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How to Reupholster an Office Chair

Not too long ago, my husband garbage picked an old office chair – totally ugly with cracked vinyl upholstery. Gross! I didn’t feel I had it in me to do the reupholstering, which involved scary piping. I didn’t know what it was about piping, but it really intimidated me. So I put the awful chair back out to the curb.

But, throwing things out is not me. You may recall, I’m Ms. Eve of Reduction where I talk about using talents and creativity to reduce waste and consumption. I had to retrieve this awful chair.
The thing was, the chair isn’t crap. It works. It’s solid; made of quality materials…except for the hideous vinyl.
Time to reupholster the office chair!
The best part about a project like this is that it’s custom, but the pattern is already provided.

Step 1: Unscrew the seat and chair back from the rest of the chair.

Step 2: Use a Flathead screwdriver and needle-nose pliers to remove the staples that are holding on the fabric (in my case the atrocious vinyl).

Step 3: You’ll be left with the old, fabric pieces that you will use as a template to cut out your new fabric. Be sure to stitch rip apart all the existing upholstery and pin it down to your new fabric and cut.

Step 4: Now for the terrifying piping. Actually, it’s pretty easy.
I’ve found that the best material to use for piping is the cord you buy at big box home improvement stores like Lowes and Home Depot. A spool of 50ft. costs about $3. That’s less than 17¢ a foot.
I tuck the cord into the fabric fold and sew it right in there.

Old and new piping materials

Step 5: Follow the sewing pattern of the previous upholstery, leaving an opening to slide them onto the chair base. Do note that most likely you are not using material with as much stretch as vinyl and therefore, for the fabric that goes over the back piece, you’ll need to leave a wider opening.

Step 6: Securing the upholstery to the chair.
I’m not a big fan of staple guns. Blame the control freak in me. But, since this was originally secured with a staple gun, I thought, heck, why not.

Immediately after taking the photo to the left, my staple gun ran out of staples. I kid you not. So, to my relief, I resorted back to fabric tacks.

Let me just say that fabric tacks look so much better (not that anyone really sees them) and give you much more control. They’re a bit of a pain, but I really feel they’re worth it. Okay, my rant is over.

Notice the look of fabric tacks vs. staples.

Step 7: Screw your newly upholstered seat and chair back onto your chair base.

I used chalk paint on the base of the chair to lighten it up.

So, if you’re looking for a weekend project that’s going to make a noticeable difference in your room, go for a reupholster project. Rich patterns and textures bring so much warmth and visual interest to a room!
Eve of Reduction: Free Seasonal E-Newsletter; Extra tips and wit on Facebook; Reduction Beauty on Pinterest ; The debut DIY lifestyle book (includes 10 upcycling tutorials); and the guide to creative streams of income ebook (only $2.99).

I’m Cristin Frank (AKA Eve). I love all things frugal and crafty. My mindset is always on upcycling, repurposing, reducing waste and saving money – and Eve of Reduction is my roadmap. You might also want to check out my book, "Living Simple, Free & Happy."

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5 Responses to How to Reupholster an Office Chair

  1. Jenny Lynn September 19, 2012 at 11:47 am #

    I am your news fan. I have two office chairs that I had really just want to get rid of. But this has changed my opinion of them. I am sure I could make them over with some cute fabric and still use them.

  2. Shannon November 8, 2013 at 4:37 pm #

    Hello, your chair looks great!!
    I have 4 old wood & vinyl chairs that I would love to reupholster.
    They all have piping and I was googling madly trying to figure out how to do it.
    As a person that 1) doesn’t own a sewing machine 2) doesn’t know how to sew anyway-do you thing the piping is necessary?
    I know it looks tidier but it it integral to the chairs structure or does it just look nice?
    Hope to hear from you!


    • Eve November 8, 2013 at 6:20 pm #

      Shannon, if the piping is keeping you from reupholstering the chairs, I’d definitely skip it. If you use someone else’s sewing machine to do the job, I highly recommend investing in a zipper foot for the sewing machine. I got one for $5 and it makes piping so much easier. I cover this more in my reupholster a couch series. Hope this helps!

  3. Chirag Dagli August 3, 2015 at 6:39 am #

    Amazing! I am just adoring these pictures. “Refresh” is right – this chair looks so refreshing. Congrats.


  1. Before and After Reupholstered Bench Seat - Eve of Reduction - January 7, 2014

    […] and after photo, was attached with staples. You may know from previous reupholster posts like the office chair makeover, that I only like to use tacks. Yes, they take longer, but they are much less frustrating and give […]

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