Introduction: Reconstructing Task Chairs

Each year in the U.S., we throw 3 MILLION TONS of office furniture into landfills (per the EPA). Lots of people throw out their old desk chairs because they get tired of them, they go out of style, or they just want a new chair, even though the old one still works fine.  Here's an easy way to re-cover your old desk chair and make it into something new and unique.  For this project I am using the ultra-inexpensive "Rickard" task chair from IKEA, which is a prime candidate for dorm rooms - and priced at just $19.99, is essentially designed to be disposable.  This method could be used on virtually any upholstered task chair though.  Hopefully with a little added interest, people will want to keep them around longer.   

Step 1: Making the Covers

I created a pattern for the un-modified Rickard seat and back.  If you're using the same Rickard chair, you can use the pattern HERE. Be sure to download and print them at full size to get the correct pattern size to fit the chair.  (You can also contact me thru my website and I will gladly send you the PDF.)  You'll probably have to tile them from the printer and tape together, then cut off the edges to get your pattern to cut the fabric from.

To create a pattern for another chair, the easiest way is to use cheap cotton muslin fabric. Drape it over the chair's seat, and mark it with sharpie where you need to cut. Allow it to drape down the sides and then give it an extra two inches underneath the bottom of the seat to cover it completely, then another extra inch to allow for a seam for the elastic (total three inches all the way around, beyond the bottom of the side of the seat). Sew a sleeve around the whole edge except for a 2" gap, then thread a strong elastic cord through the sleeve.  Pull it tight, the seat cover fits over the seat like a shower cap, with elastic around the lip to hold it on snugly.  Tie off the elastic for a snug fit.

To create a pattern for the back, drape the fabric over the back and mark it at top center, then all along the sides. When you cut, leave an extra half inch all the way around for the seam allowance. 

The back and front covers of the seat back are sewn together along the top and sides, leaving the bottom open to slip it over the back.  Then you can close it at the bottom either by hand sewing it together, or using stick-on velcro (or zippers if you're motivated and you're good at sewing) along the edges if you want the cover to be easily removable.

Step 2: Get Creative!

I built up the backs of some of the chairs using foam-core taped with sturdy tape onto the back side of the seat back.  The weight of your leaning back still naturally falls where the original seat back is, so you don't need anything super strong -- foam-core works fine.  For the wingback version (still in progress), I laser-cut a larger back shape and bolted it onto the back of the chair.  Once you've added the shape, cover the whole back in polyester quilt batting.  It can be sewn together at the edges (which is what I did) or easily hot-glued onto the foam core.  Then you'll cover the newly shaped back with fabric of your choosing.  I did versions with recycled old leather jackets, and some recovered caning from a couple of discarded chairs I found on the sidewalk. In the white version the top of the back is a head/neck cradle, and I covered the whole base in addition to the seat and back.  (The white fabric is also from IKEA, as is the gray with white flowers - the red flower I hand embroidered).

Happy chair hacking!