How to transform a boring chair with fabric and lots of patience

Last Christmas my in-laws gave Ken and I matching desk chairs. We only had one and it was pretty broken. Ever since we assemble them I've had a love-hate relationship with mine. I love it because it's so (I mean SO) comfortable, actually one of the best I've ever had. My back does so much better with this chair, BUT it's all dark and leather, on hot days I feel like I get stuck on it and it hurts when I get up 😛 plus it's cold in the winter and I just do not like the look of it. So the other day I decided to prettify it with polka-dot fabric and some spray primer and paint. By now you should know that I LOVE polka-dots hehe.

My main idea was to make covers that I could easily take out and wash because, well as long as it's fabric it will get dirty. I used Velcro for the back piece and elastic for the seat so I can remove them later.

The chair had a couple of wear sports in the bottom of the arm-rest so it was perfect time to give it a little upgrade, I am working on the office-craft-sewing room, so I will show you all the pieces I am working on (I have 3 more half done projects right now)

Since every chair is different I will give you all general pointers in case you want to upgrade your own chairs. For the covers I use about 4 yards of outdoor cotton canvas (but you should measure the height of the back and seat – don't worry about the width) + about 1 yard of Velcro and about 1 yard of 1/4″ of elastic.

First, you need to identify the surfaces you are going to paint, in my case I had plastic pieces and metal pieces. So I got spray primer especially for metal and another one for plastic, so that way each surface is covered the best way.

You will need to pull your chair apart using whatever tool it came with, in my case this chair came ready to assemble with an Allen wrench. I separate all the different parts so I could spray them depending on the material. And make the covers for the seat, back piece, and armrest.

The arm-rest was the only parts that I didn't make easy-to-take (for washing purposes) covers because mine didn't really have room for anything and if I added elastic in the bottom like I did with the seat, I would not have the space to screw it back to the arm piece. So I just staple the fabric, so when I need to wash it I'll have to take the staples and once it's clean I'll redo the process.

For the seat I placed the piece I was going to cover on top of the wrong side of the fabric, so that way I could mold it to fit (doing that you will see the seat covered just like when it's done) I measured 5″ to fold in (that will be the edge that has the elastic) from the top edge of the seat (remember you have the seat laying backwards). After that, I made folds on the corners and pin them securely (you can see them already sewed for the back piece too in the image below) then sew on top of the fold. That made the gather on the bottom (because of the elastic) way better.

Once the sides are sewed you will end up with a bowl shape and in order to make it stay on the seat, you will need to make a 2″ fold on the top of your bowl, sew it leaving a little piece open to run the elastic. Tie a knot on the elastic and finish the fold seam. You now have a cover for your seat, but if your chair is anything like mine, you will need to make little holes on the sides (where the screws go). I marked them and cut 1/2″ holes and then I zig-zag stitch around it to prevent fraying.

For the back part the process was kind of similar – but the main difference is that my chair had a fold to separate the back with the head rest, that piece looked kind of complex so to avoid having to stitch the cover to the chair I simply glued a piece of velcro to the leader using some Gorilla glue and then pinned the opposite piece of velcro on the center of my fabric. I laid the fabric on the seat with the right side facing out, just like it's going to look, and then I accommodate the sides and made the folds (just like the seat piece) I sewed on top of the folds and also sewed the piece of Velcro that I pinned at the beginning, I end up with a bowl shape again, but in this case I could not use elastic because that would mean that the back will be exposed. So I laid the fabric on top of my back piece again but this time with the wrong side facing out (so I could have the cover inside out) and placed the second piece of fabric on the back (remember that as long as you shape the top and not the bottom your slip will get out of the back easily) I pinned both pieces together and cut out the excess, after that I sewed them and added a piece of 10″ of Velcro centered on the bottom, so I could fold the sides in and close the back seat cover on the bottom.

Just like the seat piece, I had to make holes for the screws that go to the arm pieces, I zig-zag around them to prevent fraying when it's time to wash them. You can see in the image below how I just folded the sides in and secure it by using the velcro pieces on both ends (top and bottom)

I know it will be a pain to have to take the arms apart each time I have to wash the covers, but on the other hand, I rather do that and be able to just throw them on the washer if they get dirty than spot cleaning. But that's just me =] I've had the chair for 2 weeks now and it works great! the paint has no scratches, even tho Curly has played with my feet a lot and his little paws scratch the bottom, so that's great. And I haven't spill anything, so kudos to me =]

I would totally recommend making covers that you can wash because to me spot cleaning is just a pain – hehe. Ken laugh a bit about the fact that my chair now screams “I belong to Joy” but you know I think that's good, no one will be stealing my chair anytime soon 😛 I just hope in the future Ken takes my offer to give his chair a little revamp =]

Even Curly liked the chair =] So here you go, I hope this post helps you if you are thinking about making covers for your chair, XO.

