Introduction: Give Those Old Desk Chairs New Life!

Picture of Give Those Old Desk Chairs New Life!

When we moved into our new house, my boyfriend and I made it a top priority to give ourselves a studio space where we could work on projects in our spare time. We're both always looking for innovative ways to get exactly what we want using as little money as possible, and with this in mind we spent tons of time creating the perfect layout, custom building corner desks and laying repurposed hardwood flooring.

While making our ideal studio space, I stared at our old desk chairs in dismay. While they worked perfectly well, the scratchy, ugly brown fabric that they were upholstered with was simply unacceptable in our new, beautiful space. I decided that we needed to reupholster them, and after a quick trip to the fabric store and a few hours with a staple gun, we had a pair of brand new desk chairs for about five bucks! It was super quick, easy, and entirely transformed our studio.

Here's how to do it...

Step 1: Materials You'll Need

Picture of Materials You'll Need

–Old desk chair[s]
–Fabric. (Ours took about ½ yard per chair, but measure the hight and width of your backrest and seat cushions, adding 4” to each side to be sure you have enough to wrap around them)
–Screwdriver (philips or flathead depending on your chair's assembly components)
–Staple gun
–Extra pair of hands (you'll need help stretching and holding the fabric)

Step 2: Disassemble Your Chair

Picture of Disassemble Your Chair

Obviously every office chair is different, and some may be more complex than others. Ours were fairly straightforward to take apart, so I'll show you how we did ours. You'll have to take a second to look at yours and see how it comes apart. Possibly you have the instruction manual to help you along, otherwise just use some common sense and a screwdriver.

Start by turning the chair on its side and seeing what needs to be unscrewed. Our chairs needed to have the armrests and legs removed with the screwdriver, while the backrest easily removed by unscrewing the giant knob that lets you adjust its height. When you're finished the back rest and seat cushion should be completely separate from the other components of the chair.

Pop off the plastic backs from the cushions so that all of the staples are exposed.

Step 3: Cut Fabric to Size

Picture of Cut Fabric to Size

Lay your cushions on the fabric and cut around them, leaving enough of an edge so that you can easily staple them to the underside. Give yourself between two and four inches for leeway. Better leave more than less, you'll cut off the excess at the end!

If your fabric has a certain pattern that you want to show, take time to make sure the pattern is sitting the in correct place. 

Step 4: Go to Town With the Staple Gun!

Picture of Go to Town With the Staple Gun!

Now comes the most important part: stapling your fabric into place. The most important part is to make sure the fabric is stretched as tightly as you can make it. Over time the fabric will loosen as it's used, so keep it taught.

Start by stapling one side into place with a few staples. Then, pulling the fabric as tight as you can, staple the side directly across from it. Repeat this on the third and fourth sides, making sure to keep the fabric as tight as possible. Just put a few staples into place so you can get the basic shape laid down. Once you have all four sides in the right position staple along the entire perimeter to connect the sides. 

Corners are very important, since you want don't want the gathering to show and be lumpy on the seat. Do them last after all of the sides are completed. Pull the fabric tight and evenly distribute the gathering. Get your partner to staple while you hold in place. Repeat with the other three corners.

By the end you should have a beautifully smooth cushion. Repeat with the second cushion.

Step 5: Trim Excess Fabric

Picture of Trim Excess Fabric

Once both of your cushions are completely stapled, turn them over and trim off the excess fabric.

Step 6: Reassemble Your Chair

Picture of Reassemble Your Chair

Snap those plastic backs onto your cushions and reassemble your chair! Screw the legs back to the seat, put the backrest back on, reattach arms if you have them, and tighten everything up. 

Step 7: Enjoy Your New Chairs

Picture of Enjoy Your New Chairs

Sit back and enjoy your beautiful now chairs! With just a few hours of work I was able to transform my chairs and give them a completely new life to compliment our studio space! Hopefully you'll be just as pleased as I was.


