but when I went back a week later to refer to my photos for help, I had no idea what it was showing me.

  • Label each piece as you take it off.  Give it a number based on the order in which it was removed.  On a separate page, create a list of all the pieces as you remove them so you have a game plan for reassembly.
  • Write instructions on the frame of the chair, too. Chances are, your notes will only make half sense when you get back around to reading them, so arrows and instructions on the chair itself will be helpful.

  • Buy too much fabric.  It’s better to have too much than too little, even if it costs $20 or $30 extra.  It’s way easier than tracking down additional fabric, and if you have to but more fabric, you run the risk of the colors not matching up perfectly depending on the dye lot of the fabric.  If you have some left over, you’ll be able to make a matching pillow or any one of hundreds of ideas for fabric scraps.  
  • Have tons of patience.  My first chair took me over a month to complete, working nights after work and weekends as I was able, and this one took just over a week with it as my main focus during that time.  Without patience, you either won’t finish, or you will learn to be patient along the way.  As for me, my stubbornness and inability to accept defeat gets me through 🙂  And the excitement of seeing the finished product, of course.
  • You’ll find more suggestions on surviving your first upholstery project on my first upholstery post a few years ago.  

The last thing I’ll share today is this:  I decided to contact a local upholsterer to find out how much it would have cost to have this chair done professionally.  The answer?  Around $700!  SEVEN HUNDRED!  I knew it would be expensive, but I was shocked to find out exactly how much.  I spent less than a third of that on ALL of the materials I used – fabric, piping, mending brackets, staples, nails and tack strips, new legs for the ottoman, even the new tools!  As you can imagine, finding that out made my day!  The best part of it, though – even better than saving some dough, is knowing that I did this:

Go ahead, have a seat!

And the dogs approve 🙂

It totally looks like I posed them for a family photo, but I didn’t.
But it’s quite possible that I whistled and made funny sounds to get them to look at me.

Thanks for sticking with me all the way to the end on this one!  The den redesign project is starting to get wrapped up now; only a few posts remain before the final reveal.  My next post will feature our new couch and the coordinating pillows I’ve made for it, and it will be quite the opposite of this one: brief.  🙂