cane-back chair with worn seat
Colin Peterson

Sad Seat

I've had these antique caned-back chairs for years, and poor maintenance had left them in sorry shape. The brown leather had split and torn, and toddler fingers had removed half the exposed stuffing.

They needed some serious help, not only to look better but also to survive for the next generation.

green faux ostrich skin
Courtesy of Valtekz

Faux Fabulous

Assistant Editor Jennifer Bonds found this faux ostrich skin by Celerie Kemble. I thought it would be a wonderful choice for the chair’s second life.

Made from eco-friendly composite, it’s easy on the environment and easy on my limited housekeeping skills. A quick swipe with a damp paper towel is all that’s needed to keep it looking spiffy.

I was surprised by the actual color of the material when it arrived, having been too impatient to order a memo sample. Because the finish is a metallic, it looked like a lovely pale aqua on my computer screen. In reality, it is a pretty deep green.

Lesson learned -- never buy fabric without seeing a sample first.

cane-back chair with new green faux ostrich skin seat
Becky Luigart-Stayner

Makeover Magic

Luckily, the chair turned out beautifully, and the green actually works with my dining room color scheme. The chair also needed some structural reinforcement.

After years of use, the webbing and springs in the seat were seriously strained. This somewhat added to the cost, but when you’re dealing with an antique, you’re under an obligation to do things properly.

nailhead trim
Becky Luigart-Stayner

Upholstery Tips

My upholsterer, the very sweet Al Neel, recommended that I replace the nail-head trim with more spaced-out nails to minimize damage to the frame. You still get the effect of the nail heads repetition without weakening the frame.

Since I only needed a couple of yards, I could splurge on a designer fabric like this faux ostrich skin. If I were slipcovering a piece of furniture, I’d have to work with economies of scale.

The beauty of these little chairs is that I can recover them fairly affordably when I change my color schemes. A big piece of furniture, like a sofa, should be a neutral that will work with whatever scheme you fall for next.

pea-green chenille chair
Colin Peterson

Hand-me-down Help

As a new homeowner on a budget, I’m always on the lookout for a good deal, and reupholstering is my new best friend. I snatched this chair (and its twin) from the Goodwill pile when I was helping to clean out and renovate a family vacation house.

Although it is a mass-production piece from the 1960s and not a valuable antique, it did come from my great-grandmother’s house and thus is an heirloom to me. I loved its French-inspired lines, but the original pea-green chenille upholstery left a lot to be desired.

Paisley Linen by Suzanne Rheinstein for Lee Jofa
Courtesy of Lee Jofa

Turn to the Pros

I’m no stranger to DIY upholstery (I’ve got seven dining chairs and a bench under my belt so far), but the complicated fabric placement was a little more than I was comfortable dealing with. I also wanted to keep a double welt, and I definitely didn’t have the skills or patience to conquer that alone.

I chose a simple linen fabric embroidered with blue paisley that will complement several rooms in my house. Then I set to work finding a professional.

Paisley Linen by Suzanne Rheinstein
Available at Lee Jofa

chair with fabric backward
Jennifer Bonds

Turn Around

After several days of calling around town to find an affordable upholsterer, I finally settled on an out-of-town business recommended by a friend of a friend (you can see where this is going, can’t you?). Two weeks later, my chair was delivered … with the reverse side of the fabric showing.

But I soon discoverd that I am the one in the wrong because I did not indicate which side I wanted to be the front.

Lesson learned: Communicate with your upholsterer! Face-to-face meetings are invaluable in making sure you get exactly what you want.

chair with embroidered linen
Becky Luigart-Stayner

All's Well That Ends Well

The generous people at McCoy’s Upholstery skillfully turned the fabric around (without using any of the extra scraps I had left) and graciously did it at no additional charge. I love the way the fabric complements the traditional lines of the chair and brings it up to date at the same time.

blue-and-white striped chair with brown welt
Colin Peterson

Yardsale Find

I picked up this chair for $30 at a yard sale in Atlanta years ago. It looked rough but had so much potential. Several years (at least eight) and moves later, the chair still was not recovered, mostly because I had a fear of commitment. The idea of choosing a fabric was a big obligation and would lock me into a certain look, or so I thought. But I loved the chair's square arms and knew that someday I would get around to fixing it up.

brown linen
Courtesy of Lee Jofa

Undercover Fabric

Finally I made a decision and chose to have a slipcover made for the chair (the store-bought ones never fit quite right). I wanted a relaxed look for the chair that just invited you to curl up in it.

As for a fabric, I opted for a linen (because linen just looks so good) in a darker shade to be more versatile. After reviewing a few swatches, I selected an Aubergine color because of its dark mocha shade with hints of purple, which created depth and interest in the color.

Jarah Aubergine by Threads
Available at Lee Jofa

brown slipcovered chair with butterfly pillow
Becky Luigart-Stayner


After many years and many empty promises, my chair was finally finished. The fabric feels great and really transforms this piece. And because I opted for a slipcover, there still is no real commitment. If I change my mind at some point, I can take off the slipcover and do something different. But I can’t imagine wanting to do that any time soon.

One thing I did learn is that with any piece covered in dark fabric, you have to be sure to have something there to break up the color block. Either a throw or a pillow will do the trick. I found this pillow and fell in love with its pattern. It adds life to the chair, and the butterflies are much more scientific in appearance than girlie or sweet.

Butterfly Pillow
Available at Jayson Home and Garden

single welt on brown slipcover
Becky Luigart-Stayner

The Big Reveal

Based on the standard upholstery chart, I ordered 8 yards of fabric, which I was assured was more than enough to cover my club chair. Well, I guess my chair is a little large for its age because a day after dropping it off to have the slipcover made, I got a call telling me I would another 2 yards.

Lesson earned: Always order more fabric than you think you need. Any leftover fabric can be used to make an accent pillow.

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