EDIT Sep 12, 2013: Since I've got a lot of requests I am adding more pictures of the chair, especially the bottom-back side. This are pictures of the chair a year after I made the cover, I've washed it several times and the paint on the chair is still perfect =]

And you can see it in action on this post about the HowJoyful office!

Have a lovely day!


How to transform a boring chair with fabric and lots of patience - Desk chair transformation by Joy Kelley from @howjoyful

About Joy

Joy Kelley is a Chilean Designer & lettering Artist. Mom to 3 little boys. Crafter. Pattern lover. Color obsessed. Lemon pie dependent. And the hand behind the HowJoyful Studio & HowJoyful Shop

91 replies
  1. Cece
    Cece says:

    Such a huge difference! Love the chair and I think it’s awesome that it now screams “I’m Joy’s chair”. 🙂

  2. Sebrina
    Sebrina says:

    That is so amazing looking! Love it! Definitely inspired me with my office chair, but way to many projects on my plate right now :-/

  3. kimberly michelle
    kimberly michelle says:

    such a wonderful job! I destroyed an office chair attempting to do this before, so I’ve yet to recover my current chairs in my office. Still really want to though!

  4. Tammy
    Tammy says:

    I’ve reupholstered some, but I wouldn’t have even considered doing that chair! Good Job!! I’m quite impressed!!!

  5. Kim
    Kim says:

    Joy– That is SO gorgeous! I really want to recover my chair at work and it doesn’t have arms, which makes this project really simple. I’d been looking for some ideas and just by luck you made a tutorial.


  6. Amy @DYKTMP?
    Amy @DYKTMP? says:

    First timer on your site. LOVING the design and the Upcycle tutorials that I’ve seen so far. Came over from How About Orange to check out this awesome chair re-upholstery. Excited to look around some more!

  7. Jess
    Jess says:

    Wow! That turned out gorgeous. I didn’t ever even think to recover my ugly office chair, thanks for the great idea, inspiration and instruction. I can’t wait to get a chance to try it out. After you spray painted the chair, did you put a top coat on to keep it from scratching, etc.? Thanks for sharing. – Jess at OlyMomma

    • Joy
      Joy says:

      Hi Jess, yes actually after the different primer for each material I gave all of them two coats of clear matte spray for more protection =]

      • Redbird
        Redbird says:

        I am interested in the primer, white paint, & clear matte spray you used to transform the chair frame from black to white. I would be concerned about scratches/use on the finish with normal use.

        I loved your idea! Very beautiful office chair!

  8. Kat
    Kat says:

    This is awesome!! Im now looking at my beat up chair and thinking that it needs a makeover!! Thanks for the tut and the inspiration 🙂

  9. Angelina
    Angelina says:

    Hi! This isn’t my 1st time on your blog, but it is my 1st time to comment. I looove this tutorial! I wish I was half as creative as you! Love your site, keep ’em coming!

  10. Karen
    Karen says:

    I did this the hard way – and I only got as far as the base cover as the vinyl had to be removed. Think I will use your technique to complete the project!

  11. Leotie Lovely
    Leotie Lovely says:

    This is an amazing idea and I am in the midst of decorating the office…I’m going to give this a try! I will send you a link when I’ve done it! Thanks for sharing!!!

  12. Judie S
    Judie S says:

    Absolutely adorable…and ever so clever, Joy!! I can’t wait to try it out. I have a possible suggestion, if the arms of your chair are damaged. Our kids damaged the padded arms of our extremely comfortable office chair by running them into the desk…grrrrr! Anyway, as I was getting ready to pitch it into the trash, my neighbor said, “Why don’t you just remove the arms? The rest of the chair is in great shape.” Awesome suggestion!! I removed the arms (mine were attached to the bottom of the chair), and now the chair is back home in front of the desk…and is plenty comfortable without its arms. It does need some Joyful beautifying, though. Thank you for your tutorial!

    • Joy
      Joy says:

      This chair also has the arms attached to the bottom and the back piece, so I can see how taking them would be possible, but in my case the arms are the attachement between the seat and the back of the chair, boo!! Your neighbor had a really cool idea hehe =] now it would be easier for you to make covers for the chair!

  13. Suzanne
    Suzanne says:

    I love this idea. I have not found a chair I like because they are all dark and I want something jazzy. I hadn’t even considered buying one and giving it a makeover. Thank you!

  14. Betty819
    Betty819 says:

    You saw me change the pillowcase on the pillow I’ve been using in my office chair like yours, didn’t you? For about a year, I’ve been using that pillow as the chair padding of my chair is so worn down.The leather was perfect, just not plump like it was new. I was used to that extra height and padding given by the pillow and I sat down in it without the pillow and oh my gosh, it seemed so low and I found another pillow to set my tush on quickly! You did a great job redoing that chair..love it. How bright and cheerful the fabric must make your office look!

