before and after

before & after: vintage lounge chair makeover

by Kate Pruitt

These types of Eames knock-off chairs have seen their fair share of new upholstery. I’ve seen cowhide, wools and patterns of all kinds, but never denim. Before this project, if you said the words denim and upholstery in the same sentence, I would cringe and run away. But this denim chevron print created by Jody is totally winning me over! It fits the owner’s fun, eclectic, vintage style, and it’s so well crafted — clearly a labor of love that has paid off handsomely. I think it’s great, and I’ll never cast off the idea of denim again. Although I will say (and I’m sure Jody would agree), it’s all in the execution. Great job, Jody! — Kate

Have a Before & After you’d like to share? Shoot me an email with your images right here! (Low res, under 500k per image, please.)

Read more about Jody’s retro lounge chair makeover after the jump!

Time: 40 hours

Cost: $50

Basic Steps: First, I took the chair apart and removed the old vinyl upholstery. I used the vinyl to make patterns for the new fabric. I cut those patterns out of a dark blue backing fabric and drew my vertical placement lines for the chevron pattern.

I bought 6 pairs of jeans from Goodwill in different shades of blue and then cut those up until I had flat pieces of denim with no seams. I cut the denim into 7-inch long strips with mitered ends cut at 45-degree angles. I cut hundreds of those strips! Then I laid the strips on the backing fabric in the chevron pattern and used heat-set fabric glue to hold them in place. I checked my placement with a right angle frequently to make sure I was keeping things square. I then topstitched all the strips to the backing, using a zigzag stitch.

I stapled the fabric and new piping I’d made to the cushions and arm rests, sanded and refinished the wood of the chair with Restor-A-Finish and Feed-N-Wax, and cleaned and oiled the reclining base. Then I put everything back together! Using the adhesive to hold the strips in place before they were topstitched was my best idea. You certainly wouldn’t be able to use fabric glue alone on a project that gets so much wear, but it was a huge help in keeping everything in place while it was being sewn, and much easier than pins. Just be sure to use a glue that is meant to be sewn through; otherwise, you’ll gum up your machine.  

I made sure to use only 100% cotton jeans (hard to find these days!). Any spandex would potentially make the strips stretch as you cut them, and they wouldn’t fit neatly together into the pattern.
And lastly, for a chair with complicated hardware like this one, I highly recommend drawing diagrams and making notes while you take it apart. I also put all the screws and bolts in labeled, sealed envelopes, so I would know what went where. Since it took a month to finish, by the time I went to put it back together, I really needed those notes to figure it out! — Jody

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  • Your zig-zag top stitching idea is genius! Sewing denim strips together in the traditional way would have made a fabric so bulky and lumpy. I imagine numerous other applications for your denim technique. Congrats on a great project.

  • Amazing job Jody!! You clearly have the creative bug on your side. This is mouthwatering to me… I’m in love!

  • This turned out so much better than I had envisioned! Thank you for sharing your process with us as well.

    I am amazed at the transformation! Very, very well done!

  • Wow. I did NOT see that coming!! I also thought that denim would look terrible, but the chevron pattern and the variety of tones breathes new life into the whole thing. I admire your patience to put this all back together in such a charming fashion! It’s inspiring.

  • Wow! So impressed. When I saw the “before” picture I couldn’t imagine what you could possibly do with that piece. Awesome! Love the idea of old goodwill jeans for the denim print — totally going to do that with a quilt project.

  • thanks for the kind words, all! As Kate said, it was definitely a labor of love. And I’m not one for denim upholstery either! But once I got this idea in my head, I had to do it. Glad people think it turned out well! :)

  • i have a Plycraft i’ve been hoping will walk itself into an upholstery shop and come out redone. this does make me slightly more motivated to do it myself!

  • That’s gorgeous! VERY different from the original minimilalistic Eames look, but I reckon it needs it! Or else at least a funky cushion.

  • Wow! This isone of the most beautiful chairs I have ever seen! I seems well worth the effort! Well done!

  • What a fantastic idea! It looks so crisp and inviting. Whenever I take something like this apart, I take notes AND lots of close-up photographs just to be sure.

  • I love this; thanks for the inspiration! ! I once saw a Gee’s Bend quilt that opened my eyes to the possibility of denim. I’ve been saving all my old jeans ever since. Maybe in 10 years I’ll have enough variety of color to do something nice with them!

  • I have been collecting denim for a while to make a slipcover. Thanks for your tip about a backing fabric and the adhesive. The chair looks fantastic!

  • Very nice job, interesting use of denim…….but Charles Eames is turning over in his grave. I’m a purest……

  • OMG brilliant! And I don’t even like denim….
    I have one of these chairs and really want to change the upholstery but thought it was too daunting of a task to do on my own. Did you put in new cushioning as well? Was it foam? I am so curious!

  • oh my gosh, thank you everyone for the sweet comments!

    Dana, you should totally take on your chair! It’s really not hard, if I didn’t make my own fabric it would have only taken a few hours. Chances are the foam underneath will be in good shape, mine was perfect and I found the chair on the sidewalk! You just have to unscrew the cushions, which are attached to thin plywood shells that fit inside the outer shell that you actually see. Then it’s just a matter of prying up the old upholstery and stapling on the new. If your chair is one that has buttons or tufting, it might be more complicated, but these chairs are built like tanks, you really can’t mess them up. Go for it!

  • How were you able to take the chair apart to remove the upholstered part from the wood frame? I have a Henry Miller for Eames upholstered chair I’d love to reupholster, but can’t figure out how to remove the padded part from the plastic frame.

  • This a fantastic display of creativity and craftsmanship, however this is like doing a touch-up to the Mona Lisa with neon paint.

  • I saw a chair like this at anthropologie. I would like to do that to my dining room chairs, just for fun. It looks lovely! I’m glad I found a tutorial on it.

  • I so totally understand where the purists are coming from on this one BUT the mix of pattern and fabric to my mind is inspirational. All the elements are so iconic of the era and they go together in such a way as they neither detract or overshadow the chair design and construction. I love it.

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