Mid-Century Armchair Makeover!

by - 6/09/2019

Hi guys, something a little different for my blog today but it's something I really wanted to share and know it'll appeal to some readers. Me and Matt have an interiors Instagram account @side_piece_diy where we share our mid century inspired home and our restoration projects. Over the past month or so, we've been restoring a mid century arm chair and we're over the moon with the results. 

So instead of sharing a thousand images of the chair with long captions on our insta, I thought I'd pop them in a handy blog post, along with the supplies we used and some online resources that helped us.

First things first, we're new to the furniture restoration game. We've done a few pieces now (which you can see on our page HERE), but this is the first time we've reupholstered anything. I'd like to say it's a 50/50 process, but honestly Matt is the talented one here and I'm just taking the credit (haha!).

We've been in the market for a mid century armchair to restore for ages, but have never found one that was within our area or price range. Then I found our chair on eBay, weirdly in our town, for a steal at £50. We won the bid and it was with us the next day! Sadly there's no maker's mark on it, but the design is reminiscent of a Parker Knoll 988 armchair with a few minor differences. It could be dated anywhere between the 1960s and 1970s, and judging by the fairly modern care home sticker on the underside of the frame, it's been reupholstered within the last 20 years. Despite its distinct 1980s-car-seat looks, I knew with some TLC this could be a gorgeous armchair. So here's some 'before' snaps...

The wooden frame of the chair was in pretty crappy condition and the upholstery, whilst not damaged, was naff and outdated. 

We wanted to reveal more of the covered wooden frame, which turned out to be in not-so-great condition and made from beech, in contrast with the legs and arms which are dark teak (or maybe walnut?). However we were hoping with the help of some dye stains and wood filler we could get the light beech frame, to match the darker arms and legs.

So here's a break down of what we did:

Firstly, we removed all the old upholstery, leaving the seat springs (with leather covering) and webbing (which were in good condition so we kept them).

On the sides of the chair frame, above and below the arms were extra wedges of wood that had been stapled and glued on. However these gave the back of the chair an odd 'bloated' look, so we decided to remove them to leave a straighter silhouette. This involved misting the area with warm water and using a hair drier to soften the glue, then using a hammer and chisel to remove the wedges of wood.

The next step was to sand the entire chair with medium followed by fine grit sandpaper.

To try and bring the colour of the beech frame closer to that of the arms and legs, we began with a coat of teak dye stain. This got us closer, but not quite there, so this was followed by a coat of a darker walnut dye stain which was much closer to the colour we were looking for.

After removing the upholstery, the beech frame had been left with staple and tack holes, these were filled with wood filler and then lightly sanded flush with very fine grit sandpaper, and wiped with white spirit to remove dust.

All exposed wood was then given a total of three coats of Danish Oil (a mixture of linseed oil and varnish) which offers an easy to apply, hard wearing, satin finish that brings out the natural grain of the wood. After the final coat has dried, rubbing the whole chair with a piece of plain paper removes any rough patches and leaves a lovely smooth satin finish.

Finally, the filled holes were coloured using furniture touch-up marker pens to match them to the grain and colour of the surrounding wood (as best as possible). And that was the frame finished! THIS playlist of video tutorials on chair upholstery were really helpful in figuring out the process.

Left: finished wooden frame. Right: in progress.
Once the frame was prepared it was time to reupholster the chair. Here's a breakdown of the supplies we used:

- Staple gun and a box of staples
- Calico to stabilise the back support (where a hessian fabric was before)
- Foam and wadding to create the back of the chair
- Seat foam and wadding for the cushion
- Upholstery fabric to cover the chair
- Self-cover metal buttons
- Ply-grip (also known as metal back tacking strip) to cover the back edges of the chair neatly without any staples visible.
- Mallet or fabric covered hammer, to flatten down the edge of the ply-grip.

Making the armchair cushion cover is really the only part of this restoration that fell into my skill set. Having only made a couple of small cushions before, making a fitted seat cover was pretty daunting, especially as Matt is such a perfectionist. The cushion is a square of seat foam, which we sat on in store to test out how squishy we wanted it to be, wrapped in wadding. I watched several online tutorials on how to cover the cushion, THIS video was extremely helpful. Whilst the finished product isn't totally perfect, I'm really pleased with it as at one point I was ready to throw it out the window...

Here's some side by side before and after photos:

Overall, we are so happy with the finished chair and feel very proud of it. We certainly had a few hiccups along the way and definitely learned a lot too. I love spotting a beat up piece of furniture and seeing the potential in it and with our combined skill set I think we make a pretty great team! 

Now we just need to move all our other furniture around to fit it in!

Have you tried your hand at any furniture restoration before? 
Don't forget to follow our dedicated interiors page @side_piece_diy to see more of our projects!

Thanks for reading!
Abi & Matt

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  1. Your chair looks brilliant. You've done a great job restoring and updating it. I bought a couple of similar looking chairs to do up for my house but haven't mustered up the courage to tackle them yet.

    Thanks for all the handy links too. Hopefully they'll give me a kick up the bum to do the restoration work!