How to Reupholster an Office Chair

How to makeover a drab, outdated office chair by upholstering with a stylish, modern print fabric and tufting.
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Office chairs are one of the most commonly discarded pieces of furniture, and they also happen to be one of the least expensive furniture items found at thrift stores. Often priced under $10, this makes them the perfect candidate for a bold, stylish makeover.

Remove the seat-back of the chair by unscrewing the large adjustment screw. If your chair doesn't have this back adjustment screw, look for where the back frame support attaches to the seat-back and unscrew the attachment screws.

The frame support for the seat-back is held into place by a spring-loaded cylinder on the backside. Use a Phillips-head screw driver to push one side in and release the frame support from the square metal bracket.

Remove the screws on the backside of the seat-back and underside of the seat-bottom. Pry open the seat-back along the seam with a screw driver. The seat-back is actually two pieces, and there are metal fasteners that keep it together, so be gentle when prying it open so as to not damage the wood or fasteners.

Remove the old upholstery by first pulling up some staples with a flat-head screwdriver, and then use sharp scissors to cut the fabric off. Once the bulk of the fabric is removed, use pliers to pull off any remaining fabric. Salvage the foam cushion, only removing the old batting layer that was directly under the fabric.

Place the seat-bottom and both sides of the seat-back on top of the new polyester batting. Trace and cut out the shapes, allowing 1/2 inch excess on all sides. Repeat this process for the fabric, but allow a 2-inch excess on all sides.

Place the fabric pattern-side down on the ground, then the polyester batting, then the salvaged foam, and then the wooden seat-bottom. Using 9/16-inch staples, staple the batting and fabric to the mid-points on each side of the seat-bottom, making sure to pull it taut. Secure each mid-point with three or four staples on each side. Repeat the process for the seat-back, using 1/4-inch staples instead since the back wood frame is only 1/4 inch thick.

Optional: If the chair had tufting buttons already, the wooden seat-bottom and seat-back will already have holes positioned for securing the buttons. If your chair does not have tufting buttons, but you would like to add them, simply measure the placement where you'd like the buttons and drill holes in these spots.

Optional: To make a button cover that matches your chair upholstery, cut out a small 3 inch square of scrap fabric and place it print-side down over the rubber button mold. Then place the metal button shell on top, pushing down into the bottom mold. Use scissors to trim off excess fabric, allowing 1/4 inch excess to tuck inside the button shell. Place the metal button back on top of the tucked-in fabric, and use the plastic pusher and a hammer to securely attach the back to the shell. Pop out the button from the button mold by bending the mold. Repeat this process for as many tufting buttons as you need.

Optional: To tuft the seat-bottom and seat-back, thread the coarse upholstery thread through the upholstery needle. Push the needle through one of the pre-drilled tufting holes on the underside. Push down the fabric on the opposite side, until you see the needle push through. Once the needle is pulled through to the fabric side, thread the button on and push the needle back down through the same hole. Pull both sides of the thread tight, checking on the other side to make sure the tufting is deep enough, and secure the excess thread with several 9/16-inch staples.

Starting at the mid-points where the fabric was previously stapled, continue stapling the fabric along the edges, pulling it taut as you go, until you get to the corners. Once you get to a corner, pull the fabric taut, creating creases and folds where the staples will go, but keeping the edge smooth. Attach firmly with staples and trim any excess fabric with scissors.

To reattach the front and back of the upholstered seat-back, position them together and line up the fasteners with the holes on the other side. Once the fasteners are positioned, use a hammer to push the fasteners into the holes.

On the back of the seat-back, use a screw driver or scissors to poke holes in the fabric where the metal bracket attaches, making sure to line up with the pre-drilled holes in the wood. Make sure the holes are big enough to not get caught on the screw. If the hole in the fabric is too small, the screws can catch a thread and pull it as the screw is turning. Screw the back in place on the seat-back using the screws it came with.

Reattach the metal frame support the same way you removed it, and screw the metal base to the seat-bottom. Slide the metal frame support onto the base and secure with the large adjustment screw that you initially removed.

Because this project is so simple and inexpensive to do, splurge on a designer fabric to get a custom, high-end look for much less than anything found in stores. Additionally, the next time the fabric wears out, you can simply reupholster instead of throwing it away!

Things You Will Need

  • Old Chair 1 yard upholstery fabric Scissors Screwdriver Tape Measure Staple Gun

About the Author

Studying and excelling in art from a very young age, Rachel Pereira now employs her artistic passion through hand-painted furniture makeovers, budget-friendly interior design, and DIY home decor and crafts. Pereira has been selling her furniture creations locally and across the nation for four years and is the author of the blog, Shades of Blue Interiors.