    Think of the expense you would have incurred for reupholstery, had you not been able to do it yourself. It would have been cheaper to buy a brand new chair than to hire somebody to do it. Pat yourself on the back..I love the bright and cherry fabric. Bet it brightens your office up! Great Job!

    • Joy
      Joy says:

      Thank you so much Betty! and I am about to add a pillow under the cover seat right now, since the chair it’s pretty worn out! Pillows are like giving the chair a second life =]

  15. Maylene~Malu Boutiques
    Maylene~Malu Boutiques says:

    OMG!! I love it!!! I have been wanting a new chair for the LONGEST…… time. Never in a million years would I have thought to give this type of chair a makeover. So excited to refab my current chair. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  16. maria harvey-starkey
    maria harvey-starkey says:

    I have a pink tast chair I really need to do this to!!! Thanks for showing me it CAN be done!!!

  17. Tausha
    Tausha says:

    oh my gosh, I am pretty sure that you own the happiest office chair on the planet! I love it! So much so, that I want to go and buy me some polka dot fabric and recover mine. Only thing, I can’t sew, so unless I can glue it, I’m a no go. But, I have worked a lot with outdoor fabric and I wanted to share a little secret. Make sure that you use a fabric refresher or a scotchguard type fabric. Joanne’s makes one that is wayyyy cheaper than scotchguard and works just as well. Give it more than a few coats and you will be surprised how well it works. I recovered an ottomon with yellow and white outdoor fabric and put it in my family room with my kids and my dog. I was surprised how awesome it cleaned up!! Great job girlie-I can’t way to check out the rest of your blog!

    Have a fabulous week!

    • Joy
      Joy says:

      Thank you so much for the tip Tausha! you are so sweet!
      I hope you have a lovely day and i am heading over to visiting your blog =]

  18. Sara
    Sara says:

    I have that exact same chair!! I love it but it does need a makeover. It’s just so….black and manly.

    • Joy
      Joy says:

      I know! those are good for guys but they are too manly for girls, comfortable – yes! but so black =] hehe

  19. Joy
    Joy says:

    I would really enJOY such a bright chair in my sewing room where I too have a desk chair. I’ve become your latest follower. Hope you come by and visit my blog. found you on Pinterest

  20. Janice
    Janice says:

    So glad I came across this. I am in the process of planning (in my head) a craft/office room. I have this exact chair but did not want to use it because it was so BLACK! Nothing against black but I’m thinking of using more bright and cheerful prints in the room. You saved me from spending money on a new chair.
    Thank you!

  21. Zoe
    Zoe says:

    This is amazing! So original.. It is my husbands birthday next month and I was going to buy him a new computer chair but decided against it because they are all so boring and drab.. I think it may be time for sneaky chair business.
    Though no polka dots for the man of the house 😉
    Thanks for sharing. I love your blog


  22. Anna
    Anna says:

    I haven’t been following you for very long, but you are the most creative person I know! I love this! You have basically my style, if I had the talent to do all the things you do, lol. Congaduations with your baby! God bless! and thank you for this blog

    • Joy
      Joy says:

      Thank you so much Anna for your sweet words =] I hope you visit here often and thank YOU for reading! XOXO

  23. Ashley
    Ashley says:

    This is a hugeee help! My kitty cats decided they wanted to make my $100 desk chair a new toy and so the leather is all scratched up and my hubby isn’t too happy about it soo today I am going out to buy frabric and surprise him when he gets home with a new office chair! You did a wonderful job!!!!

  24. Jennifer Trujillo
    Jennifer Trujillo says:

    Hola Joy, me encanto tu proyecto. Mi silla tambien necesita algo de trabajo. Una pregunta, en donde compraste la tela??. TE mando mucho saludos

    • Joy
      Joy says:

      Hola Jeniffer =]

      La tela la copre en una tienda en Hesperia, California, ellos son chicos y no tienen paguina web asi que no te puedo dar un link, lo siento. Pero es tela gruesa para tapizados. Espero eso te ayude, un beso!

  25. Janelle
    Janelle says:

    Totally awesome! I just turned down an ugly black deck chair and now I wish I hadn’t after seeing your tutorial and fabulous makeover! Love it! Love the colors too. Thanks for sharing!

  26. Brandi
    Brandi says:

    This is the exact same chairs we have at our office and I wool LOVE to do this to mine since my boss wouldn’t let me paint my office! It’s in need of some color! Is there any way you could post or email me pictures of the bottom an back of the chair finished? Im more of a visual learner and I’m having trouble picturing the back and bottom completed.
    Thank you!

  27. Judy
    Judy says:

    LOVE the chair..I find office chairs so boring and would love to be able to do this but I do not sew ( not even buttons )… i might just have to figure it out though….