Janet HS made it! (author)2016-08-27

I've spent most of the day on this assignment. This chair is very important as it's my everyday work chair. It's wide and I like to sit with my feet up in a yoga pose to work. A chair that's so accommodating is difficult to replace. I made life hard for myself by choosing a faux leather fabric left over from a job done by a professional upholsterer. Also, I tried to save money by investing in a manual staple gun rather than a powered one and caused myself a lot of hard labour. My chair was much more difficult to disassemble than yours, and after much unscrewing, prodding and levering, I still couldn't get the back off, so I ended up using a different technique of just shoving the fabric into place with the rounded end of my metal dressmaking ruler.

Your tutorial gave me the confidence to get round to this job after wondering about it for months. Refurbing the chair has saved me about £130. So thanks for that. You can be the judge of whether it has been done well or not. Bizarrely, I put my dressmaking skills to one side when I embarked on this project. I would suggest to others that you could neaten things up by a) ironing your fabric properly before you start; b) gathering the material round the pad with a gathering thread of the appropriate thickness before you do any stapling, or maybe just gather the corners after you've got the first few staples into the straight sides. This will help you manage the corners more effectively, by making the gathers more even; c) if there's a lot of bulk at the corners because of the shape of the chair, or because you're working with a heavy fabric, remove some by clipping 'V's into the material stopping short of the actual corner, the same way you do when you set in a sleeve. Hope that's clear enough to be helpful.

Now enjoying my new, fully functional chair!

Carolinah4 (author)2015-12-22

Thanks for posting. I'm wanting to add some padding to my arm rests. Any recommendations?

yumafoothills (author)2015-06-04

Thank you for the tutorial.

GeminiGeeZus made it! (author)2015-04-27

First of all: This was a super easy tutorial to follow thank you.

I needed a official sewing chair (I was using a stool), so I found this green "gem" at a value village store for $6. It took just shy of a yard's worth of fabric I found on the discount folds table.

EvaB3 (author)2015-04-14

This is so cool! I wouldn't have the patience I don't think. I just bought mine online because it was the easiest and quickest option from Give it a look anyway if you're like me!

RosemaryB1 (author)2015-02-13

Good job! It might have been more honest if you'd said you had a pneumatic stapler which makes the job so much easier but then you'd have to tell people to buy a 200 dollar compressor and a 100 dollar staple gun. In any event you MIGHT be able to get similar results with a hand stapler and a buncha blisters. But the chairs look pretty good!

graceduval (author)RosemaryB12015-04-07

I am being honest, I used a battery powered staple gun (which is shown in the photo). Definitely not a pneumatic stapler, and definitely no blisters. But thanks for checking up on my validity.

astrahota (author)RosemaryB12015-04-07

Can't be honest about something they do not have, that stapler is battery operated.

bellanena.salazar (author)2015-03-02


JadeM1 made it! (author)2014-08-02

Thanks for a really detailed tutorial. It gave me the confidence to have a go myself.

poofrabbit (author)2013-08-31

Hey congratulations on being a finalist in the weekend projects contest!

walksintherain (author)2013-08-26

Thanks so much. Very simple instructions.

TossManual (author)2013-08-19

Good job! Now if one could only 'reupholster' those high density foam arms. Mine have started to crumble after only a coupla years. :(

kwscholar (author)TossManual2013-08-20
like these replacement arms?

TossManual (author)kwscholar2013-08-21

Well, yeah, but I was kinda thinking of a DIY option, here on Instructables. 8|

Krell Metal (author)2013-08-19

Now this is a handy idea!

broregret (author)2013-08-18

Will this work on my Aeron?

cutekitten (author)2013-08-18

love it

thebeatonpath (author)2013-08-18

LOVE THIS! Have been meaning to do it, but was afraid of how much time it would take. I am so tackling this now! THANKS for posting this. Totally inspired!

zkerzner (author)2013-08-17

As soon as my mom read this, she got up and did it!( not literally, but you get the point!)

cybercapri (author)2013-08-16

Well done, what a cleaver way to re-purpose an old chair....

flyingpuppy (author)2013-08-16

Wow. I never would have thought of reupholstering an office chair. Fantastic idea! Thanks for the great pics.

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