how to recover an office chair

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I'm almost done outfitting my studio. Today I solved my sewing chair problem. My dream chair is the Eames Aluminum Management Chair from Design Within Reach in apple green leather.

At $1749 it definitely is not within in my reach.
What I have to work with is this cast-off office chair in battleship grey. Why do office chairs always come in such boring colors like taupe, grey, black? Even at IKEA, I couldn't find an apple green or orange office chair. I will recover this dingy grey one in... apple green of course!

If you don't already have a standard office chair to recover, you can get one cheap from a used office furniture store. They have scads of them.
Most standard-type chairs have a 2-piece back like this one attached to a vertical support with either fabric or plastic on the back side. This one has a spring-loaded pin that you push in from both sides and, presto, the back is off,exposing the metal piece that holds the front and back together. Once the screws are out, the two pieces need to be pried apart. I was unsure about this part at first. What if it is glued together? Turns out it's special nail-stapes securing it that you don't need when you put it back together.The screws hold it well enough.
Getting the bottom cushion off is just a matter of turning the chair upside down and unscrewing all the screws. If there's a chipboard board backing, just remove it and save it to staple back on at the end.
Next, the bazillions of staples holding the old upholstery on need to be pried up with a screwdriver and yanked out with pliers. Patience!
I use the old pieces of upholstery as patterns for the new fabric, but cut it leaving a little extra around the edges as fudge factor. For the back piece, mark and slit where the screw holes need to go. Make sure they line up with the holes when you staple on the new upholstery to the back.

The fabric I am using is Sunbrella 100% acrylic outdoor fabric that I picked up at The Interior Alternative in Newark, DE, a wonderland of off-price home decorating fabric. The Sunbrella line is bullet-proof and easy to clean, just sponge off with soap and water. It doesn't have much stretch, though, so I run a gathering stitch close to the edge all the way around to help it cup around my seat shape. 
Stretch the fabric as taut as as it will go and start with 4 stapes, 1 centered on each side. Work your way out from there, stapling liberally, easing out the puckers as best you can.

Now it's just a matter of screwing everything back together. New life for a sad old chair!


Laryssa Herbert said...

Wow! It looks wonderful. I'm inspired to work on my ratty old office chair.

Anonymous said...

How do you take apart the back. we have the same chair it is in 2 pieces on the back how do you separate the part that has the back cushion from the hard back with the metal

Becky said...

I just forcibly pried the back off this chair with a screwdriver because the 2 pieces were stapled together from the inside. I worked on another chair that has a plastic back, and it just came apart by unscrewing the metal piece.

Diane said...

Just saw this on Pinterest. Honestly, this morning I was eyeing my husband's desk chair and was tossing around the idea of recovering it. Thanks for the tutorial!

Anonymous said...

Becky, you have just solved the problem with my plastic-backed swivel chair! I couldn't see how to fix my new material neatly over it, so I'm off to investigate right now...Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I followed your directions (did not realize it was a push pin on chair back until you stated it). I did snap off the 6 plastic screws (as you also stated & yes, they were screwed from inside out) but it did not matter because the chair back screws hold it all together. I chose to use bias tape to sew around chair seat, chair back, and front of chair back and ran a strong string (from an old set of blinds) to pull it taut and this gathered it nicely. My chair looks amazing due to your photo instructions. Thank you.

Becky said...

I'm so glad it worked!

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