You can paint upholstery? Yep, here’s how.
I spend a lot of time online. Like, a lot. Noodling through the internet is how I earn a living. It’s also what I do to relax. So, yeah… I see things. Amazing things, like painted upholstery. Yup. Painted upholstery has been cropping up in DIY blogs and on Pinterest for awhile now. I scrolled through photos of rather unbelievable before and after photos – dirty, grungy wing chairs transformed into stately jewel-toned marvels. And while I was pretty skeptical about painting fabric, there were just too many success stories to dismiss the idea outright.
Most of these success stories credited designer Kristy Swain’s step-by-step how-to posted on her blog Hypen Interiors. After reading and re-reading her post, I started to get pretty excited. Her before and after photos are impressive. The supply list is short and affordable, plus she has a list of links to successes AND failures of other people who’ve tried her tutorial. I’m a sucker for transparency.
I also had a rather ugly chair squatting in my front room that I ‘d recently picked up for free. I found it on Freecycle and I grabbed it because I liked the shape of it and the size. I had fantasies of recovering it until I looked into the cost/skill required. So, there it sat, in it’s scruffy beige glory, reminding me and more dangerously my family of how I sometimes fail to follow through with my creative projects. I had nothing to lose and half the supply list sitting in my basement. So, here’s my take on Kristy’s tutorial. I read all the links to other attempts on her page and kind of modified things.
Painted upholstery DIY
- Paint – I used 1/4 of a 887 ml can of Behr’s acrylic-latex Teal Zeal I had left over from painting my dining room wall
- Spray bottle filled with water
- Fabric softener (optional – but I feel it helps with softening the fabric)
- Paint brush – I used a crappy old paint brush as I knew I was going to be rough on it, plus a few good-quality sponge brushes in different sizes (one small one for nooks & crannies)
- Small sponge roller
- Fabric medium – how much you need depends on the size of your project. I bought Americana brand fabric medium from Michaels. They only sold them in 60 ml bottles, so I bought 4 and I used them all. If you can find a big bottle, I’d grab that. Otherwise, it’s better to have too much than too little. You can always return what you don’t use or save for another project.
Here we go
1) Vacuum or even better steam clean the piece of furniture you’re going to be working on. You’re going to want your upholstery damp anyway, so you won’t have to wait for things to dry if you give it a shampoo. I’m lazy, however and I couldn’t be bothered to borrow a steam cleaner. So, I just vacuumed it within an inch of it’s life.
2) Tape off any wood you don’t want painted. Trim off any cat scratch threads, etc & so on.
3) Mix equal parts paint, fabric medium and water into a large Mason jar. Mix thoroughly. You want the consistency of a glaze – like homogenized milk.
4) Mist the area you are going to paint first with the spray bottle. You want the fabric pretty damp.
5) Using your brush lay a very thin layer of paint on the fabric. Now, how you do this will really depend on your fabric. If you’re painting a velour, you’re going to want to make sure you paint in the direction of the grain so that the fabric lays in the right direction. My fabric was as man-made as can be — textured, but with no pile. So, I really worked the paint in using circular motions. Again, keep this thin. This is your base coat. If you lay it on too thick, you’ll end up with a gross texture.
6) I spritzed a light mist of water over the painted bits and then ran over it with a damp sponge roller. I found this really evened out the coverage and removed any excess paint. Depending on how much surface you have to cover, you may want to roll on the paint, as well. I didn’t because I really wanted to work the paint into the fabric and I found a brush did a better job for me.
7) Once you’ve got your base coat on the entire piece, let it dry completely. Depending on your fabric this could take a couple of hours or overnight. I left mine overnight as I was keeping the fabric quite wet and it was midnight by the time I finished. From start to finish, it took me about an hour to get the first base coat on.
Note: At this point your piece of furniture will look terrible. You might even feel a little sick. You’re going to want to keep any naysaying family members out of the room because you’ll be tired and you just might have an irrational over-reaction to some unwanted feedback. Or, so I imagine…
8 ) If the first coat is completely dry, do the above again. Keeping your layer thin and damp. The colour will start to build up. Because unlike Kristy’s tutorial, I skipped the latex layers and went straight into it using the acrylic latex paint, I almost could have stopped at 2 coats. The chair looked pretty cool, but I was committed to a deeper colour. And so, I carried on to step number…
9) Time to mix up your final coat! I used just a little less water than I did for the base layers. I used equal parts paint and fabric medium and watered it down to more of a cream consistency.
10) Add a couple of cap fulls of fabric softener to your refilled spray bottle. I sprung for something that smells wonderful. Why not? I’m saving money on the chair…
11) Start spraying your water/fabric softener mixture and begin painting. You want to lay on a little more colour with this layer as this will reflect the final result. Again, how you do this will differ with your fabric. I kept it pretty thin because of the non-absorbency of my upholstery, but I definitely painted in on more generously than my base coats.
12) I continued to use the sponge roller to even things out.
13) Take a good long look at the finished product. Make sure you use a smaller brush to get into the nooks and crannies. Check that things look even – this is your last chance before things dry.
14) Let it be. I left my chair to dry in the sun (while it lasted) and for the rest of the day indoors with a fan on it.
The end result
I’m not going to lie, it looks pretty awesome. How does it feel? Hmmm…well, it’s not crispy or crunchy, but it’s not the kind of chair you want to snuggle up in and read for hours. Mind you, this wasn’t that kind of chair to begin with. It feels like of like a cross between pleather & painted canvas. I added another layer of paint to the arms of the chair without letting them dry completely and they feel a little more “latex-y” than the rest of the chair. I read that scrubbing the fabric with fabric softener and a little soap and water can soften things up. I’ll try it and report back.
But all in all, I’m pretty thrilled with the results. Thanks to the fabric medium, the paint doesn’t crack or peel and it won’t come off on clothing. It cost $30 and took me two days to finish the chair because I have kids and I had to start working on it at night. But you could probably do this in a day without distractions. I’m definitely going to try it again. It was a lot of fun and the end result is pretty satisfying. So, what are you waiting for? Search your local Used site for some diamonds in the rough and get creative. If any of you try this, I’d LOVE to see photos!
Looking for stuff to paint and upcycle? Head to our furniture category.