How to paint upholstery

Painted Arm Chair

I’ve been seeing a ton of blue/teal velvet chairs lately and I really love the look. I picked up a little yellow velvet arm chair at a garage sale for $15 a couple years ago, and I loved it’s old fashioned charm. However, the yellow isn’t really my thing anymore, so I decided to try out upholstery painting.

There’s a really pretty set of teal velvet chairs in the model home I work at, so I modeled my shade of blue after these:

velvet chair

Here’s the break down of my materials and cost:

  • 2 tester sized Glidden paints in Dark Tourmaline – $7
  • 7 2 oz bottles of fabric medium at $1.99 ea. (I couldn’t find a bigger size) – $14
  • Garage sale chair – $15 a couple years ago
  • Decorative upholstery nails (6 packs of 20) – $8
  • Fine grit sand paper – I had some leftover from a $2 pack
  • Paint brush – I buy good brushes and keep them clean, so I always have a free brush on hand!
  • Spray bottle – I had a little empty travel sized one laying around, it was about $1 originally
  • Water – Free!

Total cost for me – $29

Total potential cost – $57 (assuming your chair costs $15 or less)

original chair

I initially just got one tester tub of paint and ended up having to go back and get another, which I used about half of. I normally use Behr Paint & Primer on my walls and furniture, but I was concerned about how the paint/primer combo would work on fabric, and the Glidden paint was nice and cheap (in case it all went terribly wrong). I’ll also say that I used a kitchen scale to measure out my paint/medium/water proportions to the ounce, and that was really helpful since I had to make about 5 batches. I used a little mason jar to hold the mixture and keep it from drying out between coats.

paint mix

So the magic mixture is 1 part paint, 1 part fabric medium, and 1 part water. I made mine in batches of 2 oz each, closed the lid, and shook like no other. It should be watery like stain. The fabric medium is super important because it keeps your fabric from getting all crunchy. Make sure that your starting chair is clean and free from dust/cat hair, fill your spray bottle with water, squirt the bejeezus out of the area that you want to start with, and put brush to fabric!

Applying paint

You want to make sure the fabric is really really wet, and don’t be shy about spraying more directly on the paint if it’s not spreading evenly. Brush it on in all different directions to really get it in there, but make sure that your final stroke is with the grain if your fabric has a nap like velvet. Here’s my chair halfway through the first coat:

In progress

And my adorable kitty enjoying the chair after the first coat finished:

Kitty in chair

You can see that it still looks a little streaky before the second coat, and the color isn’t as rich yet. Another important part of this process is sanding down after each coat. Grab some fine-grit sandpaper and really go to town on the entire chair, especially the thicker or rougher parts.

sanding fabric

Will you still have soft velvety fabric after this method? No. But I was totally resigned to having a hard, crunchy, but pretty chair and I was pleasantly surprised. When you pet the fabric with the grain, it’s still fairly smooth/soft, but when you go backwards it’s a little rough. Here’s a good close up of the seat cushion:

close up fabric

The other thing that I did in this project was replace and add decorative upholstery nails. There were a few dark, rusty upholstery nails around the front legs on the original chair, and I love the look of silver nails on chairs and sofas. I used a highly scientific method of measuring how many more I needed to do the fronts of the arms as well (I walked my fingers along where I wanted them and counted “steps”) and got a few packs at $1.30 ea.

Upholstery nails

I know there are better, more uniform looking ways of installing these, but seriously, I think the wood in my chair is the hardest wood known to mankind, because every time I tried to nail one in (even using needle-nose pliers to steady the nail) it got bent sideways. I ended up pushing them into the fabric instead of the wood, so they’re in there pretty loosely, but so far none of them have fallen out and I like the look so it’s not the end of the world.

I temporarily moved the chair over to the window so I could actually get a well-lit picture in my dim apartment (no overhead lights, minimal windows), so you can see for yourself how it turned out! I’m pretty pleased with it, and even the cat and Adam approve. It took about 7 hours or so, spread out over a few days, but I think it was worth it. Have you tried painting upholstery before? Would you try it now?

Thanks for reading!


Painted Arm Chair

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