Vintage chair before and after

I think I could have a whole TV show just of before and afters of furniture. It’s so unbelievably satisfying and 100 percent design porn to me. It’s the closest I get to being so distracted and happy that I forget to eat. Ripping off the plastic of a newly recovered piece of furniture is like Christmas when you are nine. Every time.

Anyway …

Here’s the chair when my friend James bought it:


James, my friend and pseudo client in this case, found this chair on Craigslist after hours and hours of shopping. He had a vision about the perfect chair and he was going to find it. It needed to be big and substantial but not boxy. Comfortable but not over-sized. And of course, interesting and not just something you could pick up anywhere. Nice job, James. You done found it for $180. It was in bad shape though with some rips and some odor so it needed to be redone.

Upholstering a vintage vinyl chair (or vinyl anything) can be tricky. I used to think, Oh hey I can upholster anything in anything until I got 20 pieces done for my first OKL sale and two of them were screwed up because I chose the wrong fabric that simply didn’t work with the shape and style of the piece. When I say “didn’t work” I don’t mean that it was a weird choice, I mean that there were literally big gaps and puckering where there shouldn’t have been. I wanted to blame my upholsterer, but those two pieces had one thing in common: they started in vinyl and I put them in a softer, thinner, and less structured linen. Linen or any natural fiber has a lot of stretch, while vinyl or leather really doesn’t. I’m not saying it can’t be done, it’s just tricky so make sure to ask your dude. It just doesn’t always work.

In this case we really wanted vinyl or leather. It fit the retro style of the chair. We liked the texture of the vinyl in the living room, as opposed to a linen or velvet.  It felt more masculine and sleek, which is what we were kinda going for.

The first question was leather or vinyl? The labor was the same price ($320), but the price of the material was pretty different. The vinyls were about $18 a yard and we needed six yards … so around $115. But a large piece of leather big enough to do the chair and ottoman became very expensive, like around $400 – $500. The chair itself was $180, so all of a sudden that chair is around $1,000 which was NOT the intent. We chose vinyl.

vintage leather chair

The next question was what color? There weren’t a ton of vinyl colors that I was psyched about and of course we had only one day to shop and decide (because we had to shoot the place a few days later, which you’ll see on Monday). So while there might be a ton of really awesome vinyl choices out there, there were very few that I wanted to use. I mean, it’s vinyl. It’s like trying to find the best faux fur — it exists, but it’s hard to find. That’s why the trick is to find vinyl that isn’t trying to look like leather. Because you aren’t fooling ANYONE.


We narrowed it down to these four — a light gray, teal, black, or camel. The camel would have been awesome in leather, but it just looked like it was cheap vinyl trying to be leather, so it cheapened the chair. The black was going to be really dark with the rug. The light gray was a good choice but we just needed more color than that in the room.

So teal it was. You don’t have to twist my arm.

teal vintage chair

And there you go. That is a VERY good looking teal chair if you ask me. The color looks awesome and I love how it’s not trying to look like leather and obviously no animals were harmed here, friends. It’s retro and playful, but looks sophisticated and modern. Here’s a quick breakdown of the pricing: The chair was $180, vinyl was $120, and upholstering was $320 = $620. Not nothing, but it’s exactly what they wanted size wise, shape wise, and style-wise. Plus, it’s totally unique and 100 percent perfect for the room, therefore worth every penny. It required only with a one week lead time and since it’s vinyl it’s practically indestructible.

Quick resources: rug, from West Elm (and on sale right now), large incredible underwater painting by Francesca Quintano. All the rest of the resources on Monday’s big reveal post. 

After photos by Zeke Ruelas.

teal tufted

There you have it. Thanks to James for making this makeover happen by trolling Craigslist til he found his dream chair. It’s really a total stunner now. James better sit so hard in that chair.

blue vinyl chair

  1. Katy

    Ummmm yeah, if the furniture before-and-after show becomes a reality, let me know so I can set my DVR. Love it!

  2. I love it! I thought the original was good, but the new version is so much better. I too am on CL for hours and hours, and if I had a truck I’m pretty sure my houe would be over-furnished by now. The thought of a furniture refinishing party is awesome, I know my friends would be down for that.

  3. YP

    Great work!
    The difference is amazing, it fits so well in the space now

  4. Tasha

    Stunning… as per usual…

    I agree 100% vintage furniture porn rules.. I hoard chairs in my loft… doesnt everyone have 16 dining chairs lying around? ( For the future abode of course).

    That art is ammazing!

  5. Kerry

    Fabulous bit of color!!

