How to Restore 50s Dinette Sets

Tracie Harris

Dinette sets consisting of a laminate and chrome table with vinyl-covered chairs first became popular in the late 1940s. Their popularity continued into the 1960s. Recently their vintage charms have been rediscovered and they are once more a popular choice in home design. However, many retro dinette sets have been damaged over the last decades. Laminate tabletops are often especially worse for the wear. Reproductions of the original laminate are available, making it possible to replace the laminate while retaining the original look of the piece. It is also possible to find reproduction vinyl fabric for the chairs in the set.

Replace Laminate Tabletop

Retro diner-style dinette sets are popular vintage items.
  1. Place a putty knife under the edge of the laminate. Pry the laminate up from the base, which is usually wood. Work lacquer thinner into the space to loosen the old adhesive. Push the putty knife deeper under the laminate. Move the knife under the laminate top until it completely separates from the table.

  2. Remove any leftover adhesive with a handheld scraper.

  3. Use seam filler to fill any cracks or gouges. Sand with light gauge sandpaper until tabletop is smooth. Dust off tabletop.

  4. Cut new laminate to size with a utility knife. Apply contact cement to back of new laminate with a paint roller.

  5. Lay dowel rods across table top. Set the laminate piece down and align perfectly with table top. Remove dowels one at a time.

  6. Press the laminate down. Remove any air bubbles by firmly rolling a clean paint roller over the table top.

Restore Chrome Legs

  1. Disassemble chairs. Usually, a few screws underneath the seat bottom and on the seat back hold the chrome to the upholstered pieces.

  2. Scrub away the rust on the chair pieces and table legs using superfine steel wool. Use an old toothbrush and an abrasive household cleaner to get into smaller areas.

  3. Clean the chrome pieces of dust.

  4. Dip a cotton cloth into chrome polish. Rub small amounts into chrome using a circular motion to restore its original shine.

Reupholster Vinyl Dinette Sets

  1. Stretch out vinyl fabric over work surface face down. Place the seat face down on the fabric. Cut around the seat, leaving three inches on each side. It is usually advisable to recover the existing material instead of removing it.

  2. Bring the fabric over the front of the seat bottom. Staple the center. Pull the fabric taut and repeat on all four sides. Fold in the corners and staple around the perimeter of the seat bottom until vinyl is secured.

  3. Place the seat back on the vinyl fabric. Remove the trim that encircles the perimeter of the seat back. Cut out both the back and front pieces, adding two inches on all sides as seam allowance. Staple the rear piece of the chair back into place. The staples go on the perimeter where the old trim was removed. Staple the edges of the front of the chair back over the rear pieces.

  4. Glue trim into place with hot glue gun. This will cover the seams where the front and back meet on the seat back.

  5. Reassemble the chair using new chrome screws.