Reupholstered Steelcase chair project | How About Orange

September 20, 2011

Reupholstered Steelcase chair project

I paid my first visit to Jubilee Furniture a couple weeks ago and returned with a car full of projects. Jubilee is a giant furniture resale shop in Carol Stream, a Chicago suburb. You'll find mid-century goodies mixed with more contemporary pieces—a whole lot of awesome combined with some things that look like hopeless cases to my non-expert decorator eyeballs. It's a treasure hunt. And somehow Jubilee has assembled a staff made up of the nicest people on the planet, so go visit them! Highlights from new inventory are posted regularly on their blog.

But anyway. While I was there, I came upon two 1982 Steelcase task chairs begging with sad puppy eyes to be rescued. They could replace the not-very-comfy wooden dining chairs Alex and I use at our desks. The challenge was figuring out how to get them apart and re-cover them, because the stained, scratchy burlap-like upholstery had to go. After studying them in the store it was still a conundrum, but Susan the manager cheered us on. (Hi Susan!) So into the car they went.

And we conquered! Say hello to our refurbished woodgrain office chairs. We're in love. In case you, too, ever encounter a Steelcase task chair begging for a re-do, read on to see what we did.

We were champing at the bit to get started on the chairs, but lacked enough free time. So we brought them along on a visit to my family in Minnesota last weekend where they turned into a family project. Everybody had a hand in this chair makeover, which you'll see in the following photos. A disclaimer: We don't know anything about reupholstery, so our method is take it apart and copy what the people before us did.

We easily removed the screws from the underside of the chair to get the pedestal (leg? foot?) off. Then we discovered the front of the seat was attached to the back with small screws hidden underneath a strip of plastic edging (casing? trim?). Let's call it edging. We pried the lip of the edging up with a flat screwdriver to get at the hidden screws to remove them. This involved a lot of wrestling. Good thing Alex was on the team in high school.

See? These screws go in through the back of the chair, pass through the edging on the front side, and screw into the plastic back of the seat. A mystery solved.

When the screws are removed, the two halves come apart. (Leave the edging attached to the back piece or it'll be a nightmare putting it back on again.) The arms are easy to detach; each is held on by two screws.

Approximately 378,920 staples secured the fabric around the edges of the seat. We removed those.

Mystery number two: there was a seam across the fabric where the vertical backrest met the horizontal seat. And somehow that seam was anchored to the chair.

Turns out two pieces of fabric were stitched together, leaving a 3-inch seam allowance. This extra flap was tucked down into the crack between the foam pieces and stapled to the bottom of the chair.

We removed it and pinned the fabric onto the new woodgrain material. (Monalis from IKEA.) Using the old fabric as a pattern, I cut out new pieces and Mum sewed them together, mimicking the seams and the topstitching from the original fabric.

Pa stapled the new fabric down into the crack while I squished the foam down. (Yeah, I call him Pa. It's the most suitable name for dads on farms.)

Then we stretched the fabric around the edges of the chair, stapling it in place. The old foam and batting were in fine shape, so we reused them. Then the arms and front and back pieces of the chair were screwed back together again.

Because these chairs will be used on our hardwood floors, we put felt discs under the feet so they'll slide without scratching the floor. I'm opposed to wheels and floor mats because they're ugly.

Here they are in all their glory!

75 comments:

Sally Evans said...

Your chairs look great! I like the fun fabric and updated look.

I've reupholstered an office chair before and it can be challenging.

Now I'm inspired to look for another office chair myself.

Grandma G said...

They turned out so great! Love that fabric! Thanks for letting us be a part of the job!

Oh, you miscounted... there were 378,921 staples. ;)

Mum

Jessica Jones said...

I guess I dropped one.

knittinginflashes said...

Love those chairs! What a great idea.

Live a Colorful Life said...

Beautifully done!

Dana said...

Oh, I'm going to look at my chair upstairs now! I tried making a slip cover for it a long time ago and never finished. Taking it apart and recovering would be much better! What were you stapling into? plastic? Thanks for the inspiration!

LeeAnn said...

They turned out wonderful! I actually use an old executive steelcase desk as my sewing desk. It comes in handy when I am cutting out fabric/patterns because magnets stick to it holding all fabric in place while my shears do their work.

Kit said...

Amazin'! You've given me hope in my chairs project (said chairs are languishing in my basement cuz I'm skeered) but NOW - perhaps I'll be brave!

Yetunde said...

Oh wow, I redid a chair like this about 4 years ago...in fact almost identical, except mine didn't have the arms. It was kind of interesting trying to figure out how to take it apart, but it was surprisingly easy to take apart and put back together once I got going. I still have it till today...in fact I'm sitting on it right now. love your fabric choice!

BananaSaurusRex said...

THE best!

Mary said...

My brother actually re-did my chairs. They looked okay, but I had no clue what they could've turned into. Maybe I'll ask him to try again with your chairs in mind...:)

Shayna said...

I had been considering that fabric for an MCM arm chair I'm reupholstering but ultimately decided against it. I'm so glad I did because it's clearly destined to be an office chair! Now I know what to start searching craigslist for! (One should never be without an upholstery project waiting in the wings. Lights a fire under your butt to finish the one you're working on!)