  28. Brooke
    Brooke says:

    I was so inspired that I started taking my chair apart today! I have the exact same chair, but couldn’t get the arms off. I put those decorative caps over the screws and now I can’t get them out! Any advice?


    • Joy
      Joy says:

      I just used an allen wrench to take them off, it depends on what king of screw they used to assemble them. if you have caps, use a knife to take them off, that always works for me =]

  29. Joy
    Joy says:

    Hi, Joy!
    Just found this on Pinterest on a friend’s board and can I just say…….WOW! How timely it is that I read this on the very day I was considering throwing my ugly desk chair out…..I am going to try doing something with it now. It’s really the perfect project because if things go bad….hey, I was going to pitch it anyway! Nothing to lose…everything to gain!

    You were an inspiration with your creativity!

    Thank you!

    (and I LOVE your name)

    Here’s to getting’ crafty,

    • Joy
      Joy says:

      Hey JOY!!

      what a lovely name you have 😛 wish you luck with this project and hopefully you will get to keep the chair!

  30. Mary Hawthorne
    Mary Hawthorne says:

    What a great idea….you seem concerned about taking the cover off the arms when they are dirty. Had you thought of making a little matching cover to just pin over them and then just just unpin the cover and wash it.

  31. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    I used your instructions to turn a beat up chair into a piece all of my fellow teachers are SURE to envy! Thank you for posting this! How can i send you pictures of my finished chair?


  32. Raluca
    Raluca says:

    Hola!Hello! Te voy a escribir en espanol, porque es mas facil para mi :)) Soy Raluca de Rumania, y hoy me compre una revista de Rumania (que se llama JOY :)) ) En la revista encontre un pequeno articulo sobre tu blog y con una foto de esta silla que hiciste 😀 Y asi me entere de tu sitio y esta increible! no se si sabias, si quieres puedo hacerle una foto del articulo:D jeje, voy a intentar hacer yo tambien el cambio de la silla! pero tu eres muy talentosa. besos desde Rumania y sigue con las cosas lindas que haces

    • Joy
      Joy says:

      Me encantaria ver el articulo!! Que genial =] y muchas gracias que alegria que encontraste my blog! Besos

  33. Chelsea
    Chelsea says:

    This looks amazing! I’m trying to create a chair cover for my leather office chair–leather and cats don’t mix. If you could come up with a few generic versions that people could purchase–like slip covers with Velcro and elastic only–you would make a fortune!

  34. bobbie jo robinson
    bobbie jo robinson says:

    this is the CUTEST idea I’ve seen in a long time I also love polka dots and green is my favorite color and I absolutely LOVE the white base I CAN’T WAIT TO DO THIS TO MINE

  35. Patricia Wilson
    Patricia Wilson says:

    I am part of a group of volunteers that is starting a new scheme in our neighbourhood in Memphis. One of the community projects that we are going to to initiate relatates to your blog, and therefor some of the information here is of value for us and I just wanted so say thank you for that.

  36. Emily
    Emily says:

    Wow! This chair is super cute! I haven’t seen anyone do something like this before. It’s very playful and colorful! I think I might try this with my office chairs. They’re really comfortable, and with the added pop of color, it will be an extra pop of fun in the office.

  37. zoanna
    zoanna says:

    I am so glad I found your cute office chair tutorial. I, too, much prefer a cushy office chair (and swivels) for long hours at my sewing/painting table. My desk is ugly black vinyl. Can’t wait to transform it into something that screams my name!

  38. Cat
    Cat says:

    Great find for me today! I will have to add this to my big list of projects! Well done! Thank you!

  39. Kalaharirose
    Kalaharirose says:

    You just made this teachers day! I cannot wait to do this to my ugly teacher chair!

  40. Patty M
    Patty M says:

    Joy, this is both adorable and brilliant! I am adding it to my “furniture makeovers” Pinterest board. Thanks for sharing!!

  41. Lillian
    Lillian says:

    Is the paint holding up? I have a chair with black plastic parts and would never have guessed they could be painted.

    • Joy
      Joy says:

      I’ve actually had the chair for 2+ years now and it’s pretty good, the paint its a little dirty on the base from me stepping on it (nothing than a wet cloth can’t clean) and it still has no scratches =]

  42. raw carey
    raw carey says:

    What no fellows reviews. I’m Rod & I think youv’e done a first class job. well done looks great

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  44. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    Thank you so much for the help with recovering the chair.I have a few questions regarding the top portion of the chair, where you put the velcro. Was it just under the padded headrest and the top and bottom of the chair? Also, I wanted to know about the folds in the cover. Did you sew them or simply velcro and fold into place after the cover was installed? I was going to make a template and lots of work and sewing to cover my chair, but found your site and really like your results! You make it sound so simple! Would love to see a video of you making this! Thanks again!

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