Emily Henderson

Customizing vintage chairs

It’s Friday. Let’s get weird.


Let me tell you a story about some chairs. One day, not long ago, I was searching so hard for four cute office chairs for Joy’s studio. This is actually kinda a hard task. Sure, there are some out there but the really awesome and comfortable ones (upholstered) are really expensive. We needed some chairs to be: A. on castors, B. all work together (but not necessarily match), C. be upholstered D. be awesome, and E. NOT be $600 a piece. That is a long list of demands, my friends.

But then one day, at Sunbeam Vintage, I found four of these:

reupholstered vintage chair They came from one of my favorite vintage stores for, I believe, $80 a piece. They had a simple graphic shape, looked comfortable, modern, were on wheels, and generally checked off all the boxes we needed them to. Joy approved, I bought.

But obviously ‘as is’ was BORING and well, full of someone else’s butt hair for all we knew. So they needed to get stripped and re-cushioned/recovered. As I started thinking about what to recover them in I weighed my options:

1. They can all be the same — either a solid or a pattern. This would keep it consistent and graphic. Can’t go wrong, but could I go more right?

2. They could be four different colors or four different tones of the same color. Same, but not. It would look customized but still simple and graphic.

3. OR, now hold your horses, they could be eight different coordinating fabrics — two on each chair — as only a crazy person would do.

saarinen office chair


You heard me, cowboy. Since the back and the fronts had clear seams/divisions it seemed like a good opportunity to do something really fun, playful, and yes, full of JOY. I wanted them to have some consistency so we figured we’d do all the backs in a cute pattern and all the seats in a solid. So I went shopping and started playing around with the combo:

fabric swatches

We wanted the colors to obviously work with the rest of the space, so we knew that in general it was going to feel bright, happy with big pops of color in the blue/aqua/teal/pink/green world. Then we made sure to incorporate some of the more ‘for sure colors’ (like the green of the sofa) into the chairs so the two spaces ‘speak to each other’ so to speak. Some of these are upholstery weight and some of them are fashion weight, which won’t last 15 years, but the colors were just so much better. We only needed one yard of everything and most were around $20/yard = $160.

We made some decisions, then taped them to the chair, in order, on the front and the back – like so:

fabric swatches

Then we were ready to rock and roll. Two weeks later and $80 per chair later in labor($320 total) I went to check on my babies at my upholsterers:

vintage chairs IMG_3157

It’s like a little army of happiness, marching to war … or at least a mimosa-filled brunch.


They are kinda perfect for the office part of the studio. Since the desks are so simple and modern they can handle the kind of crazy pop and pattern of the chairs.

Resources (left to right): CB2 shelving unit; Blu Dot desks; CB2 file cabinets; vintage chairs from Sunbeam Vintage with custom upholstery; Conran for JCP desk lamps; striped waste baskets by Far & Wide Collective; and desk storage container by Kate Spade Saturday.

vintage-office-chairs There you have it, four pretty adorable customized vintage chairs. I know that this isn’t for everyone, nor is it an easy DIY by any means, but when it comes to a space that is meant to inspire you, taking risks is NEVER a bad idea. I liked all the patterns and I liked all the colors, so therefore, science shows that I’m PROBABLY going to like these chairs.

And I do.

vintage chair gif

What do you think, folks? Kookie good or kookie crazy?

Thanks Zeke for the beautiful studio photo and Tessa for all the graphics/gifs.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>