Jessica Jones said...

Dana, yep, you staple into plastic. I have two staple guns and used both depending on where the staples were going. One did 1/4" staples, and one did 9/16".

Kerry said...

They look wonderful- the fabric is a great choice with the metal frames. It does look like a physical battle to take them to bits but worth it! Totally refreshed and shiny new!

Liz said...

They look fantastic and what a fun thing to recruit the whole family to get the job done! :-)
I didn't like that IKEA fabric when I first came across it because I couldn't think of a single project that I would like to do with it. Seems like you found it because with those chairs it really works! Great job!

Ayana said...

What a great before and after! That's a amazing color! Thanks for sharing!

Dani said...

Those are awesome, great choice in fabric. I will be watching the thrifty stores here to see if I can find a similar project (except I want to replace the dining room chairs with something more comfortable)

Jenny said...

I love the fabric you chose!

Laura SJ said...

Your chairs look fabulous...thanks for the inspiration. And I have to say--I drive by Jubilee at least once a week, and never had any idea what was inside. Now it is on my list of places to visit, and I'm looking forward to the treasure hunt. Gracias!

Double J said...

Can you make one of those for me to BUY!?

Sarah said...

Those look amazing! We're in such need of better office chairs, and they are all ugly! I need to pump myself up for a chair remake.

Susan said...

I KNEW you would figure out how to reupholster them and make them fabulous, Jessica! They're stunning. I LOVE the fabric. Good job!

Kathleen said...

I love the chairs! I've been afraid of trying the steelcase chairs even though they would make a great desk chair. And I desperately need a new desk chair.

Jubilee Furniture sounds like a fun place to go. I'm in Evanston and now its on my list!

Anonymous said...

Love love love these! Wow. Great team effort.

Laura D said...

Oh! I tried to pry apart these SAME CHAIRS last week and couldn't do it. Now I can! Thank you!

Quilted Maple said...

I love that you made this a family project! We do all sorts of family projects...it's our entertainment. They turned out so snazzy.

Fierce Girl Design said...

These are fantastic!! Thanks for sharing the process.

jen duncan said...

Standing and applauding wildly!! Now THAT is a job well done. Bravo!

briscoeslochico said...

Possibly some of the coolest chairs I've ever laid eyes on...MARVELOUS~

Jane S said...

Super cute! I too love that fabric.

Squirrel Bait Crafts said...

Love this chair! Too cute!!

RE Ausetkmt said...

I've got one of those chairs, and I surely appreciate you telling me how to re do it. oh you are good !

Cara said...

These are so cool, love the fabric choice! Thanks for showing us how to recreate this at home.

Holly U said...

These look awesome! I agree with others -- what fun fabric for them too!

Becky said...

Wow!

Grandma G said...

Make that 378,922 staples.

Mum

Cary said...

The chairs look amazing. Love the fun fabric.

Jessica Jones said...

Mum, so you found one on the floor? I hope it was on the floor and not in your foot!

Grandma G said...

Yup, it was under the desk. Josie probably hid it there for safekeeping.

Mum

Heather said...

My husband and I each have one of these chairs in our home offices. He got them from work a few years ago for free. I would never have thought to reupholster them! Although I'm not sure I'm brave enough either.

MJBadinella said...

LOOOOOOOVE the print. I hope we could find something similar this far south!! :(

Misty said...

Wood grain makes me so happy and these chairs are just wicked!

rebecca... said...

,,,brilliant!,,,

Christine E-E said...

a family-coordinated project! so do your parents get to sit in them when they come to visit? I mean, they did help in the reupholstering project...
IKEA has some great inexpensive fabrics - way too cool!

Lynda said...

Great job! And Love your curtains in the back ground too!

Jessica Jones said...

Thanks! Fabric paint + cheap Target panels.

Elsa said...

Great work! I'm impressed that you saw the potential; I'm not sure I would have looked at those chairs twice in their original state, but they look fantastic!

gm glimmerglass said...

LIke many a poster here, I too have those same chairs (in lovely heather tones, mind you) I could not for the life of me figure out how to get them apart.
Thank you, thank you!
I think I will have to spring for a hank or two of Outside Oslo as a tribute!
I really appreciate your blog and all the fab things you pass on to us.

Miss Sews-it-all said...

Absolutely fabulous! Thanks for the tip on the furniture shop, I've been in need of a new "old" desk chair for awhile.

I just LOVE the way your chairs turned out!

Kim @ Yellow Brick Home said...

I LOVE Jubilee! Susan is the greatest! She's our go to when we're on the hunt for something new in our home.

And I love your makeover, too :)

Candied Fabrics said...

Bravo! Fantastic job, these are perfect!

wholesale cage fighter said...

Wow! Your chair turns out fantastic and amazing. You did a great job. Big thanks for sharing.



Michelle

Life after Steelcase said...

