diy: how a chair can make you look like an ass

There’s still time to enter your before and after pics to Dwell with Dignity’s Ready Aim ReDesign Contest! Since Rachel and I are both on the board, we’re ineligible to enter {bummer} so I thought it would be fun to share one of my own redesign projects – and a few lessons I learned along the way.

About a year ago, I was window-shopping at Lula B’s Antique Mall {one of my favorite places in Dallas for unique finds} when I came across a pair of very cool Mid-Century Modern chairs that were just begging for me to take them home. However, the “very cool” chairs in question were covered in an extremely unfortunate fabric, and under closer inspection, were also pretty beat-up. But since I’d been looking for just such a DIY project where I could demonstrate, what would surely be, my latent talent for refurbishing furniture, I decided something as minimal as a little bad fabric shouldn’t stop me from owning such fabulous chairs. Besides, how hard could it be?

Originally, I intended to simply recover the chairs {which I was sure would be a piece of cake since I’m pretty handy with a staple gun} so I started searching for fabric. I absolutely love textile design so this was by far my favorite part of the process. Ultimately, I decided that I should go with an upholstery quality fabric since chairs undergo a lot of wear. However, this decision immediately increased my overall expenses {for those who haven’t compared prices between upholstery fabric and quilting fabric – generally speaking there is a pretty steep price difference between the two}.

It was at about this time I realized that if I was going to really invest in the fabric {which I eventually bought from the Fabric Factory}, I should also take the time to clean up the chairs. So began my inaugural-attempt at stripping and staining furniture. Turns out, the furniture refurbishing skills I was sure I possessed were sadly – lacking. {As was my common sense in many cases.}

This set the tone for the rest of my refinishing project and resulted in me dragging my smelly, chemically-stripped chairs back to my parent’s house over Thanksgiving weekend, where my Dad kindly helped me finish removing the stain, and then wisely advised/insisted I call in the professionals to upholster the seats and backs. So I headed back to Dallas, leaving the cushions to those far more qualified than myself, and abandoning my chairs in the garage. It was a dark day in my DIY career…

Fortunately for me {and my abandoned chairs} my wonderful father stepped-in in my absence and stained the chairs, as well as orchestrated the recovering of the seats and backs. Coming home to find my chairs finished at Christmas was by far my best gift.

Needless to say, it was not the way I had foreseen my first big furniture makeover going. That said, I LOVE my chairs and couldn’t be happier with the way they turned out, and I have no doubts I’ll take on more furniture projects in the future. After all, now I’m much wiser… or at least less naive.

Here are a few vital things I learned during my project:

1. If you buy a piece of furniture to rework in the hopes of saving money by buying a “fixer-upper,” DO NOT SPEND A LOT. Supplies add up fast, and that should be where you plan to spend the bulk of your expenses. However, if you do end up investing more than you planned to, just remember that at the end of the day you have a completely custom piece of furniture.

2. Never plan a project bigger than your workspace. Case in point – I live in an apartment with a small balcony – therefore my workspace was small and made it difficult to maneuver around two chairs. It was a mess. Hence the need for the Thanksgiving chair-pilgrimage.

3. ALWAYS LOOK UP DIRECTIONS BEFORE STARTING A PROJECT YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT. Do not go to the home improvement store under the assumption that the sales people will be able to advise you – chances are you will talk to someone who probably knows as much about stripping furniture as you do. This is NOT helpful. You will buy the wrong and/or unnecessary supplies, which will inevitably lead to several more trips to home improvement store.

4. If you plan to work outside {which you really should if you’re using chemicals like paint-strippers or stain-removers} do not try to tackle a large project after work – especially if it gets dark at 5pm. Or invest in some high voltage work lights – otherwise you will more than likely have to fix {or redo} your hard work once you see it in daylight.

5. When in doubt, there’s no shame in asking for help. Probably the best move I made during the project was letting my Dad convince me to have the chairs professionally recovered. The finishing details really made all the difference – and even made my fabric look more expensive.

and finally,
6. Never assume you will just “figure it out” as you go. With all the websites dedicated to home improvement and DIY projects there’s really no reason why you should be uninformed. Remember, when you “assume” it makes an ass out of you and me. Or in this case, just me. {Hopefully you’re much smarter than I am – or at least now you will be!}

Happy redesigning!

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5 Responses to diy: how a chair can make you look like an ass

  1. Nicolette Dirks January 22, 2011 at 5:23 pm #

    This chair and the fabric are simply stunning. At first I thought your DIY was to somehow put such detailed felt onto the fabric… now I just realize that fabric is amazing! I can’t tell you how many times I have bought vintage thinking, this ol’ thing will clean up. Thank goodness my Mom has your Dad’s skills when it comes to DIY furniture. Nice work! :)

  2. Susan @ Retro Restyling November 12, 2010 at 11:53 pm #

    First off… I LOVE the title of your post. There are many days I believe my furniture is laughing and pointing fingers at me behind my back. Second, those chairs look amazing! Thirdly…. Very awesome and helpful tips at the end for those just starting to DIY. You were very on point. :)

  3. Via_ostiense November 11, 2010 at 3:46 pm #

    Never plan a project bigger than your workspace.

    My first, and thus far only, furniture DIY project was to strip, stain, varnish, and reupholster a piano bench stool. I live in a studio, and even a project this small was a problem; there was nowhere to sand the stool without the dust being a nuisance except the bathroom, so I sanded the stool in the bathtub. That involved awkward arm contortions, so I ended up taking the stool on the subway to my +1′s apartment in a more suburban area, and doing it sitting on his front steps. Then the rainy season started, and the bare frame of the stool has been siting in his closet for four months. {wince}. Your post’s inspired me to get to work on it this weekend, though–your finished chair looks so beautiful!

  4. mebemike November 11, 2010 at 11:49 am #

    It was a good first attempt. Many things learned for the next DIY endeavor.

  5. Rachel November 10, 2010 at 9:33 am #

    Oh wow! This is so beautiful and the story was so funny.

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