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Choosing a chair to reupholster can seem rather obvious to the novice. Most aspiring upholstery students already have a chair they want to transform. However, things get a bit more complicated when they discover just how much work goes into a simple upholstery project, let alone the fully upholstered wingback or settee which they’ve already loaded into their car. Each and every interview with upholstery teachers around the globe points out what a huge mistake it is to start out in upholstery  with a project that’s beyond one’s skill level.  A student who listens and heeds this advice will progress steadily and build confidence quickly when they’ve chosen an appropriate chair for their level.  Above, not as old or complex as Charlotte’s roundback chair (below),  Amanda was able to take her Craigslist reproduction of the classic oval back chair, give it a metallic sheen of spray paint and knock through every phase of reupholstery lickity split.  She listened, thought it through and executed this chair makeover close to perfectly.

Here’s where things can get very sticky—Some, if not most, DIY-ers think they can tackle a big old chair right out of the gate. NOTE: Upholstery isn’t like other DIY projects. From years of experience and hundreds of students through my classes, the best success is realized when a student is realistic about their abilities, willing to humbly start out with the simplest wrapped seat project, be open to listening, watching and learning about and gaining the very basic understanding of frames, padding, patterns, foam cutting, wrapping and fabric application.

Johnny has booth space at a local antique mall.  Right off the bat, he admitted that he needed to learn the right way to reupholster the chairs he was finding. He was having marginal success selling his DIY makeovers, and was finally ready for the real deal. He chose to use foam, rather than work with horsehair, which would have been the original padding on this chair.

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Needless to say, it’s far easier for Beginning students to process these integral upholstery skills on a small scale, rather than to try to learn, experience and process these key skills while a fully upholstered chair is looming in front of them. Now here’s where readers may bristle-another problem for many Beginners is their perception and pride in what they eagerly announce as their ‘perfectionism’.  That’s a subject that will take a few more posts to address, so for now, let me just share some of the best, albeit simple, chairs for the Beginner, but only AFTER they’ve mastered covering a flat seat, also known as a slip seat, a piano bench top or any other pad, wrap and staple project.

After the wrapped seat, the next logical piece of furniture to tackle is not Grandma’s settee, it’s an open armed side chair. The skills and upholstery techniques learned throughout this project are what we refer to as skill builders, and will set the student up for success in their quest for upholstery competence. Newcomers take heed—anyone who’s taken a chair class quickly discovers that starting small is wise advice they wish they had followed. Trust us on this.

The chair below provides the perfect basics: teardown, webbing, springs, pattern making, foam cutting, dacron wrapping, fabric choice and placement, post cutting, back rail cuts and the inside and outside backs. This will keep even the most motivated Beginner very busy and engaged in the reupholstery process.

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This one is a bit trickier with the tufting, cane arms and cording stapled down in the groove. It’s not the perfect Beginner project, but its doable. This ugly dog turned out stunning after A.J. painted the wood dark gray and upholstered the chair with a soft gray, yellow and ivory Ikat print. The transformation was amazing.


Charlotte’s chair is simple enough for a Beginner, plus it has some meaty components for the motivated student. Springs, horsehair and edge roll make this chair a Beginner’s smorgasbord of upholstery techniques.


Jenn, an interior designer, thought this vinyl chair makeover would be simple. She hung in there and ended up with a stunning side chair that she planned to sell. It’s a teacher’s joy to have a student that won’t give up and won’t let down until they get it right.


These are the kind of chairs I love to see coming in the door. They provide the perfect overall skill builders that we’re striving for in all of our Beginning Upholstery classes and workshops.

3BeforeChairs Lauren, another interior designer eager to get her business going,  brought in the classic metal office chair. After giving it a good cleaning and painting it, she was surprised to discover that it involved more work than she anticipated. She used a coordinating fabric on the outside back and also planned on selling her first upholstered makeover to one of her clients.

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Now that you know what to look for, make sure the frame is sturdy and solid, determine how much money you’re willing to spend on a class, materials, fabric and any extra trim. When you consider that you’re learning a skill that will last a lifetime and that will save you oodles of dollars down the road, the return on your investment immediately goes up.

We are beyond excited to announce that we’ll be offering the online version of our well known and popular studio course,  3 Day Upholstery Bootcamp. The course will run for six weeks in September and October. Sign up for our email to be the first to know when registration opens for Online Upholstery Bootcamp.

Now go find your chair!