How-to: Reupholster a Mid-Century Modern Chair

I’m no professional reupholster-er, but when I found six mid-century modern chairs on Craigslist for $25, I vowed to do my best to impersonate one! While reupholstering seems like a daunting task, it’s actually less difficult than it is time-consuming. So, if you’re up for saving money, getting your hands a little dirty, and have some extra time to spare, follow the steps below, and you’ll be on your way to sprucing up a simple piece of furniture.


Flathead screwdriver (to remove staples)
Phillips screwdriver (to remove screws/optional)
Stapling gun
New fabric


1. Remove screws that may be holding your cushions in place. All chairs are different, so you may need a different tool to remove your seat cushions, but in my case, all I needed was a Phillips head screwdriver, and the cushions came off in a jiffy.

2. Remove any staples securing the original fabric in place. This will allow you to easily staple down the new fabric without any old staples getting in the way. Remove the fabric if it’s in bad shape. In my case, the original fabric was in good condition, so when I removed the staples, I left the original fabric on for extra cushion.

3.  Lay your cushion over top of the new fabric as a guide to cut the new fabric to the shape. Give yourself enough extra fabric on all sides so that it can easily wrap and stretch around the bottom of the cushion for stapling.

4. Starting from the center of one of the four sides, pull the fabric taut towards the center bottom of the cushion, and staple it once. Pull the fabric equally as tight from the exact opposite side of the cushion. Staple it in the center of the raw edge to hold it in place. Do this for the remaining two sides. Once you’ve stapled the cushion on each side, finish by pulling the remaining fabric tight towards the center, and stapling about an inch apart, all the way around the raw edge of the new fabric. Make sure the fabric stays smooth and tight to the cushion.

5. Cut your interfacing to cover the raw fabric edges. Don’t worry — it doesn’t have to be perfect since it won’t be in plain sight. Staple the interfacing in place in a similar fashion to how you stapled the new fabric down.

6. If your chair only has a seat to recover, then hurrah! You’re almost done and can skip to step 12! If it has a back to recover as well, continue on.

7. The back of this chair has a slightly curved shape, which proved to be a little trickier when removing the staples. Don’t be surprised to find staples buried in seams — you might have to pry them out with your Flathead screwdriver and brute strength.

8. When all staples are removed, take the original fabric off, and use it to measure the new fabric for a precise fit. The seams of this piece were too close together to just cover over the existing fabric.

9. After you cut the new fabric, align it in place to fit the cushion.

10. Similar to the seat of the chair, I started stapling by pulling the fabric taut to the center of the top cushion seam. I continued to staple from the center, towards the edges of the cushion until the fabric was tight in place.

11. When the one side was stapled down, I pulled the opposed end tight, stapling from the center outwards, causing the fabric to smooth itself out across the curved cushion. Similarly, I stapled the edges on the sides so they were finished and tucked in.

12. Last but not least, I used a power drill to go through the layers of the fabric and secure the bottom seat cushion to its original position. The back of the chair required a regular screwdriver to reattach, and that’s it! Putting your chair back together may be different from this one, but shouldn’t be any more difficult than when you removed it.

For more DIY reupholstering insight, check out Shelly Leer’s great article on how to reupholster a chair. And if you decide to take on this DIY challenge, we’d love for you to share your progress with us on our Facebook page!

About Julianne

Julie is a modern day Renaissance woman and die-hard bloody mary enthusiast. When she’s not sprinkling magic fairy dust onto ModCloth’s social media channels, you can find her eclectic point of view on food, fashion, music, and DIY documented here!

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  1. Barb 03/16/2012 at 3:24 pm #

    How do you get the back off? It has got to be easier than it looks but I have wanted to recover dining room chairs with backs and have no idea how to remove them.

    • Gretchen 08/20/2013 at 6:54 am #

      I can’t figure out how either. If you find out, please share.

    • Erick Arellano 09/22/2013 at 2:12 am #

      Do you have wood plugs on the sides of the wood arms that holds the back?

      • Gretchen 09/30/2013 at 5:18 am #

        Yes. Are these screw covers?

  2. margie 03/16/2012 at 8:06 pm #

    Lovely! I can’t wait to try this soon.

  3. silvia in venice 03/17/2012 at 1:07 am #

    nice change!

  4. Eliza 03/17/2012 at 3:35 pm #

    This is really pretty….I just might have to buy a cute chair from Ebay and DIY it in some vintage fabric from Etsy……decisions, decisions…..’

    Thanks, Julianne!

  5. Sabina 03/18/2012 at 9:23 am #

    This is an excellent idea. I’m not normally crafty but this doesn’t look like it’s too intimidating, so thanks for the tutorial.

  6. meghanalfano 03/18/2012 at 11:22 pm #

    Love it!!! Looks easy

  7. pcastillon 06/20/2012 at 8:34 am #

    I love the transformation. 🙂 But I have the same question as Barb. How do you remove the back? Is it easily removable? How about if I don’t have a stapling gun, what should I use?

  8. LindaD 11/16/2012 at 5:58 pm #

    Please tell us how you removed the back side of the chair. I have chairs similiar to yours and can’t figure out how to remove the top part

  9. Alyce 01/01/2013 at 6:14 pm #

    I had a back on my chair also but it was easily removed as it just had 1 screw on each side (outside of the leg) to remove and then took a bit of wriggling to get off. Looks identical to the chair back above but I guess each chair would be different.

  10. Shelly 06/21/2015 at 7:02 am #

    The backs are usually screwed in through the side posts, then the counter sunk screw has a wooden plug filling the hole. Or, the chair back fabric is stapled underneath the chair back. When you remove the staples and fabric, the attachment screws are visible. Take photos of the tear down so that you can see how it was upholstered.

  11. Conny 09/22/2015 at 4:03 pm #

    I’m in the process and got the bottom cushion’s new fabric on last night. Found your site here for advice on attaching new fabric to the back of chair. I went to a hardware store to have them find a hex wrench that fit the screws on the side to get the chair apart. Many of these chairs have hex bolts holding the chair together under the wood plugs. So I will be trying to put new fabric on the back today.

    • ModCindy 09/29/2015 at 1:01 pm #

      Let us know how it turns out, Conny!

  12. Kanani 10/13/2015 at 10:40 pm #

    Just purchased a thrift store chair. Going to try this out! Where did you get your fabric from? I love it. Also, about how much fabric did you use for that chair?
    Thanks for the awesome tutorial!

  13. Christal 11/28/2018 at 2:30 pm #

    How do you remove the wooden plugs for the top of the chair without damaging it? I have two chairs just like this I’d love to reupholster!

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