A fresh new look for stale, dated furniture could be just a few cans of paint and yards of fabric away. Not only can you save money by reupholstering and refinishing an old piece of furniture, you'll also be reusing, reducing and recycling. All the good “re's.”
Edmond interior design star Kellie Clements loves creating fun, trendy pieces from old, undesirable furniture. She has created a line of chairs she reimagined from what otherwise might be considered trash by people with less vision.
Clements is known for competing in Season Six of HGTV's “Design Star” and this summer's “Design Star All Stars.” She recently launched a line of window coverings, Simply Chic by Kellie Clements, available online at blindsgalore.com
Clements said painting and reupholstering old furniture are often easier than you expect.
“It's fabric and staples, we're not talking fire and matches here. You're not going to burn your house down. You're not going to ruin anything,” she said.
Clements, who harbors no fear of color, loves to break the rules of design at every turn. She says her color inspirations come from candy colors. Her favorite design colors right now are turquoise, though it must be used sparingly in a room, and the combination of black and white, which she says is so versatile, it can be a great base for seasonal decorating.
She chooses unabashedly bold colors such as lemon yellow, lime green, purple and hot pink to paint the frames of her chair makeovers. Some she paints black.
Then, she picks fabrics in bright designs such as colorful stripes, neon animal prints and retro graphic designs.
“There are lots of people that have old pieces of furniture that they love. Maybe their grandmother gave it to them and they love the sentimental aspect of the piece but they don't like the piece itself,” Clements said. “If painting it turquoise will mean you'll love it and keep it for 15 years, I think you should paint it.”
And though Clements snubs the rules of design, she does admit that by sticking to a few guidelines, you're more likely to have a successful project than if you just wing it.
“The level of difficulty really depends on the piece,” Clements said.
A new book, “The Upholsterer's Handbook,” by Nicole Fulton with Stuart Weston provides detailed instructions for more 18 upholstering projects, ranging from the most simple drop-in chair cushion to an intricate wingback chair, a paneled headboard and balloon-back dining chairs. Fulton grew up in the English countryside, where she learned to appreciate the details of the nature surrounding her home. After an interior design education and extensive international travel, she started a furniture business “finding pieces of furniture, typically Victorian, Edwardian and from the 1930s and 40s, and seeing how I could bring them alive again and bring out the character in the them using different fabrics.”
“You can transform a piece of furniture by recovering it in a new fabric and, by adding new stuffing, give it back some shape,” Fulton said. “This in turn can bring new interest to a room, adding color, texture and 'a new friend.'”
Expert upholsters agree that the best first project to try is a simple chair with a drop-in cushion. For a project like this, you'll need a limited number of tools. Fulton and her colleague Karen Jenkins recommend having a tack claw, staple remover and wooden mallet on hand when you first venture into reupholstering. Then you can add to your collection of upholstery tools as you tackle more demanding projects.
“The average DIYer can embark on upholstery, but patience, precision and a very simple project to start with are key to a positive end result,” Fulton said.
Here are some tips and tricks of the trade from Fulton, Jenkins and Clements for successful refinishing and reupholstery. These recommendations are based on a simple wood framed chair with a drop-in cushion.
Find a good specimen. Whether you find it at a garage sale, thrift store or on the side of the road waiting to be picked up by the garbage truck, pick a chair with good, solid structure. “Glue joints that are loose and make sure all repairs to frames are thoroughly dry before starting,” Jenkins said. “Fill any holes left by previous tacks, nails, etc. This will ensure you have a good base to tack into.”
Removing the chair's cushion is often as simple as removing a set of screws. Remove the old fabric cushion cover to use as a template for the new one.
Choose a proper fabric. “Viscose and polyesters will be most durable,” Clements said. “Natural fibers usually are reserved for table linens, window treatments and clothing. You don't want to use them on furniture.”
If you are starting out on your first project, be sure to choose a plain fabric — one with no pattern, Fulton said. “This will make the project less complex and easier to complete as you will not have the added task of matching up and aligning the patterns on the piece you are upholstering.”
Choose your paint and prep your surface. Before you do any painting, rough up the surface by sanding off any gloss from the previous paint or finish, then prime the surface. Many paint retailers will tint brush-on primers so they provide better coverage underneath bright paint colors.
Clements said latex paints are the most widely used for painting furniture. You can either spray the paint on or brush it on. The method you choose should be based on the structure of the furniture you're painting. Spray painting is often best for furniture with ornate frames and smooth surfaces on which brush strokes would show. “The trick to that is in the application,” Clements said. “You've got to apply multiple light coats.” To achieve a shiny, glossy spray paint job, Clements said to very lightly sand in between coats spray paint. Of course, be sure the paint is completely dry. Wipe off any residue from sanding, apply another coat of paint, lightly sand again, and repeat. After your final color coat has dried, spray a quality clear coat to seal the paint.
Make sure your tetanus vaccinations are up to date, Jenkins said. You might cut yourself on rusty tacks, nails or staples.