Reading this post brought back memories. I remember making those chairs in different stages of production but not upholstering. Ahh yes, the staples. Let's just say that any unsuspecting person walking thru the upholstery department may find themselves being a target for stray staples. And of course, if you turn around to see who shot at you with the staple gun, everyone would be pretending to be concentrating on their work and stapling like mad. Thus 'one' of the reasons for all the staples. Don't even get me started on the 'staple wars'. (staples instead of snow balls and yes, they do hurt when you get hit) I enjoy reading your blog and projects.

S.M. Lee said...

This looks fantastic! I love the choice of fabric. Where did you get this print?

Jessica Jones said...

The fabric is from IKEA. The link is in the post if you need it.

Jolene said...

wonderful!

Amy of The Salvage Collection said...

these are GORGEOUS! found them on pinterest when i searched for ikea upholstered furniture. hope you don't mind that i'm linking up to this in my post today about their stylish and low cost fabrics!

and, after this, i'm your newest follower!!

amy

Brenda said...

We have dozens of these at work and every time someone orders a "better" chair, I grab the old Steelcase for home. I couldn't figure out how to get them apart either.

Thank you so much! I am so trilled to finally be able to get these going!

Can I ask for some more specifics... How many screws hold the back to the front? General locations?

Jessica Jones said...

Shucks; I'd taken a photo of all the screws lying on a napkin, but I think I trashed it. 12-15, I'd say. It seemed easiest to start removing them near a front corner of the seat, I think. Somewhere around the spot where the armrest joins the bottom. (If I remember right.) And then we just went around with a flat-head screwdriver shoved under the edge of that, um, edging, sliding it along and lifting up that edging until we found the next screw.

foxkat said...

Dear Jessica,

I just picked up six (yeah, 6) of those chairs for free from an office that was moving. They are TANKS! What nice chairs. I always knew that Steelcase made top quality office furniture and these are no different.

I have several that are buttoned upholstery and several that are without buttons, some with arms (exactly like yours) and some with no arms. I even have ONE that is a spring-loaded recliner with arms that feels as smooth as the day it was manufactured.

The ones I got are in fantastic shape and condition, even the upholstery is in great shape, save for a couple minor water-soluable deposits of whatever on them. They are all in the shade of Burnt Orange, very retro. I'll post a photo or two on Picasa for the rest of the group.

I am almost inclined to keep at least the recliner in the original Burnt Orange, but I'll have to give it some thought seeing your post. Yours came out SOOOO nice!

Great job!

Jessica Jones said...

Wow, you're running a Steelcase orphanage! I love it!

Sewing Geek said...

You're my hero! I have upholstered many a chair seat, which is pretty simple, but never an office chair. I am sitting in one now that is BEGGING to be re-done but I don't know how to take it apart, wah. It's not a Steelcase sadly. But you have given me the courage to possibly try. This is a bad photo but here's the (ugly) chair: http://www.flickr.com/photos/littlebitsys/5930224186/

Jessica Jones said...

My theory is, if someone put it together, someone can take it apart. You can do it!

Ugh said...

You just saved me! I picked up one of these chairs off the side of the road, literally. :) It is in dire need of new upholstery, and I could not figure out how to pull it apart. Thanks for this tutorial! -Bec

Jessica Jones said...

Sure thing! I searched the entire internet for just such a tutorial when we got our chairs, and came up empty. Glad this will get you started!

marlon said...

great post! I've had two of these in orange sitting in my basement storage waiting to get reupholstered. this may just get me off my keister to get it done.

Jessica Jones said...

You can do it!

Antoinette C said...

You have inspired me to reupholster my 19 year old rocking chair used to nurse my baby daughter; it has much sentimental value. Thank You1

Meghan Heinikel said...

Thank you so much!! This post was such a blessing for me. I had all but given up reupholstering an old steelcase chair almost exactly like yours but, you had such an inspiring tutorial I knew I had to go for it.

Marie said...

Just found two of these in the storage room at my office and have claimed them for my own reupholster project. Thanks for the helpful instructions!

CosmoGirl said...

It may be a little late, but I am grateful I found this. I have a steelcase chair I love! It's wide and just perfect for the long designer hours I put in. Now I have some directions and I am definitely going to get this done asap. Thank you so much! Laura

orange sugar said...

I just snagged one of these, or something very similar, off of the side of the road. Hoping to reupholster it sometime soon. Although mine had casters that would have to be replaced or else they would damage the wood floors, I wonder if I could replace them with feet?

Jessica Jones said...

Worth looking into, for sure!

Kayla Nickley said...

I've been looking at this tutorial for a while, because I picked up one of these chairs at a thrift store, and finally decided to give it a go!

Your tips for taking the chair apart were an excellent help... but now I'm re-assembling and I'm not having much luck getting staples to go into the hard plastic. I'm thinking I might need to get ahold of a pneumatic staple gun, but in your pictures it looks like you used a small handheld one... any tips?

Jessica Jones said...

I wasn't strong enough to use the heavy-duty manual one, so I asked my dad to do it. That's his big hand in the photo. If I didn't have a dad available with strong hands, I'd go pneumatic. I bought one for an upholstery project I did a few months ago and it's awesome.

http://www.howaboutorange.blogspot.com/2013/11/reupholstered-craigslist-chair-project.html

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