before & after: creative chair reupholstery

I might be angering some die-hard upholstery experts out there when I say this, but I’m a firm believer in thinking outside the box when it comes to choosing fabrics. Clothing, rugs, industrial materials and even recycled non-textiles can be used to make an amazingly awesome upholstered chair. I love this chair from Katie Steuernagle for this reason. Her creative use of a Mexican embroidered dress to gussy up this old Louis chair is right up my alley. It’s clever, and while it might not be the most durable fabric ever — really, who cares? It looks great and only cost $25. Great work, Katie! — 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.)

Time: The whole project took exactly one year of sitting in the garage, two days of stripping toxic, orange, dusty old upholstery, two days of sanding and staining, two days of draping the dress around the chair too scared to cut it, and one afternoon of stapling the dress to the new wood base and foam I cut. I’d say a week of actual work.

Cost: The chair cost $5 at a garage sale. The dress was $25 on eBay. They seem to range from around $20 to around $70. Probably another $10 on MDF, canvas and foam.

Basic Steps: I stripped the old upholstery, and nothing was salvageable except for the wood frame and the thin plywood seat back, so I cut a new seat base out of MDF with a keyhole saw. Then I cut a piece of high-density foam in the same shape. The dress fabric is a bit thin, so I upholstered the whole chair in white canvas, then covered the canvas with the dress.

I’d say try to find a dress in an XL, so you have plenty of fabric to work with. Spend some time draping it around the chair, so you can decide where you want the embroidery to line up. Then cut. It’s scary to take the scissors to the dress, but the shape is boxy, so I wasn’t too sentimental about taking it apart. Some dresses are made with heavier cotton and some are thinner like this one was, so if you end up with a thin one, a layer of canvas underneath keeps it all tight and looking nice and opaque. — Katie

Red Prairie Press

This is absolutely the most beautiful Before & After I’ve seen on D*S. The Mexican embroidery looks almost Scandinavian as furniture. Truly inspiring.

Lovely Mrs E

I used to have a closet full of those dresses from San Antonio in the 80s. I LOVE your creative use of it!


Really do love this, and am inspired. Have a similar chair sitting in our attic for twenty years!


Wow, you did such a beautiful job with the placement of the pattern. I’m amazed at how well the fabric and the chair elevate each other and how it fits in your beautiful space. Lovely job!


This looks absolutely fantastic. I usually cringe at the before and afters featured on this site but you’ve done a great job of making it a gorgeous, unique, modern piece while still respecting the history of the chair.


That does look lovely. I’d probably be too scared to sit on it though just to preserve the embroidery!


LOL! That’s the kind of schedule I work by! That’s why my pieces are priceless. hee hee.

The chair is adorable. Feminine and quirky. : )


That fabric is perfect for the feminine silhouette of the chair…great combo and end result! Kudos for creativity on this one.


Great job and lovely fabric choice! I sometimes can’t resist using delicate fabrics for projects, either, and have found fusible interfacing to be an excellent stabiliser for them. There are many types but the woven or cotton-backed works best. I look forward to seeing more of your work.


that chair is a dream come true! love the Scandinavian type print of the new fabric and it has such a professional finish, adore it!


Super cute, but wouldn’t the thinness of the fabric wear through quickly? Even if you support it with interfacing like Anne suggested? Although, if you don’t use the chair often, it probably wouldn’t be a problem..


I love the fact that the back of the chair looks like a sugar skull( you could send a shot to skull a day!)


I LOVE THIS CHAIR! I WANT IT!!!!!! so creative. i would never have thought of doing that. fabulous!!!

Gail Walker

Fantastic! I love the bright graphic effect of the color embroidery on the white, offset by the dark wood! Great contrast! Also I no longer feel badly about taking a year to redo a handmeover chair from my mom-in-law!


what a great way to switch up a period chair! fits perfectly in your office. which i love. I particularly love your hanging brass light fixture. Is that another one of your makeovers or did you buy it new? if so… could you divulge your secret shopping spot! ….

Jacqui Foss

I have a chair that looks almost identical to this. It’s been stripped of all upholstery. I picked it up at a garage sale for $5, in this condition. I actually wish I could have stripped the old stuff off. I’m wondering if yours had strapping across the seating. Mine does and I’m trying to figure out how to “rebuild” it. It looks like the seating material actually went onto the front and sides of the wood. Do you have any pics of stages in between start and finish? Do you have any advice for how to rebuild the seat and backing? This will be my first chair and am so excited to start but don’t want to ruin it. Wanting to use it as a vanity chair. ; ) Thanks for any advice you can provide. (I’d be happy to send you pics of what mine looks like if it will help.


HOLY GUACAMOLE!!! Muy bonito! Great job on the chair and the vision to create such a great keeper.