Print Friendly and PDF

Distress and upholster dining chairs

I received a call from a client that was extremely uphappy with his dining chairs. He had arranged to have them stained and, as you can see in the pic below, they came out very patchy.


This can be a problem with staining wood from different sources and cut across or against the grain. The top part of the chair has taken less stain that other parts, and the end result is not very pleasing. There were 6 standard chairs and 2 bustle-back chairs and he wanted them distressed in a shabby chic finish and upholstered. So how would you go about this? Where would you start?

1. Preparation

Even though the chairs had previously been sanded, it was not a smooth sanding and it was necessary to resand the chairs, as well as rub down with steel wool and mineral turpentine to remove any oily residue. Take the time to thoroughly inspect chairs for holes and cracks and fill these in with wood filler.

2. Painting

After putting down a large dropcloth, I powered up my Bosch PFS spray gun. This is so much easier than using a paintbrush, plus you get an even finish.

Additionally, using a spray gun to paint chairs means that you paint the entire chair in one go, without having to worry about getting into tight or detailed areas.


Have the spray gun on the lowest setting for the first coat, and water down the paint by 15 to 20 percent. This allows the paint to be absorbed slightly into the wood, and creates a good bond between the paint and wood.

Only apply a light coat of paint at one time and allow sufficient drying time between coats.

All the chairs were painted at the same time, left to dry, and then painted again with another light coat of paint.

A total of 4 coats of paint were applied, with a light sanding with 240-grit sandpaper between the second and third coats. Why? Sanding helps to keep the surface smooth as you work, so that the end result is a satin finish that only requires a light sanding with 1000-grit sandpaper - the finish is now silky-smooth to touch.

I used MODO low-sheen paint - custom mixed ivory colour - (Builders Warehouse brand) for the finish and love this paint so much it's all I will use in the future!

3. Distressing

This is my favourite part - sanding down for a distressed finish. I use a combination of 120-grit sandpaper and a glaze to create the subtle shabby chic look. The glaze is achieved by using deep brown acrylic craft paint and scumble glaze, brushing on and rubbing off with a lightly damp cloth, and repeating this until I am happy with the effect achieved.

Sand on raised areas and glaze on detailed areas. The idea is to create a worn look, as chairs would appear if painted years ago.

4. Seat pattern

Now comes the tricky part and my least favourite - trying to make a pattern for the seats, especially since the chairs don't already have fitted seats!

I used cardboard sections, which are fitted together to create a shape that fits into where the seat will go. It's a bit of trial and error here and you just have to keep trimming until the pattern fits.

Something else to bear in mind is that the pattern may not fit every single chair seat. There will be modifications that have to be done for each chair. I tested each piece and cut off or sanded where the seats did not fit nicely.


5. Upholstering

I must admit that these chairs were not easy to upholster. I have never done chair seats before that have an indent - or corner piece cut out.

Fabric, batting and cut seat were laid down and the batting trimmed around the indent or corner section. I also cut a 'v' shape in the fabric corner to make it easier to fit.

Tricky, tricky. The corners were not easy to do and required plenty of fiddling around before I got it right.

The fabric has an almost vinyl feel to it and, if not fastened carefully, will eventually rip, so I have to pay particular attention to making sure that no fabric would rip and the corner would look neat.

I think that the chairs came out lovely and definitely have that shabby chic look. I'm also very impressed with the way the seat finally looks. I can't say it was easy, but definitely worth the trouble.


back to top