Buying great furniture is pretty easy, but when you bring something back to life and make it your own, the enduring gratification surpasses the short lived rush of an impulse buy or an eBay win. You're better than that.
STEP ONE: finding the gem
We found this Mid Century Modern chair manufactured by Lane in a dumpster outside of downtown Los Angeles. Strangely we've had a gift for street finds: Eames, Paul McCobb, Bauhaus era tubular chrome. It's crazy what people throw away. Regardless of how and where you find your gem, there's always a creative way to revive the piece and give it your personal touch.
STEP TWO: sanding & refinishing
Do it in style. Crank up some tunes, enjoy a frosty beverage and embrace the Zen state of mind once you're focused and enjoying the details.
Tools: scraper, palm sander or sanding block and pads
Materials: sand paper (med grit 150 to fine 200+) stripper (if needed), shop cloths
This chair didn't have much of a finish on it, so we decided to avoid the toxic stripper and went straight to sanding. Depending on how dirty the piece is, start sanding with the medium and finish with the fine until it's completely uniform, even in the hard to get nooks and cranny's.
If you need to strip the piece here's a helpful link from the DIY network.
Finishing: After your piece has been sanded to perfection, get a tack cloth and wipe all the dust off.
Treating the wood is a matter of personal preference. There's a variety of stains and oils you can use, but we did some research and found a natural beeswax that did a great job. We also use it on our leather goods to seal and protect them from stains.
We applied the wax to a shop rag and rubbed it in. It really brought the color out and gave it a subtle sheen versus a high gloss you typically get with oil based stains and coatings.
STEP THREE: choosing a textile
Figuring out the right fabric and thickness can seem daunting. This is an important (and often costly) decision as we've made the mistake of using a slightly thicker leather that didn't allow the seat to fit properly.
If you're lucky to have some of the original fabric on the piece, it's probably best to match the general thickness. If not, we suggest taking the entire chair, along with multiple fabric swatches to your local upholstery vendor to see what works best. Allow your cut pieces to have some wiggle room, it's always better to have more than less.
We decided to use the same 10.9 oz Belgian flax linen that we use for our hand-printed pillows. It's a durable thickness and the natural flax is great for screen printing; our next step.
STEP FOUR: screen printing your custom textile
Tools: squeegee, shop rags, spray bottle and scraper (for clean up)
Materials: fabric, ink
Time to get creative. A custom printed textile is a perfect way to make your piece unique. If designing your own imagery isn't your forte, there are many resources for print ready patterns and designs that can help you.
Our custom print was inspired by Native American design motifs. After designing the artwork in Adobe illustrator, we printed an opaque positive image on transparent acetate film, a necessary step before exposing the emulsion and "burning" the image onto the silk screen.
There are many DIY methods and techniques, but a commercial printing company can convert your artwork to a film positive and make a screen, if you are unable to make your own.
For best results, your artwork/design must be solid, sharp and 100% opaque black. If you decide on a multi colored print, you'll need a film positive and a screen for each color; if not, you can use one color/screen to keep it simple and budget friendly.
Ink: We use non-toxic water based ink made by Matsui.
You'll want to cut a few pieces of fabric for each panel to make sure you get a clean and crisp print. Screen printing takes some time to get the hang of, so get yourself some cheap fabric and practice before you print on your expensive upholstery.
Remember to cure the ink. After the print has dried, place a thin piece of muslin over the fabric and run a hot iron over it for several minutes.
Here's a helpful guide to screen printing if needed.
Below are the panels of new printed linen next to the original upholstered seat and backrest.
STEP FIVE: upholstery and completion
Finishing the piece and giving it a new life is our favorite part of the upcycling journey.
Take your printed pieces along with the chair to a local upholstery vendor. Make sure you find a good one. This is not an easy task and cheap seldom equals quality. Research and read reviews like anything else.
If you're feeling extra crafty and budget conscious, try reupholstering it yourself. Here's a helpful link from HGTV.
We've attempted to document each phase of the project, but feel free to comment or request information if there's something we missed. Now give yourself some props and enjoy your beautiful new piece!
Rick & Teri