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Painted Upholstery – The Process Revealed (Tutorial)

*NOTE –  There are other examples of painted upholstery (mostly from readers) on the Chairs page at the top of the blog.  In addition, there are other upholstery painting methods on that page, if you are interested.

I recently painted an upholstered chair and have been asked about the process.  Below are before and after photos:

And, here it is after 15 months.  Still looking great!
Chair-005

Why would I do this?  Well, after I learned that recovering a wing back chair for my master bedroom would cost $500-700 total, I decided that just wasn’t in my budget.  Not to mention, I haven’t seen any good fabric in this color anywhere (not locally)…

So, how could I do this cheaper?

I REALLY wanted a chair like in my inspiration photo.   Not exactly like it, but the general color and shape.

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The wing back and the vibrant teal color were important elements of my master bedroom story board.

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Then, I had an epiphany.  I remembered seeing a painted chair a while back.  So, I began to do a little research on painting upholstery.  After all, I could surely afford to buy a used chair and paint!

After a day or two of getting my ducks in a row as far as a plan was concerned, I purchased this chair on Craigslist.

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It was in perfect condition.  Well built.  Great lines.

I began the painting process.  First on a pillow as a test, though this post is about the actual chair.

Materials needed:
1 Quart of latex satin paint in the color of your choice (I just got word that though Valspar called it latex, this paint is acrylic.  It’s also good to note that others have tried the whole process with just latex, just acrylic craft paints and even Annie Sloan Chalk Paint.  It does not seem to matter.)
1 Spray bottle full of water, ready for refills
1 Paint brush
Fabric medium (equal to the amount of paint that you use)
Acrylic craft paint in the color of your choice (It should match the color of the Latex paint should you want to use my exact method and do the final coat in acrylic craft paint.)
Sand paper in super fine grit

Note:  The fabric medium is white and could lighten your paint color a bit.

Tutorial:
1.  Make sure the chair is wiped free of dust and debris.  Clean it well.

2.  Mix 1:1 parts of paint and fabric medium.

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I used Ocean Soul by Valspar.  Below is a more accurate depiction of the color used:

Below is the textile medium that I used.  It is by Delta Ceramcoat and I purchased it in 8 ounce containers at Michael’s.

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Fabric medium keeps the fabric from getting too hard.   Note:  Some fabric mediums require that you place an iron briefly on the fabric (or a hair dryer) after the paint dries.

I didn’t use much paint – maybe 1/8 of the quart.  I mixed mine in an old cup.  A little goes a long way in this phase, as it will be very watered down.

This will be your base coat.

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3.  Water that paint/ textile medium mixture down.   Mix in about 1/2 the amount of water as paint.  (1 part water to 2 parts paint.)  Stir.   It should look more like a stain than a paint.

4.  Remove all seat cushions that are not attached from the chair or other furniture item.

5.  Spritz (fine mist) the part of the chair you will start with first with water.  I started on the seat cushion first.  Don’t be shy, you want the fabric wet.  Rub the water into the fabric.

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Sorry about the pics!  I was new to blogging when I posted this!

6.  Brush on the paint slowly while blending the best you can.  Work the paint into the fabric.   Don’t be afraid to use your hands.  Always make your last stroke with the grain so the fabric lays in the right direction as it dries.

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Note:  I tried it on a pillow first.  If you have a pillow or if there is an underside of a cushion, start there and see how it goes.

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The watered down coats should give you light coverage, almost like a stain.  It will also act as a primer.

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7.  Do two coats this way.   Each should be VERY thin.  Water it down even more if you have to.  Let the first one dry fully before beginning the second.  I let mine dry overnight.

It will look worse before better.  This is after one coat.

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8.  Don’t worry, your arm won’t fall off.  It is tiring, though, so you won’t mind resting between coats.

9.  Sand any particularly rough parts.   Sand lightly with a fine grit sandpaper.  In the direction of the grain, if possible.

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10.  Once my chair was dry, I chose to spray painted the legs in a glossy white.

Below is the chair before the legs were painted, with two coats of paint on the upholstery.

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After the legs were painted.

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11.  Now, it’s time for a final coat using the acrylic paint.  Mix it 1:1 with the fabric medium, like you did with the latex paint.

Note:  It is not necessary to do an acrylic coat.  You can use latex if you prefer.  I just got word that the Valspar paint that I used is acrylic.  However, most say that acrylic has more pigment.  Either way, you want a third coat and you will want this coat a little thicker.  

I mixed this in a cup as well.  But, this time, be more generous with the paint and dilute it less.  I’d do a full cup of paint, this size. (See below.)

Add just a few thimbles of water to dilute it a little.

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I had to mix my own color since the acrylic paints didn’t come in the color I wanted.

Spray the fabric with water again, just like you did on the other two coats.  It simply helps it blend and go on more smoothly.

