With every fiber of my being, I didn’t think it was going to work. Still, when I found two chairs on craigslist that had the style and quality I was looking for — and a price I couldn’t beat — I decided it was worth a try. I was going to paint upholstery.
I won’t leave you hanging in suspense. Did it work? Yes. Is it for every application and use? Maybe not. Read on if you are contemplating adding a splash of color to a room or updating an old upholstered piece.
What makes a good candidate for upholstery painting?
- Clean lines — the chairs I painted had some cracks and crevices and buttons and cushions, and while the finished piece was great, it was a lot more work to get it to look good.
- Stiffer fabric — a fabric without a lot of nap is more suitable to the paint. While the paint dries soft, with each application, it gets stiffer. I wouldn’t use a fabric with a high pile length (velvet, corduroy, velveteen, etc.). I don’t think you’d be as happy with the results.
- Lighter colored fabric — don’t try to cover a dark color with a different color. It will require too many coats and even then, you may not get you the coverage you want.
- Fabric void of any stains — if the fabric is heavily soiled, the paint won’t evenly absorb.
- Fabric without stain protection — that being said, you don’t want fabric that has been treated with a stain protector either. It’s necessary for the dye to absorb into the fabric. Stain guards prohibit absorption.
OK, taking those guidelines into account, you’ve decided you have the perfect piece to paint. What now? You need to decide what paint to use and how much.
I selected Simply Spray Upholstery Fabric Paint in the caribbean blue color. Hobby Lobby carries small cans of the paint in their t-shirt craft aisle. I stopped by there with my accent pillow to make sure the colors matched. They did, so I went online to place an order for the larger cans.
The Simply Spray website states each eight-ounce can covers 17 square feet, but that depends upon the kind of fabric and the conditions when you paint.
(I knew the weather was going to be turning colder and my Wednesdays [the day of the week when both boys are in school] were numbered. So, even though it was one of the windiest days of late, I setup my painting space in the yard. I share this because I think I used more paint than had it not been windy. A good portion of it blew away onto the drop cloth … me … the grass … me … the bushes … me … the driveway … me … a lot on me … . It took 3 1/2 cans to paint two coats on one chair.)
The website accepts PayPal payments. Once the order was placed, my paint arrived in about a week.
To get started, you’ll need:
- vacuum cleaner
- spot cleaner
- drop cloth
- painter’s tape
- upholstery paint
- latex gloves (or non-latex)
- foam brushes of assorted sizes
I’m not crazy about buying used upholstered furniture, so I set the chairs outside in the sunshine for a couple of days. (Pets and smoke are the least of my worries if I really allow my imagination to run wild.)
Before painting the first chair, I throughly vacuumed it; spot cleaned areas that needed it; and Febreezed the underside. I didn’t spray the upholstery for fear it would leave a residue that could impact the paint’s absorption. If you do any spot cleaning, make sure the upholstery is completely dry before painting.
(In spite of my cleaning, I still missed a small spot where the paint didn’t absorb. It’s not that noticeable, but I wanted to let you know it happens and that cleaning is an important step. Since I don’t know what is stuck to the chair — and I don’t want to think about it — we shall never speak of this again. Never.)
Use painter’s tape to protect any areas you don’t want painted.
The manufacturer recommends doing a spot test with the paint to make sure it properly absorbs. I didn’t. I’m wild and crazy that way. (Keep in mind, I didn’t think it was going to work anyway, so I had the Go Big or Go Home mentality. YEEEHAW!)
I started at the top of the chair and worked my way down using a spray-and-brush technique. Basically, I sprayed a large area using slow back-and-forth strokes. Once the area was covered, I grabbed a foam brush and worked the paint into the fabric, brushing it in different directions. For the large flat areas, I used a broader brush. For the nooks and crannies, I saturated the area with the spray can and then followed up with a small foam brush. Make sure your final stroke is with the pattern or weave of the fabric.
This can be rough on the foam brushes. I went through quite a few of them. Buy a big pack.
If there’s piping and tufting, be sure to pull it back and really get the paint and foam brush in there. This is when the gloves come in handy. I failed to wear any and I am still trying to clean blue paint from under my nails and around my cuticles. For a week, I looked a bit like Dexter … you know, if he weren’t so meticulous … and if instead of targeting serial killers, he targeted Smurfs.
The paint quickly soaks in, so it’s easy to do little touch-ups as you go, but I waited a couple of hours before applying a complete second coat.
The second coat provided a more thorough coverage — a nice solid color — but, I could tell the fabric wasn’t as soft. It was still soft and pliable and comfortable, but not as soft as after just one coat.
With the fabric now a beautiful blue, I wanted the wood along the bottom and the legs a different color. A white chalk paint would’ve been easy and beautiful, but I have a lot of dark wood in the room where the chairs were going to be placed. With that in mind, I went with a dark walnut stain.
I prepped the wood by heavily sanding it to remove the existing finish. I started with a 150 grit and worked my way down to sanding the surface with steel wool.
Since I would be working on a vertical surface, I selected a gel stain to minimize drips.
Using foam brushes again, I ended up applying two coats — waiting a day between each one — to get the darkness I wanted.
Once the last coat was dry, I gently steel wooled it again and applied a coat of polyurethane.
I kept the chair outside during a few more days to help the drying process. Within hours it was dry to the touch, but the Simply Spray website recommends waiting 72 hours for it to be completely dry. At that point, it will not rub off and it can be cleaned.
The paint is expensive compared to other spray paints. The six pack is $70, but compared to the cost of having a chair reupholstered, it’s an excellent deal. Both chairs — including their purchase price and supplies — will end up costing me less than $150 total. And the feeling that I’ve defied all logic by painting upholstery? Priceless.