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A friend in the design industry once told me that the best way to create a home is to fill it slowly and methodically with things you love, rather than all at once. While this sage advice has steered me in the right direction thus far, it also left me without a desk chair for three months. So when I passed by my corner’s daily trash heap only to find the morning sun gleaming off the chrome backing of a single chair, I stopped dead in my tracks. 

To say this seat had seen better days would be an understatement. The upholstery was tattered and stained beyond repair. The chair looked more at home among the garbage bags than it would any interior. But as a hardened New Yorker desperate for a completed home office (and inspired by the city’s vibrant stooping culture), I saw promise. I believed in this chair. And so, to the utter shock of passersby and disgust of my doorman, I snagged it. And here’s exactly how I brought it back to life. 

The chair, post-rescue, photographed by the author.
The final result.

The Supplies 

  • Cleaning spray 
  • Screwdriver and screws 
  • Scissors
  • Butter knife
  • Fabric (I used vintage) 
  • Superglue 
  • Foam 
  • Staple gun 

Time: 3 hours 
Price: Under $100 (depending on the fabric) 
Good to know: For heftier upholstered pieces, you may want to contact a local upholsterer for assistance. I recommend starting small! 

Step 1: Clean the Chair 

First things first: Anytime you bring a piece of stoop furniture into your home, clean it! The streets are dirty and so was this chair. I made sure to give the chrome a good scrub with a disinfectant (wear gloves!) before starting my project. 

Step 2: Unscrew the Seat and Back

This chair had an upholstered seat and seat-back, so I used a screwdriver to unscrew each from the chrome frame. After I had detached the upholstered pieces from the frame, I gave the frame a second scrub. 

Step 3: Remove the Fabric 

Once you remove the seat and back from the frame, flip them over so the nails on the underside are exposed. These are what’s keeping the fabric in place—use a butter knife or a flat-head screwdriver to pry each nail free from the seat and back. (Depending on what shape your piece is in, I recommend keeping your gloves on.) Once you remove all the nails, the fabric should come off easily, leaving you with foam and a plastic or wood backing. 

Step 4: Cut the New Foam to Size

Given the condition of my chair’s upholstery, I knew I wanted to replace the foam inside of the cushions. You can order foam on Amazon or pick it up at your local Home Depot or hardware store—just be sure to measure the width of the seat to ensure you get the right thickness. Once you have your new foam, use the old foam as a template and cut the new foam to size. You can then discard the old foam. 

Step 5: Attach the New Foam to the Seat Backing

Once you have your new foam cut, place it over the seat and backrest to make sure it’s the correct size. Next, use superglue to attach the foam to each piece.

Step 6: Cut Your Fabric 

When ordering fabric, I like to order more than I anticipate needing in order to leave room for error. In this case, I ordered two yards of fabric, expecting to only need one. Knowing that I needed only a small amount of material, I ordered $60 worth of corduroy from my favorite vintage seller on Etsy. You can also ask your local fabric store if it has scrap fabric, which is both cost-effective and sustainable. 

Once you have your fabric of choice, lay it out and place the foam on top of it. Use scissors to cut out the fabric, leaving an excess of about 4 inches around the edge. 

Step 7: Secure It

When your fabric is cut out, fold it over the foam and use a staple gun to hold each side in place. Be sure to pull the fabric taught over the foam. I like to start with a single staple in each side to make sure the cloth is in place, which makes it easier to remove and adjust accordingly (this is especially helpful if you are using a patterned textile). Once the fabric is where you want it, you can add additional staples along the edge of the seat and back, about 1 to 2 inches apart. 

For the corners, it can be helpful to cut excess fabric in order to staple it neatly to the back of the seat cushion. 

Step 8: Reattach the Cushions to the Frame

Once you’ve covered your back and seat in the new fabric, reattach it to the chair’s frame using a screwdriver. I used new screws, as the original ones had rusted. Then sit back and admire your work.