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  • Writer's pictureAshley Harrison

Vintage Chair Deconstruction

A brief step-by-step (non-expert) guide to deconstructing an old chair.

Who knew tearing a chair apart could be so exciting? I obviously love old things, but had no idea deconstructing a chair could bring the same kind of joy, that restoring an old house brought to me. The removal of something unsightly, and the discovery of the history beneath, this was right up my alley.

So let's start from the beginning. I found this chair, at an antique store. It had a $35 price tag and I stared at it for five straight minutes, trying to decide if that was good deal. The floral fabric and fringe pillow screamed "old lady" and I'd never deconstructed a chair before, so I could totally screw it up and waste 35 bucks. I walked away and looked through the rest of the store. I couldn't get the chair out of my head and walked back to the booth. I stared at it for another five minutes, lifted it up (it's pretty heavy), sat in it, and finally decided, "what the heck, ya gotta start somewhere."

I looked up a few tutorials online for chair deconstruction, and did gather a few ideas, but decided to just begin and do it my way. I don't own any upholstery tools, so I made due with what I had, and these items worked just fine.

These are the tools I used most:

-Needle nose pliers

-Flat head screw driver


-Wire cutter

Step One: Remove Nailhead's

My chair had hundreds of nailheads, and I attempted to remove them as carefully as possible, to potentially use them, when I put the chair back together. This was easier said than done, as prying them out of the chair did bend some of the nails. I started by using the flat head screw driver, and moved on to the pliers, when I realized it was slightly quicker.

Step Two: Remove Fabric/Remove Staples as needed.

The nail heads were holding the fabric down on the back section of my chair. I didn't have to go through and remove a bunch of staples at this point, but be prepared, you will most likely have staples.

*With the nailheads removed I just carefully peeled the fabric back. I was so excited to see what I had underneath, that I forgot to remove the nail heads at the bottom of the chair, so I did go back and do that before I could cut this section of fabric off.

*I was excited about the fabric removal for good reason. After the floral and the batting were removed, I uncovered pristine burlap backing. This is EXACTLY what I was hoping to find.

*If you don't find burlap on your chair, this is something simple, easy and inexpensive to add, so no worries!

**A good reminder during Step 2. If you plan to reupholster the chair, remove the fabric as carefully as possible. Saving the pieces, to use as a pattern, will save you lots of time and headache.

Step 3: Continue with removal of seat covering

I continued to work very carefully to not destroy the fabric I was seeing underneath the floral covering. My chair had a very pristine covering underneath the fabric. Dare I say the original fabric? I really don't know, but there wasn't a single stain or tear in this thin, cotton like covering, so my goal was to salvage it, if possible. Side Note: I was not planning on keeping the fabric for a pattern, so I did not take care in getting it off in one piece.

Step 4: Check Structure

Once the seating fabric was removed, I tore off the black covering at the bottom of the chair. This step is important, as you want to check the springs in your chair, to see if any repairs need to be made to the support. My chair was structurally sound, so no further repairs were needed (whew)! To make repairs at this point I would watch a youtube video. Search "replacing chair springs" and there are several videos to help with this.

Spring covering- Can be saved and re-stapled or thrown away. I threw mine away.

Springs and webbing in tact for full support.

Step 5: Replace Fabric and Nails

This is where I'm convinced I hit the jackpot. I'm planning to leave my chair "as is" because the muslin/cotton style fabric is in such amazing condition. If there is no fabric similar to this on your chair, it's time to replace the upholstery. You can use fabric, drop clothes, burlap, etc. The best part about a deconstructed style chair, is that it doesn't have to look perfect. Trace the fabric you saved on your new fabric. Cut it out (jagged edges are fine for this application) and nail it back to the chair. I re-used the nailheads that I saved (which was SUPER challenging), but you can give the chair a more simple look by using upholstery nails, and leaving them exposed.

After deconstruction and about 2 1/2 hours of work

Step 6: Clean it all up

I used a little Murphy's Oil Soap on the wood, cleaned up the fabric as carefully as possible, and called it a day. My plan is to make a seat pillow with some ticking fabric, and that's it.



IF you are looking to take on a project like this, here are my top suggestions:

1. Love the things about the chair that you can NOT change.

The shape and the style of the chair are key. If you like the detail, the style and the shape, everything else can be altered.

2. Realize not every chair will have what you are looking for.

You won't always remove the upholstery to find burlap under every old chair. In fact, you may find a complete mess under your fabric, but don't get discouraged. If you don't find the details you were hoping for, you can add them.

3. A deconstructed chair = not perfect

This is good news for you! The end result doesn't need to look like an upholstered chair you would buy from a store. It can look messy, the nails and nailheads don't need to be perfect, the fabric can be fraying, etc. The fun of this is perfection is not the ideal outcome, so just enjoy the process.

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