  6. elizabeth

    So glad to see this post on vinyl upholstery! Your other upholstery posts have been so helpful, but I’ve wondered how tricky/expensive having furniture reworked in vinyl or leather might be. Any other tips you can share on potential issues that may arise when working with those materials?

    • Emily

      I was so surprised that my dude doesn’t cost more to do vinyl or leather, just a different needle so its the same price as regular fabric. Weird, right?

  7. Emily

    Just FYI i would totally watch that show

  8. I can’t even begin to describe how amazing this is! the transformation is BEYOND. Super impressed over here.

  9. Sarah

    You learn something every day. If emily Henderson says vinyl is cool, then vinyl IS cool.
    I actually have my grandfathers old (vinyl) office chair that I’m planning to upholster. Now I know my choices are more limited. Thank you!
    I was planning to order from this site recommended by little green notebook:

    Thanks for sharing Emily!

  10. Once again, thanks for telling it like it is! Shopping on CL isn’t necessarily a cheaper route, but there are great pieces that need good homes – great chair!

  11. The blue is amazing and the room is just to die for!

  12. I’m on Craigslist every night trolling for bargains. I’m getting a new car and one of the requirements was a hatch back so I can fit more furniture in it to haul home! The chair looks awesome! Love how the teal color plays with the water in the picture.

  13. pam

    i love the teal! i have this vintage 8ft vinyl couch my hubby got for $20 at an estate sale. we’ve been wanting to reupholster it, but don’t know where to start.

  14. OMG, Emily, you HAVE to pitch that idea to your producers! Furniture before-and-afters?! I would be all over that! Love anything in teal…beautiful!

  15. Laura

    I just bought that exact same chair (same mustard color, no ottoman) on Craigslist in Minneapolis for $150. I’ve been trying to figure out how to recover it. I would love to do leather, but I’m glad to see that newer vinyl can be a more budget friendly option that still looks amazing. I was also considering a thicker drop cloth for a more industrial / Restoration Hardware look, but I’m worried now that it would have the same puckering problems you mentioned with other fabrics. Any thoughts? Thanks for this post!

    • Emily

      Yeah, i don’t know about the fabric. Ever since i messed up those other vinyl pieces i’ve been scared to switch to linen, although i’m sure if its thick and not stretchy that it would be ok. I’d show a pic of your piece with a swatch of your fabric to your dude before you buy the fabric and see what he thinks. Because yes, the puckering is a bummer and having to redo sucks. Trust me. I’ve had to redo now three pieces that i’ve messed up due to wrong fabric choice.

  16. Dang it. That’s gorgeous.

  17. raya

    So awesome, so jealous. I think most of my fantasies are about re-upholstering furniture, so you are not alone.

  18. Julia @cuckoo4design

    So freakin fabulous!

  19. Steph

    That chair is fabulous! I love teal anything, so obviously, you made the right choice! :)

  20. Molly

    I always look for chairs just like that to buy and then my husband nixes them. He says that my decorating taste is 70’s game show… I’m glad I’m not alone.

  21. Kate

    Curious, what does reupholstery for a chair like this cost?

  22. tammyCA

    Excellent! I love the color, the style and I bet it is super comfy.

  23. Mary

    This is so rad. Love!

  24. Your chair turned out absolutely fantastic. I see a few people in here talking about the possibility of using leather on a project like this. I invite you to check out Leather Hide Store (my name is linked), which is where I work. We specialize in selling gorgeous upholstery leather to the public at wholesale prices.

    I hope this comment doesn’t come off as too self-promotional but I thought it would add value for the readers.

  25. dana

    you mentioned odor….does the redo of the vinyl get rid of the odor? Or do you have to replace the “stuffed” parts as well? If so, if must be difficult to maintain the integrity of the original shape….can you do a little explanation of this for us? I have seem some great stuff but with dubious “old smells” and so I usually pass.
    Thanks! That chair is fabulous in teal!

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  30. Erin

    That LAMP! Any idea where it’s from or where I could find one like it?

  31. Pam


    I recently got a chair off CL and I want to reupholster it. I live on la and was wondering where you got this done since it turned out so great. The chair I have is vinyl as well. Love your blog!



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  33. Meghan Fank

    What type of chair is this? Or what key words would you use in order to search for a chair with this same shape?

  34. Julie

    Who does your upholstery? I am so jealous! I’m up north in Sacramento and cannot find a decent place for anywhere NEAR the prices you and Jenny of LGN post. When I got a quote for recovering a cool MCM rocker I bought at an antique fair, I almost died – over $1000 from the most reputable place in Sac, and about $600 from a cheaper place. Needless to say, it’s cheaper for me to just keep looking for another chair. Alas…

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