Reviving a Simple Chair

As we’ve been finishing the details for the Butler’s Pantry, I kept envisioning a chair in the space. Once the window was done, and once we found the furniture piece – the desk – it became a no-brainer. I wanted something petite and simple that would work for using the space to plan menus and read cookbooks.

Walking around your house when you are in a constant state of renovation is fun. And exhausting, because you know how much more there is to do. To be honest, some days walking around the house is exhausting. Other days, it’s exciting and invigorating and I want to do so many projects RIGHT NOW. So, I went on a search party, because we seem to attract chairs from people all the time, and I knew I probably already owned something perfect.


This chair was given to us by Doug’s mother. It (and a twin chair) were found in the basement of Doug’s Grandparents’ house, after his Grandmother passed away. We have been so fortunate and humbled to have been given so many family pieces over the years, since the age of the pieces make them perfect to go into our house. And we love the chance to be caretakers of these pieces. This pair of chairs might even have belonged to Doug’s Great-Grandparents. I opted to refinish one, for now. The other chair has a bit more damage, and so it seemed logical to just use this one, and figure out a plan for the other at another time.

Working on family pieces scares me. Even though I’m thorough and methodical and I KNOW I know what I’m doing, it’s still scary to think that you might mess something up. But I was pretty confident I could get these cobwebs off without much trauma. Step One.

DSC_0516 DSC_0517

This seat cushion is pretty amazing old leather. I mean, the seat itself is in bad shape, and so is the leather, but the patina is amazing, and the age is amazing, and it’s SO SOFT. Can you see the indention in the middle? The whole support system of the seat has collapsed.


I love the back.


I took the seat off, and thought about what to do. If it wasn’t a family piece, or wasn’t old, I probably would have just re-built a new seat. But I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to keep the collapsed and weathered-leathered seat completely intact for future generations, but completely cover it over and make it safe to sit on. Hmmmm…..

DSC_0529 IMG_0485

I asked Doug if it was a wacko idea to just cut a piece of wood, slightly smaller than the seat, and lay it on top of the collapsed section, and then I would upholster over that. He seemed to think that that wouldn’t be doing it “right,” but he understood my desire to keep the original chair intact, so he cut and routed a piece of luan for me. And told me it might not work, so be ready to redo the whole thing. I was okay with that scenario. (Spoiler alert – it worked).


I super cleaned the chair, and let it dry, and it already looked a ton better. But a lot of the original finish was already bubbling, probably due to living in a basement and not being climate controlled for years. I wanted to take off the peeling finish, and restore it, but try to keep some of the patina.


I sanded pretty vigorously first.

DSC_0554 DSC_0555

And then did a round of stripper. I use Soy Gel – I love that it’s not smelly and non-toxic.


But it is messy, so I moved my operation from the “Gross Linoleum Residue Floor Bedroom” to the “Second Floor Bath that Doesn’t Work, But it Has Vinyl Floors.”

Here’s the chair after the varnish came off.

IMG_0514 IMG_0554

I put a layer of stain on, and it REALLY brought out the beauty of the quarter-sawn oak. None of this detail was visible before!

IMG_0560 IMG_0561

So exciting!


After that, I put on some wipe-on poly, with a Satin Finish. I didn’t go gloss, because I didn’t want it to be too shiny and new looking. Also, a pro-tip : Don’t forget to close the can of poly when you’re done. Because it becomes a brick. I’m sure most people with a brain wouldn’t do that. And, I mean, of course, I CERTAINLY didn’t do that. It just popped into my head that SOMEONE might do that, and if I can steer them in the right direction, I’m quite happy to.

DSC_0561 DSC_0563

To the SEAT!

Step one : gather materials! Staple Gun, Batting, the new seat, the old seat, scissors, and a lovely mint green fabric.

I really should have used my air-stapler with the air compressor, but I was silly and thought the electric would work. The problem is, that old wood is SO HARD, so having more some power would have been a good thing when trying to get the staples to penetrate the wood. But I didn’t want to drag the air compressor out of the basement, so I made do.


There’s my fake seat on the old seat!


The fabric is a pretty fun graphic. This is after all the batting and stapling!


And then I screwed the seat back on the chair.

DSC_0572 DSC_0574

Because I love mixing patterns, I also made a small throw pillow. Here’s the seat fabric, throw pillow fabric, and drapery fabric, all playing so nicely together.


The finished chair in its new home! I love how it turned out.

DSC_0581 DSC_0582 DSC_0583

A glance without the pillow….


It’ll live here, by the window and the cookbook library, but it’ll be easy enough to move over to the desk in the Butler’s Pantry when I need to work.

DSC_0595 IMG_0593

And, be excited. The rest of the Butler’s Pantry Nook is complete, and I can’t wait to write a post on it in the next day or so!!!


  1. I’ve been too busy to visit your blog after “following” it so I don’t know how you do things. I’m so relieved “reviving a simple chair” didn’t involve chalk paint (not that there’s anything wrong with chalk paint) and you did such a classy, respectful job. It looks very at home in that corner. I’m curious to see the battered twin some time.

    1. Thank you! I have a huge respect for wood – I think there are certainly reasons to paint wood (damage, not a valuable piece, cheap materials….) but I am definitely against the whole chalkpaint movement! I think chalkpaint is a phenomenal way to take a modern piece and make it look old, but not on an actual antique! I worry about how many pieces are being lost to that trend.

      The battered twin really just has issues with the bottom of the chair – it looks like maybe it was sitting in some water for quite some time. So I’ll need to do some sanding and wood fill and hope I can match color!

  2. Hey there! Loved this post – first time reader and I’m hooked! I also have a respect for wood antiques. I have no problem painting cheap/damaged pieces, but there are too many beautiful pieces of furniture being lost to paint.

    1. I totally agree! There are instances when it’s necessary, but I want to always avoid it, if I can! I’d love for everyone to stop milk painting everything – I saw a Victrola the other day that was milk painted…..

      So glad you found the blog – I’m excited to check out yours!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: