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.  

  1. kookie good for sure! great work

  2. girl. you are blowing my mind! so cool and happy. the blue tweed on bright mint is my favorite!

  3. Emmie

    So fun! I would have never thought to do something like that but it totally works for this office!

  4. i absolutely LOVE it! I agree it works with the rest of the space. Great color combos. I think it’s really hard to make mixed prints look good and you pulled it off!

  5. I love these so much it hurts! Man, they are gorgeous.

  6. Kookie crazy good! Love them!!

  7. Sarah

    I’m almost crying I’m so blown away!
    It feels so right!
    Any chance you could offer a link to the solid upholstery fabric? I’d love to use it for a project I’m trying to get my Emily Henderson on with!

  8. I love them I love them I love them!! These are adorable and if you find more you need re-do them and sell them because I want one! So so cute–I’m gushing I know, but these are awesome!

    Abby J.

  9. raya

    kookie GOOD for sure. With every post I covet this amazing office space more and more!

  10. Kookie crazy good! Love the entire space, although that shouldn’t be a surprise!

  11. With all the white and clean lines these chairs are so perfect! I’d get overwhelmed just trying to find the perfect color and fabrics and probably would have just went with different shades of the same color. This is so much more fun though!

  12. Carrie

    LOVE that the chairs all match but then again don’t. Not kookie, just crazy good!

  13. These are awesome! I got the exact same chair at home in a boring brown color so this got me thinking. I think it’s time to put my 4-year upholstery training finally at use!

  14. I have some “new” vintage Chromecraft dining chairs that I have been planning on doing this too. Glad to see I am “on trend”. Thanks, Ladies!

  15. heather c.

    So much perfect happening at once. In love with the risk and the outcome. Bravo!

  16. Megan

    Kookie great!!!

  17. Jenny

    You are SO good! Seriously jealous of your talent.

  18. sue

    I LUV them! This was my favorite thing about Joy’s new office. They’re so fun and happy—and I’m going to copy at least one of them for my own space :)

  19. Elise

    What’s not to like?! Anyone who doesn’t like these should go live in a cave. Or a monastery. Or a monastery in a cave. They are awesome!

  20. susie

    These make me SO happy! I love the gif with the 4 chairs….so much fun!

  21. Kelly

    I totally did this with my Ikea chair a few weeks ago! I just staple gunned the fabric on the bottom and then sewed a slip cover for the top part. Voila! Wayyyy better then the ugly black thing is was before. But not nearly as cute as these two toned babies!

  22. Ali

    I feel that this demonstrates why it’s worth paying for a professional to design a space. They look awesome and I don’t think that I ever would have thought of doing something like this.

    • Sarah

      Oh yes!

  23. Karen Lee

    They are all kinds of awesome!
    Nicely done.

  24. amyks

    I love these. I want to do that to a sofa/ Loveseat for a room that opens up to my patio, solid in the front and a cool funky flora on the back. I have been searching for the couch and fabrics for awhile now…

  25. Kirsten

    Your colour/fabric matching skills are out of this world!

  26. Barb

    Freakin Awesome!! Love them! I want Joy’s office!! :)

  27. WOW. Wow! Just incredible. I think I need one, that is all.

  28. emily jane


  29. JD

    What I think is – one – they turned out great, and – two – I wish your upholsterer lived in NYC. I recently had similar desk chair circumstances for a design job and was getting quotes of $250/ea. for this type of chair. Yay Joy! Boohoo me : (. Anyway, the whole office looks great. Well done.

  30. Hanna

    I love this! I’ve been thinking about doing something similar (and tragically threw out a chair like that a couple years ago, so shortsighted!) but my husband wonders how ergonomic it will be without the ability to change the height and armrests. Any thoughts on that?

  31. Julia R

    yay to the blue one! so happy you did this post– i was super curious about the chairs since your recent post about her space. trying to find a similar chair– ikea has a close-ish match, but real vintage is duh way better.

  32. simone


  33. Kookie fantastic! They’re gorgeous, even though I wouldn’t do them that way in my own space. They totally make sense in Joy’s studio and for Joy’s profession.

