How to reupholster Louis armchairs: part 1

Staples Staples Staples!! 80% of reupholstering my large Louis style armchairs involved staples. Removing staples and installing staples.
I’ve reupholstered chairs before and every time most of my time is spent dealing with staples. It’s tediously annoying work but it has to be done.
If you don’t already know, most chairs with upholstery have been put together with staples. That doesn’t sound very sophisticated, but its a simple and effective method. So if you’re planning on tackling your own re-upholstery project, be prepared. There will be a lot of staples.
My stapling rant aside, let’s look at what I’ve done so far.
First off, this is part 1 of a (hopefully only) 2 part series. I’ve:
  • Removed the old upholstery.
  • Refinished the wood frame.
  • Installed the new fabric on the seat, back and arm rests.

Next up:

  • Sew the new cushion covers.
  • Sew and install the double piping.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Step 1: Choose your fabric

Usually choosing fabric for an upholstery project takes me ages. Not because I don’t like it, I love it in fact. It’s just that here in Melbourne, Australia our reasonably priced choices are very limited. You either have Spotlight or Lincraft (a chain of fabric, craft & home interior supply stores) at the low end with very few options.

Or professional upholsters and fabric dealers that charge min $80-$100 per metre. Nothing in between.

While the high end options are beautiful, they are far too expensive. For that price, I’m better off just buying a new chair. Plus, I enjoy getting my hands into a DIY home decor project.

To find my perfect fabric, I had to settle for hunting through reams at Spotlight and Lincraft. This took a lot of time, but that’s to be expected. You can get it good and cheap, but you won’t get it fast.

I eventually found this fabric.
The beige base with black and white accent stripes give it a grown up tailored look. It’s perfect for my space. A strong sophisticated pattern in subdued colours that won’t clash with the rest of the living room decor.
I purchased ~10 metres for this project so that I would have plenty of excess in case I made any mistakes.
I’m pairing this with a red accent fabric on the back of the chair, to make it more interesting. The red fabric is a solid red thick linen fabric I found on sale at Spotlight for $4 p/m.

Step 2: Understand the construction of the upholstery

Before I removed any fabric, I made sure to take a lot of photos of the chair; particularly of how the fabric was put together.

Trying to remember whether a certain piece went over or under another after you’ve gone through the process of removing thousands of staples and actually get around to installing the new fabric will be next to impossible. So take photos – A LOT OF THEM.

Step 3: Remove the staples holding the existing fabric in place

To remove the old staples that were holding the existing fabric in place, I used a staple remover to lift the old staples and a small pair of pliers to pull it out completely. Before I bought my staple remover on eBay, I used a good ol’ flat screwdriver and the pliers. Frankly it worked just as well.

The staples on old furniture tend to be pushed in quite tightly, so you need to dig into the wood to be able to get under the old staple. My flat-head screw driver did this just fine. Not pretty, and a pain on your wrist, but it will be covered by the new fabric and piping so no need to cry over the dents in the wood.

Step 4: Assess the condition of the cushioning

The structure of the chair and the existing foam and cushion straps were in tip-top condition so there was no need to replace them (yay!).

Step 5: Refinish the wood frame

I wasn’t a fan of the colour of the wood frame. It was in great condition, but didn’t go with anything in my apartment so I splashed on some black paint and topped it off with a Satin clear varnish (lacquer) from Cabot’s water-based varnish range for a fantastic bold look.

I took my time with this because I wanted a smooth professional finish. Check out an earlier post on how I transformed an old dining set I purchased on eBay, which outlines painting tips I followed for this project.

Step 6: Staple the new fabric in place using the photos you took in step 2 as a guide
To install the fabric I simply reversed the order I removed the old fabric. This meant the first piece was the back panel.
This is where I used the strong red fabric. This gave the chairs a gorgeous custom look. A lesson I learnt from hours of watching Sarah Richardson’s programs – Design Inc., Sarah’s house, etc.
With the chair on it’s back, I simply positioned the fabric and stapled away. For this back panel I made sure not to hold the fabric too taut. The back foam cushion would need fit in between the frame snugly without making the front stick out too much. This isn’t a rule of upholstery, simply a stylistic look I wanted.
Once the back facing panel was done, I continued on but made sure to hold the fabric quite taut for all other panels.
This is the current state of the chairs, less seat cushions and piping…
The chairs have been sitting around like this for a few months. That’s how much I’ve been avoiding part 2 of this project – the sewing. But no longer! This project has dragged out too long, so I will finish them off over the next few weeks. I’ll make sure to take plenty of pics of the sewing process to share with you once I’m done.
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