How to Paint and Upholster Metal Chairs
Have you ever been in a creative rut, where you feel like you really want to make something but no ideas come to you? I have been in one recently and it’s such an uncomfortable place to be. Staying home has me itching to do projects and keep myself busy because that is what heals my soul, yet my brain is mentally exhausted and incapable of thinking of what to even create. I’ve found that sometimes the best way to get myself over it is to get into a project I’ve been putting off, or to use supplies I already have to make something beautiful. What doesn’t help me is falling down the Pinterest rabbit hole (although I do love to pin creative ideas– you can find my pins here!), or shopping for fun art supplies for which I don’t have a plan. Raise your hand if you’re guilty of that; mine is sheepishly up in the air. This past weekend, I put both of those ideas that get me through together… I worked on a project that’s been sitting in my basement for almost a year and used only things I had on hand, and I can’t tell you how good it felt, and how awake my soul felt afterwards. Today I am sharing the process and result, and teaching you how to paint and upholster metal chairs. This post contains affiliate links. I earn a small commission from qualifying sales and truly appreciate your support.
Emmy and I found this pair of vintage metal children’s chairs last year at a yard sale for $3 total. They were brown which I don’t mind but the finish was not in great shape, and the seats were solid, but they had this plastic trim around them which was old and brittle seemed like it would be uncomfortable for a child. All in all, they were pretty ugly, but I loved the shape and couldn’t pass up for the price.
You can see on the seats that the trim was separated in the back, and had some places where it was pulling away and I knew that would pinch little fingers eventually, so that needed to go. I decided to give them a paint and upholstery job to update them. Before I did, I brought them out to see if they would fit Wilder yet. They’re still a little too big and you can see that his feet are not hitting the ground. He needs help getting into and out of them for now, but he loves that these chairs are just for him. His expression here doesn’t show it because he didn’t like that I left him with his feet dangling so I could take a photo. Also, you should know I edited how the booger he had… you’re welcome.
Before beginning this project I assessed my supply stash to see what I had. Almost exactly two years ago, I reupholstered a set of bentwood chairs for my old dining room. (Oh, how I loved those chairs! BTW, in that post, I teach how how to upholster round seats which can be pretty tricky!) When I purchased the indigo fabric for those seats, Jo-ann’s had been having a big sale on decorating fabric and I bought two other styles as well, one w pretty gray sort of mud cloth inspired design that I thought would be perfect for these metal chairs. Of course, you can’t just slap fabric over wood seats; you need some cushioning. I had enough batting to work perfectly. These are kids’ chairs so they don’t quite need the amount of cushioning and foam that our full grown rear ends need. I also had black and gold spray paint in my paint supply here (We’ve only been here a year, so my supply is somewhat limited!). After selecting the fabric, I opted for gold to complement the gray. That being said, here are all of the supplies I used for this project.
- upholstery fabric (I can’t find my exact fabric, but I love these options: here, here, here, here.)
- gold spray paint (this is HANDS DOWN my go-to gold and adheres SO well!)
- sanding block (I used 120 grit.)
- lint free rag
- drop cloth
- staple gun & staples
If you follow me on instagram, you may have seen that I documented this whole process in my stories this past weekend. I put all of those stories together to create a video for you so that you can see exactly how to paint the metal as well as the very details process of upholstering the seats. You can watch that video below, or follow the step by step tutorial below that if you prefer.
Painting Metal Furniture
Before you begin with chairs, always remove the seats, even if you don’t plan to recover them. You can see when you flip them over that they attach with screws and are very easy to remove and reattach.
Once the seats are removed, give the chair frames a light sanding, just like you would if they were made of wood. This just creates a rough enough surface for the paint to adhere. I find with metal furniture that consists of spindly parts that sanding blocks are the best approach as their foam allows you to bend and curve with the piece. Below they are sanded and not yet wiped so you can see a layer of dust.
After sanding them, wipe them clean with a dry lint free cloth to remove any dust. They should still appear somewhat rough from sanding but not shiny like they were to begin with.
Place your piece on a drop cloth. (I only had some plastic sheeting left over from another project, so I used that.)
Lay your chairs on the ground face down and give them a light even coat of paint, careful to move back and forth and stay about 10 inches away from what you’re painting (to avoid drips). Flip the chairs to a standing upright position and continue the first coat.
Repeat this process once more, and a third time if needed. For my third coat, I simply had to touch up a few spots that needed a bit more paint. By the way, you can see just why I love this paint below. It’s so smooth on top of its amazing adhesion.
While they are drying you can work on your chair seats.
I didn’t take many photos on how to recover the chairs, but there is a very detailed step by step of that in the video above starting at the 1:34 point. However, if you prefer photos, I shared my method for covering straight edge seats with corners here. The only difference is that in this case I used quilt batting instead of upholstery foam. FYI, the corners tend to be the trickiest, but I have found that my method words really well to create clean and tight corners. (The below photo was from my instagram story which is why it has text. )
After the seats have been upholstered, they are ready to be reattached to the dry frames, using the same screws and holes that they were originally attached with.
To be honest, I don’t yet know exactly where these chairs will go, but it was a lot of fun to get my creative juices flowing again, and to use things I already had. I have found that some of the best projects come from resourcefulness.
This teepee sits in the corner of our living room, and I am considering possibly moving it when Wilder is a little bigger and is ready to sit at a table with his chairs. We don’t yet have a kids table, so as soon as it’s safe to thrift, I will be on the lookout!
There is not much space in our living room, but I’ve also considered a fold out shelf at table height for these chairs, placing them to the right of the teepee.
Who knows where exactly they will end up. What I do know is that I feel great having accomplished something, and Wilder was thrilled with the outcome. Happy clients are the best clients!
These chairs are also so much more comfortable and safer for him (minus that one slightly crooked leg I need to see if Chris’ brute strength can fix a bit!).
What do you do when you are in a creative rut? I would love to hear your method for digging out.
If you liked this project and learned something from it, I’d love it if you shared it!