before & after: vintage lounge chair makeover

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

  1. sprite says:

    That is amazing!

  2. Lovely. I’ve made a slip cover out of denim – cringe – but kept pockets and did some crazy piecing and it really worked. I’m working on a denim quilt next. Good job!

  3. JenO says:

    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.

  4. Calli says:

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

  5. Katie says:

    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!

  6. Sydney says:

    Wow… I was really expecting to cringe! This is so nice!

  7. jbo says:

    completely impressive – the vision, the execution, the gumption to take it on – wow!!

  8. luckyme says:

    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.

  9. Erin says:

    I barely love wearing denim but I would definitely give that chair a second look. Very cool.

  10. kelley says:

    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.

  11. Maya says:

    Stunning. This is such a fresh take on an eames replica reupholstery. Well done!

  12. I just LOVE the choice of an unexpected textile [ which adds nice texture and colour ] and the chevron also adds extra interest!

  13. Jody says:

    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! :)

  14. Ana says:

    Amazing job! It looks fantastic.

  15. banclothing says:

    Demin is definitely a good fabric that wears well. Putting together the chevron pattern must have taken forever!!!! Looks great though.

  16. oh my gosh this looks fantastic! I’ve never seen a more sophisticated use of repurposing jeans! Really great job, I absolutely adore the finished product!

  17. Rachel Jones says:

    O wow! this is love–It has so much hard work sewn into it, and I love that.

  18. javi says:

    this is pur-teeh!

  19. Val says:

    Stonewashed denim has NEVER looked this chic! Kudos on the vision and the execution.

  20. Kate says:

    I want! I Need! I covet this chair!!! :)

  21. marisa says:

    super rad, seriously

  22. jlo says:

    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!

  23. Steph says:

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

  24. Drool-worthy! So unique.

  25. Zoi says:

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

  26. Cussot says:

    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.

  27. Alethea says:

    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!

  28. Anne McAuliffe says:

    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!

  29. Amy Ramaker says:

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

  30. Julie says:

    Absolutely fabulous!

  31. Dana says:

    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!

  32. Karin says:

    I am totally love with this! Absolutely fantastic and would totally rock in my sons room.

  33. Jody says:

    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!

  34. Cindi says:

    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.

  35. Levi says:

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

  36. rbjaneite says:

    Gorgeous work! I love the fabric design, and the wood frame sets it off beautifully.

  37. fabi says:


  38. Jennifer says:

    That is a knockout…if I saw that in a boutique I’d snatch it right up!

  39. C-Bird Likes says:

    Jaw: wide open. Chevron, demin and Eames, oh my!

  40. laura says:

    Holy moly this is AMAZING!!! fabulous work… she is so talented!!

  41. Rod says:

    No good…. These chairs should always be leather!!

  42. Susan says:

    One of the best before and afters ever!

  43. Deb says:

    Incredible! I feel so inspired. And to think that I thought my upholstering was good! ;-)

  44. Monica says:

    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.

  45. Julie Speed says:

    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.


Design*Sponge reserves the right to restrict comments that do not contribute constructively to the conversation at hand, contain profanity, personal attacks, hate speech or seek to promote a personal or unrelated business. Our goal is to create a safe space where everyone (commenters, subjects of posts and moderators) feels comfortable to speak. Please treat others the way you would like to be treated and be willing to take responsibility for the impact your words may have on others. Disagreement, differences of opinion and heated discussion are welcome, but comments that do not seek to have a mature and constructive dialogue will not be published. We moderate all comments with great care and do not delete any lightly. Please note that our team (writers, moderators and guests) deserve the same right to speak and respond as you do, and your comments may be responded to or disagreed with. These guidelines help us maintain a safe space and work toward our goal of connecting with and learning from each other.