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Reupholster, refinish old furniture to refresh home decor

Design experts weigh in on how you can refresh your home's décor by giving your existing furniture a new look.
by Heather Warlick Published: October 15, 2012

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

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.

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by Heather Warlick
Life & Style Editor
Since graduating from University of Central Oklahoma with a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism, Staff Writer Heather Warlick has written stories for The Oklahoman's Life section. Her beats have included science, health, home and garden, family,...
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