DIYkate pruitttreasure hunting

treasure hunting: chairs

by Kate Pruitt

The second installment of Treasure Hunting tackles something a bit larger than keys, but as someone with an incredible weakness for chairs, I couldn’t resist. Whenever I visit thrift stores or yard sales, I inevitably come across a chair that captures my attention. There are various design details to lose yourself in when looking at a chair, and for one of the most utilitarian objects in our lives, chairs can also be the most beautiful.

If you find a chair you love with some damage, don’t worry — there are many ways to utilize all or part of the chair so that you can still enjoy it in your home. If your chair collection begins to grow, consider displaying them in a more vertical fashion, such as hanging them on a wall or suspending them from the ceiling for a sculptural look. I hope this post provides some inspiration for chair lovers and anyone with a newly acquired piece that needs some love. Yay for chairs! — Kate

CLICK HERE for the full post on chairs after the jump!

Images above, from top left: Chair shelving on Bright, Bold & Beautiful; DIY weathered chair shelf on Post Road Vintage; wall of chair shelving at the Reed Space, designed by Upsetter Architects

Chairs as Wall Shelving

After months of tossing my clothing, bags and mail onto the nearest empty chair, I realized that the furniture designed to hold our bodies is also quite well designed for holding our stuff. Chairs with large seats and straight, rigid backs can be perfect candidates for modular shelving, as seen above in the interior of the Reed Space. But even unusually shaped chairs have the potential to make great shelves; all you need is a way to secure them to a wall and ensure their seats hang level.

How to Get the Look:

  1. Find a chair with a solid seat base and a relatively straight back and legs. To test the suitability of the chair, hold it against a wall. If the chair can sit flush against the wall, or if it needs to jut out from the wall less than 8″, you should be able to create a stable shelf out of the chair using screws or brackets.
  2. If the chair sits flush with the wall, is made of wood and/or has a solid back, you can simply use screws to secure the chair to the wall. Be sure to pre-drill holes to prevent the chair from splitting, and get long enough screws to drive through the chair into the wall about 1.5″. Depending on the weight of the chair, you may also want to use wall anchors for added stability.
  3. To secure the chair to the wall without placing screws directly into the chair, purchase two wall hooks that extend far enough to hang the chair by its back. Use a level to mark the wall where the hooks should be placed, then simply secure the hooks to the wall using screws and then hang the chair. You can also further stabilize the chair shelf by using wire or zip-ties to wrap around the chair and the hooks to prevent the chair from shifting around.

Images above from top: Jeanine’s mismatched dining set on Apartment Therapy; mixed neutral chairs on Marie Claire Maison; a mixed yet unified dining set by Like That One

Mismatched Dining Chair Collection

There are few collections that achieve a chic, thrown-together look better than a set of mismatched chairs. And the greatest part? There are no rules! Chairs of any kind can be combined to look fabulous; it all depends on your own tastes. You can choose one consistent element — like color, material or scale — to bring the pieces together, or you can simply mix them all, as seen above in Jeanine’s lovely dining set. If you find chairs that have a wonderful shape but aren’t in the best condition, you can still create an elegant, eclectic set with a quick-and-easy makeover of matching paint and upholstery, like the gorgeous houndstooth set seen above.

How to Get the Look:

  1. Find chairs that suit your needs — they should be suitable to fit around your dining table and should be roughly the same height and size, but beyond that, there are no limitations!
  2. To unify chairs in some way or to refurbish damaged chairs, try sanding them down and staining or painting the frames all the same color. If all of your chairs have removable cushion seats, you could try unifying them with matching or complementary upholstery fabric.
  3. A good rule of thumb for mismatching is contrast. If you have a modern, minimalist table, try bringing in a few decorative, antique-style chair shapes for contrast, or vice versa — pair an industrial metal chair with a rustic wood farm table. Also try to avoid having one chair stand out above all the rest; you want each one to serve its role in the mix. For example, if you need four chairs, try finding two mismatched pairs or four entirely different chairs, rather than three of the same and one “odd man out” chair, which will grab all the attention from your others and make them sad :(

Images above, from top left: Wall shelving designed for a friend by Jan Avendano on Threadless; Abitudini chair-back hangers by Resign; wall hanging-chair installation by Laphoeff Design and a DIY version on Elizabeth Queen

Deconstructed Chairs

Just to be clear, “treasuring” objects does not necessarily mean refusing to alter them in any way, in my opinion. In fact, when objects can be recycled and manipulated in some way to serve an entirely new purpose and provide value, I consider that reinvention the real treasure. I love the clever ways in which people have found uses for old chairs, and if it brings happiness and utility to their homes, then hooray! These deconstructed-chair creations are great ideas for anyone with a saw and a desire for something out of the ordinary.

