Jamie Mears of Furbish is the queen of radical makeovers, like these,
but plenty of people are getting in on the act.
Here's why: a good-quality new armchair starts at about $900, and goes up from there. Often, the fabric choices are basic or bland. And there are only so many options with the kind of height and presence that a wing chair offers. While you can easily spend that much remaking an old chair, you don't have to; and if you do, it will be a completely unique piece.
I'm in the process of putting re-upholstered vintage wing chairs in three different homes (in three different styles), and the first one came back from the upholsterer yesterday.
Everybody loves a before and after, yes?
Fun, right? (Ignore the wallpaper and carpet. It's all going eventually.) For this room, I needed something bold, but the pattern couldn't upstage the art in the room (landscapes and floral still lifes) and couldn't cost a lot. This ikat stripe was perfectly in my color scheme and, at $7.49/yard, I couldn't really go wrong.
Now, a trick.
Most upholstered chairs have some cording around the cushions and finishing the seams; this is called the "welt." You can "self-welt" with the chair's fabric or contrast welt with anything you like. Self welt is meant to sort of disappear into the chair, where contrast welt is meant to pop, like so:
For our chair, a self-welt felt a little messy to me with all the stripes, so we created the welt from the widest silver stripe in the fabric.
It is a cleaner look without being too contrasty. Love the way it turned out.
Want to try this yourself? Scour craigslist and vintage stores, and plan to pay about $50 for the chair. Wiggle the frame to be sure it is solid, lift the chair--it should be on the heavy side--and push on the seat to see if the springs are tight. While new foam is not super expensive, spring repair can be. For a modern take, look for wing chairs with straight legs, a smaller rolled arm (or straight arm, though that can be hard to find), and minimal flourish to the back, and have fun with the fabric.
Stay tuned for the reinvention of a pair of these ladies.