Paint this layer much more generously.  This will be the layer that will cover the chair more completely. Don’t glop it on, but be generous.  It should provide full coverage unlike the base coats.

12.  I thought my chair needed a little bling, so I added some nail head trim on the arms.  I got the spacing right by folding a piece of paper and taping it so as to laminate it.

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Then, I simply hammered them in!  Nothing to it.

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13.  Congrats, you have a new chair!

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And, here is a look at it in my master bedroom!

Before?
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Is it crunchy or stiff?
It started out as a velvet fabric.  It is not soft like velvet anymore, but it is also not hard, crunchy or sand papery.  It’s like a stiffer rougher fabric, similar to painted canvas.  If you rub it in the direction of the grain, though, it’s not bad at all.  If you rub it in the opposite direction, it’s more rough.

Does the paint come off on clothing?
Not at all.  I tested it out and even wet it and sat on it.  No problem.   Similarly, if you paint a t-shirt, the paint doesn’t rub off.

Chair-005

Tips?
– A smoother fabric makes for a more consistent color.
– The final paint layer is very important.  It will give the consistent deep color.  Be sure not to overdo it on the first two coats.
– Go light on seams.  Water this down and don’t overdo it.  Work it in to those areas.  Don’t be afraid to use your hands.
– Sand down any particularly rough spots.
– For a more leather-like finish, you could try a glossy paint or a wax finish.
– It seems to work fine with latex paint only or just acrylic paint.  See my second painted chair (acrylic only) and the readers pale pink chaise (latex only).
– You’ll find that the better shape the fabric is in, the better the paint will go on and the less stiff it will be.  The arms on my chair were a tiny bit worn compared to the rest of the chair.  As a result, they are a little rougher now.  I do think that in time, with use, it will all even out in texture, though.
– It’s not a chair to cuddle in.  It’s not super plush anymore.  However, you will find other painting methods that are a little softer on the Chairs page of my blog.
– Someone made a good point – it’s a little like the concept of the velvet Elvis paintings.
– Best practice is to do a pillow first if you have one or the underside of a cushion if it is possible.
– I strongly suggest that this is tried on a chair that you would otherwise reupholster or get rid of so nothing is in jeopardy of being lost.
– It is perfect for a photography prop!
– See other painting methods on my Chairs page.  There are many examples there.

Hope you enjoyed this step by step look into the process!

PLEASE let me know if you try this – I’d love to see photos!

I am constantly updating my blog with examples of painted upholstery.  In fact, I added a new Chairs page that shows examples of painted upholstery on one page with links to posts.   This is the best way to see other examples.  Feel free to comment  with any thoughts or questions.

Update 5/31/11:  My second painted chair. Textured, no velvet and I did acrylic paint only.
Update 6/18/11:  Reader paints a pale pink chaise.  Latex paint only.
Update 8/8/11:  It does not seem to matter if you do latex or acrylic.  The main thing is to do thin layers and to spritz the fabric with water.  Work it into the fabric, don’t let it just sit on top.
Update 5/17/12:  The intro to my series on Simply Spray upholstery spray paint and an update on how my two painted chairs are holding up.
Update 1/6/13:  A reader wrote: “I have to say that Martha Stewart Fabric Medium was way easier to work with than the Ceramcoat Fabric Medium I started with. Also for me, the coats I did with satin latex paint did not nearly cover the original color as well as the acrylic paint. I think in the future, I might use acrylic paint only mixed with the Martha Stewart medium. That mix was a lot thinner and easier to work with than the latex paint and Ceramcoat.”
Update 6/18/13:  We’re still using it today in our master bedroom.
Update 7/1/13:  I just got a comment saying the Valspar Signature paint line is actually acrylic paint not latex.  Good to know!

P.S.  I am not selling anything.  I make no money off of posting on painted upholstery – I just offer information to my readers.  It would have helped me as I was researching and deciding what to do, so I want to offer it to others.

If you choose to follow this tutorial, it is at your own risk.  I am not responsible for the outcome, nor do I claim that it works perfectly for everyone.  I show fails as well as successes on my Chairs page.  I have only tried it on the two particular chairs that I own and am sharing my experience in hopes that it inspires and helps you. 

590 Comments :

  1. I am so grateful for this posting about how to paint furniture using latex paint. I love tufted furnite, but of course it’s even more spendy than the usual kind to have reupholstered, then if you want leather $$$ forget about it. So I was looking for either a friend with a talent and lots of extra time on their hands, or instructions for a project that was way over my head as far as I was concerned. I found these amazing old tufted couches and knew that they were what I was looking for. I wish I had taken the before picture, but gosh, I couldn’t get myself to. After months of putting on a coat here and there and adding nailhead trim they are finally done. This posting was a life saver which I often referred to! Thank you for your creativity and instruction!