How to Get the Look:

  1. Find solid wood chairs with features you like, such as interesting backs, sturdy bases or anything that strikes your fancy. Make sure they are sturdy, and scope out the spots you plan to saw to ensure there are no embedded nails or other scrap metal that may be dangerous when cutting.
  2. For the chair-back hangers, simply use a ruler and a marker to mark a straight line along the chair’s back frame and use a regular handsaw or circular saw to make clean, straight cuts. Sand the edges and paint or stain as desired. Drill a tiny pilot hole into the top center of the chair back, and twist a metal coat hanger into the hole with your hands until it seems secure.
  3. For the chair/crate shelving, simply use a handsaw or chainsaw to carefully cut a wood chair in half. Use wood glue or nails to secure the base and top to wooden crates. Create a configuration of wooden crates on the wall, and secure them into the wall with wood screws.
  4. For the disappearing-chair wall hangers: Tam at Elisabeth Queen created the white chair wall hangers above, which were inspired by the Laphoeff Designs installation. You can see the full tutorial she offers by clicking here.

Images above, from top left: Vintage school chair table from kate/for me, for you; guest’s visit gift-basket chair from Martha Stewart Living, found at contented me; Ikea bedside chair DIY

Chairs as Tables

Chairs make great side tables for the same reason that they make great shelves and great, well, chairs — they have four legs and a nice big seat! Using a lovely little chair for a bedside table, end table or any kind of table can be an easy way to display both the chair and the items it holds, and with a quick removal of those items, the chair can double as extra seating in a pinch. I’ve had a bedside chair “table” for over a year now, and I love it!

How to Get the Look:

  1. This is by far the easiest of all: just plop some stuff on the chair and guess what? You’ve made it into a table. Well, that’s not entirely true; if you don’t avoid the temptation of throwing every loose item onto the chair, then you’ve just got a messy chair covered with clothing and stuff. Keep the items limited (a few books, a vase, etc.), and style them a bit to create a lovely little vignette that complements but does overwhelm the chair.
  2. If you need more storage, purchase a small, attractive box that tucks neatly underneath or sits on top of the chair, to keep things nice and tidy.

Images above, from top: Molly Meg chair wall display on Smudgetikka; chairs suspended on a wall on A Rolling Crone

Chairs as Wall Decor

They may be bigger than paintings and certainly more three dimensional, but who says chairs can’t make great wall decor? If you have a lovely treasured chair but no place to keep it, consider utilizing the vertical space in your home and make it a focal point on a wall.

How to Get the Look:

  1. You can use techniques similar to those outlined in the chair-shelving section above to secure the chair to the wall. If you don’t want to damage the chair, you can use hooks or brackets to hang the chair.
  2. To disguise the hooks and give the appearance that the chair is floating, you can paint the hooks to match your wall color, or you can use wire or fishing line to tie the chair to several long screws and eye hooks that you’ve screwed into the wall.

Images above, from left: Chair sculpture by James Nizam at Gallery Jones; chair installation by Andy Warhol; hanging chairs outdoors from Molly Meg

Sculptural Chairs

If your design tastes trend toward the adventurous, then this style of display might be the perfect way to show off your chair collection. Whether it’s a small collection suspended in a corner or a few chairs stacked in a sculptural composition on top of a dresser, chairs in unconventional places can become a great statement-making element in a room.

How to Get the Look:

  1. This look may require some creative problem solving, but it’s worth it in my opinion. If you want to create a sculptural stack of chairs, try creating the composition first to test out the stability, and it helps to have a friend around to provide an extra pair of hands. Once you settle on a composition you like, use clear zip-ties to secure the chairs to each other where they come in contact. You may also want to create a baseboard for added stability and balance. Use screws to connect the base chair into the wood and build up from there.
  2. To hang chairs, use ceiling anchors or screw in ceiling eye hooks with a weight-bearing limit that is well above the weight of your chair (most hooks will support around 25 to 50 lbs., so this is fairly easy to do). Install the hook, and then use strong fishing line or thin-gauge wire to suspend the chair. It’s a good idea to have a helper around for this project, as well.

Where to Look

Where not to look may be a more appropriate question: there are chairs of all shapes and sizes to be found everywhere. Thrift shops, yard sales, Craigslist, eBay . . . these are all great places to look for chairs. If you have a specific chair design in mind, then Craigslist, eBay and vintage-furniture sellers are the best places to look. If you find chairs in less-than-prime condition, you can follow some of Barb’s tutorials for how to refinish and fix up wood. Happy hunting!