    I feel like your LA upholsterers are actually cheaper than my Seattle ones, which seems insane. I clearly need to do more digging for the little guys on the outskirts of town. Every quote I get is monstruous!

  34. Alexis

    Oooooo…I want the aqua with hot pink back! Like now!

  35. Lynn

    These are really, really wonderful!

  36. kelly

    stop those people from sitting on them!! they are too pretty.

  37. susan

    Kookie GOOOOOOOOD!

  38. Sarah

    Of course not as cool as EmHenderson, but the saddle desk chair at West Elm, could be a good place to start if you want to try this project.

  39. Love these soooo much! I can’t seem to find an affordable upholsterer here in NYC. Would you happen to know of one? Anyway, you should totally sell these online. I would buy one!

  40. Holly

    I was thinking you finally had your own fabulous line! No one does it right! Those, headboards, ect…give us the EH way!

  41. diane

    Definitely kookie good and do we HAVE butt hair? Yuck!

  42. Catherine Soria

    Wow Wee! Love the colors all together. You know sometimes you just don’t want to choose one color!

  43. Kim

    Your knocked it out of the ballpark with this one! I’ve been wanting to re-do an old office chair for a while, after seeing some that others have reupholstered in fun colors, but the combo of colors and patterns here is STUNNING. Now I just have to find a chair similar to these that will allow me to go a little crazy :)

  44. hillary

    Super duper crazy cute! I think I like them better all together than I would if each was alone in a room. They make perfect sense in an inspirational office space! I would love to go to work every day and sit in one of those babies.

  45. Rae

    Love, love, love, love. Are the folks who get to work in the chairs territorial? I would want to trade and sit in a different one each day. I think. Or maybe I would be territorial and choose a favorite. Could be problematic in the best possible way.

  46. Robyn

    Kookie crazy GOOD!!!! And I will never again look at another office chair without thinking of butt hair. ;)

  47. Kim

    Kookie awesome!

  48. Mary

    I live in the LA area and was wondering what company you use for reupholstery?
    I’ve only re-upholstered outdoor cushions and it cost a mint. I’d love to revitalize a few diamonds in the rough for our home but I’ve been afraid to tackle anything because of the reupholstery costs. If you wouldn’t mind sharing your favorite “go to” places that would be amazing.


    • Sarah

      She did a post on this. You should try and find if. Although (completely understandably) she doesn’t give away those key sources.
      But definetly a lot of insight, as always with her!

  49. Marie

    I absolutely love them! I don’t think they are kooky at all. I want one!

  50. Amber

    These look fan-slippin-tastic! I did a similar treatment an a set of old upholstered kitchen chair in my studio (plain black inside and seat with Marimekko large scale pattern on the back). Hit of the office, they were. You can see them here:

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  52. Michelle

    Emily, I’ve always loved you. But these chairs just blew my mind hard. I’m sort of ticked that you stole so much of the creative dna from humanity’s gene pool. It also sort of makes me love you more:) Carry on.

  53. Kim

    Wrapping a bergere or wing chair with contrasting fabrics has been hot for a while, but this is surprisingly fresh! I have a very ergnomic and comfortable — but ugly — office chair that no fabric is the world is going to make look great, and this is making me reconsider ergonomics in favor of style. Kind of like high heels.

  54. so so vibrant and fun! any chance you could let me know what font is being used in that last gif? love it. many thanks! :)

  55. Great idea right here! thumbs up!

  56. Love this. I’m sure it would help people keep track of their chair…no one sits in my office chair but me, dangit!

  57. Del

    Fan-tastic! Who do you use to reupholster in los angeles? Any recommendations?

  58. So inspiring! I will deff be on the lookout for a chair to make-over!

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  60. Ana

    LURV them. However, where on earth did you find an upholsterer that is so reasonable?

    “Two weeks later and $80 per chair later in labor($320 total) I went to check on my babies at my upholsterers”.

    I live in Toronto, and when I enquired about having the fabric changed on my mother’s lazy boy chair, it was the same price as buying a new chair {$400}. I passed, needless to say.

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