  2. Great lloking chair! just wanted to know how you spraypainted the legs without geting it on the fabric

  3. Lois Mitchell

    Have you ever painted anything leather?

  4. Can you paint water repellent materials?

    • Yes but you do have the risk of the paint not sticking. See my week long series on Simply Spray fabric paint. I painted lawn furniture. :)

  5. Great inspiration for me! I am a rep for Vintage Market & Design Paint which is chalk based. I’ve seen others paint fabric with it but I haven’t tried it yet. It’s time!

  6. is the fabric still soft after the first two coats, when the layers are very thin and watered down? I have a couch that is almost the same velvet pale blue and I want to change it to a light – charcoal grey.

  7. I am trying something similar, but in a really dark grey. I’m finding though that it scuffs. Do I need to do thinner layers or sand it down more? Thanks for the helpful tips!

  8. I happen to have both some Annie Sloan chalk paint and also some Martha Stewart fabric medium in the house. Can I mix these together with water in a 1:1:1 combination for painting upholstered furniture? I thought I could use the chalk paint instead of the latex or acrylic paint since I had it available. I thought the fabric medium might keep things softer. Can anyone offer me some advice before I start this project or perhaps warn me if I should not be using the chalk paint with the fabric medium? I would love some advice as to whether I can use the chalk paint together with fabric medium? So far all references are for fabric medium and latex or acrylic. Please help if you can. I have two pink armchairs dying to be painted light gray.

    • Most chalk paint companies say you can paint material with their paint just as it it. I have no idea what will happen if you mix it with fabric medium. I would try it on a piece of similar material before trying it on your project piece. Heirloom Traditions has a special product called Fab specifically for use on fabric. You can get it at Redeem the offer online by clicking http://www.heirloomtraditionspaint.mybigcommerce.com . Use online checkout code “DSD” to get 10% off your order.

  9. Will it work on cloth automobile seats ?

    • In theory, yes, but I haven’t tried it myself. I would google that as I’m sure someone has. If it were me, I’d try a spray paint made for fabric.

  10. Alexandra Hewardt

    Hi Kristy
    I have dining room chairs that need fresh pain. The wood is cherry colored and I would really like a creamy color that looks like suede or leather. Is there anyway to do this? Ideas? Please let me know.

  11. Alexandra Hewardt

    Forgot to mention…sorry, I am looking for chair upholstery to be painted creamy faux leather (the look).

  12. Jennifer Jueneman

    Hello! LOVE the chair. So much so that when I was just on eBay searching “fabric spray paint” and I saw a 6-pack of Caribbean Blue upholstery spray paint ($57?) I immediately noticed that they were using YOUR before/after picture to represent their color, brand, and technique when you used pain & fabric medium and have “in between” photos to prove that YOU did this project. I was kind of ticked and wrote a letter, but you may want to investigate it yourself. It is your work & photos they are blatantly misrepresenting!

    Sorry!

  13. I have a french style sofa in light sage color I wish to spray paint it into goldish light caramel color ,,,,I need your support …

  14. What’s the dry time after second coat to not ruin the paint?

  15. I had to mix my own color since the acrylic paints didn’t come in the color I wanted. (So what colors did you use? I have a velour settee and I want it that exact color of your chair, it is beautiful!

    • Haha, good question. I don’t know actually. It was a few years ago and I just grabbed the closest blue they had and mixed in some olive green, navy, black and white until I got the right combo.

  16. Love your style and work. I developed a different technique to paint my fabric ottoman. I combined one part latex interior paint (Behr) with three parts of liquid fabric softener (Snuggles, as that is what I had on hand). You need to blend the two ingredients well and at first it looks like the paint is curdling but keep blending and it will become creamy smooth and almost frothy, as a lot of small air bubbles are generated. I used my paint brush to blend. Fabric softener is a surfactant which helps disperse the pigments; Fabric softener also has a lot of water (a main ingredient) so no need to add water to thin the paint. You will need to re-blend every time you go back to apply a another coat of paint as it curdles (separates) if it sits too long – but it will blend up smooth each time.

    I tested this method on an old cotton tea towel as it closely resembled the texture and weave of the cotton fabric on my ottoman. It worked very well and the fabric stayed very close to it’s original texture and feel. Once again, this was done on a tight cotton weave with no nap. This saved me even more money as I didn’t need to buy the fabric medium. The fabric ottoman looks great and cost less then $4.00 for a sample jar of Behr latex paint, as I had the fabric softener at home. Using this method the paint went a long way and I was able to cover a dark patterned ottoman with a light grey paint colour in 3 coats. I used a ¼ cup of latex paint to ¾ cup of fabric softener (1to 3 mixing ratio). The ottoman dimensions are 26” x 18”.

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