The process for reupholstering a side chair with arms first involves removing the seat pad and backing pad, if possible. After you remove the pads from the chair you can remove the old fabric, wrap the refreshed pads with new fabric, and affix the fabric with tacks or adhesive. Then you reinstall the refreshed pads to the chair. While the pads are off you can also refinish the chair's wooden arms and frame with paint or stain. If the pads aren't removable, carefully stretch fabric over the pads after removing the existing upholstery. Work around the wood arms where they meet the seating surface by cutting a small slit in the fabric if necessary. Secure the fabric below the seat and behind the seat back with tacks or glue.
Reupholstering a chair makes use of a limited number of materials. The fabric you use to reupholster a side chair with wooden arms can be cotton, nylon, vinyl, leather or a soft synthetic fabric such as microfiber. The fabric must be strong enough to resist tearing when pulled tightly over the padding. Cut fabric several inches larger than the dimensions of the padding surface and sides so that you have enough to grip and attach to the back of the padding. Fabric glue and spray adhesive are useful for affixing new upholstery. You may replace worn chair padding with cellulose fiber, cotton batting or foam for a softer seat that appears more full and even than a heavily used padded seat.
Some side chairs with wood arms feature upholstered arms with fabric pads. You may reupholster these arm pads using the same process as the rest of the chair. Arm pads typically match the upholstery on the seat and back, but you may choose a different material for a custom look. If you can't remove the arm pads, securing the fabric to the underside of the arms should be simple since tacks and glue work well on wooden surfaces.
Reupholstering a side chair gives you the opportunity to project a specific style of decor. Consider the chair's wooden frame, which you won't be changing, and select a fabric print or color that is a good match. For example, an ornate side chair with curved wood arms pairs well with floral print upholstery, and a sleek, modern side chair with painted wood arms look best with bright, primary colored upholstery.