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  • For example, if you need four chairs, try finding two mismatched pairs or four entirely different chairs, rather than three of the same and one “odd man out” chair, which will grab all the attention from your others and make them sad :(

    i love it! i constantly worry about my furniture’s feelings!

  • We have been doing this with a set of dining chairs that we just replaced. The flat plank seats (though not comfortable) have become very nice little bar shelves when placed along the wall of our dining room. A basket balanced below the seat on the stretchers keeps fresh placemats and napkins close at hand. Also, when we have extra dinner guests, the chairs are easily brought back into their original role!

  • This is an awesome post! I always find chairs at the thrift store that I want to buy, but never know what to do with – thanks for all the ideas! I especially love the chairs as wall shelving idea – although you’d definitely need to have a decent amount of space so you wouldn’t be bumping into them.

  • Great article! I think finding new uses for old items is indeed a way to show you love a piece. The most important thing is to use a piece in a way that works for you :)

  • What an interesting and unique post! Love all of the creative ideas! I once incorporated some lovely chairs into an extravagant table arrangement for a fundraising event, and it was a HIT! I agree with you that chairs can be as beautiful as they are utilitarian! Love your blog!

  • I share the weakness for chairs. Thrifted and craigslist especially. If only I had more space to house them “pre-treatment”.

  • loved this post…what a cute idea to make shelving out of chairs!! since i’m on the lookout for chairs for my dining table( i need 8)..they are always on my mind..i love the idea of mixing up a couple of styles..with two panton chairs at the two ends( that much i’m certain about)!! xx meenal

  • A beautiful chair can add a lot to a room. I recently found an old chair on craigslist that is in the process of being revamped. Can’t wait to finish it and post a nice before and after!

  • Wow, this is the most interesting, inspiring, rightclicksave-worthy post I’ve seen here in a while. Please don’t take this the wrong way, because I LOVE D*S, but with the exception of a couple of posts, the past two weeks of content seem extracted from my mother’s collection of 80’s Good Housekeeping (and not in a good, vintage way). I was seriously considering deleting the blog from my daily feed, but this post has given me hope.

  • i love chairs and i love these treasure hunting section!!! keep them coming – PLEASE!

  • One of my favorite treasures is a funky old office chair I found at Mission Thrift in SF for 5 bucks.
    I painted it in funky colors and recovered the seat in a black and cream toile fabric that I found that day as well. It makes no sense at all design or style wise but I love it:)

  • I am a total sucker for a beautiful chair, and Live given new life to quite a few – they are all for sitting though, but I love the idea of hanging them as sculptures…..

  • I’m in love with chairs at the moment and the ideas you present are uber inspiring! Great ideas for redressing and repurposing my grandparents’ mid-century modern dining chairs soon.

  • I have not used even half your ideas, but can I thank you for making my place a prettier place to live in.

    The daily inspiration and DIY guides are just what the fairy god mother sends!!

  • My favorite chairs are childrens chairs. One set found in a flea market which are old wooden slat folding chairs and another set of small Tulip Lawn chairs in bright red . I have used these to hold books, but I have some wonderful pictures of my son in these when he was a toddler. So cute!

  • Thank you so much for all these wonderful ideas. I know it took a lot of work to compile all this info and your efforts are much appreciated!

  • I have a major love for chairs too! I love those mismatched dining chairs done in the same fabric. That is so clever. I too use an old chair, a tall ladderback with old paint for my nightstand. I am always on the hunt for chairs. Have even been lucky enough to find some sadly discarded on the side of the road. Yay for chairs!

  • I love keys, chairs, bowls, old letters and black and white photographs.
    I think the thrill of the hunt is the most exciting part…then what to do with your newfound treasure.
    This new addition of Treasure Hunting to Design Sponge is wonderful! Kudos.

    • TJ

      Thank you for providing that link- the website where Kate found this credited a photographer but did not provide a link so we incorrectly assumed she was the original source. I’ve updated the link and appreciate you catching that.


  • Oh!… best post ever, I’m a great chair lover! off to the seconds shop to buy some more!

  • When I think of a gorgeous eclectic collection of mismatched chairs, I immediately think of Monica’s dining room table on Friends.

    You should do a “Living in Friends” !

  • This post is very interesting!! The idea of mismatched chairs is fantastic.

  • Thanks a bunch for sharing this with all of us you really realize what you’re speaking about!
    Bookmarked. Please also consult with my web site =). We can have a link trade contract among

  • we found a small childs chair,,, it screws into 4 legs,,has a name on the bottom graebel,,,,does anyone know anthing about it,,,tys teresa moore