In this simple tutorial, I will show you how I did a quick refinish of a vintage dining room set. The word "refinish" sometimes makes a project sound long, expensive, & something that requires great skill. But I'm here to tell you that doesn't always have to be the case. Plus, a good solid wood piece of furniture deserves the attention you give it and will be useful for decades in return. So, let's get to it!
Tip #1, You Don't Need To Invest/Pay A Lot.
I purchased my Vintage Dining Room Set, a table & 6 matching chairs, for a meager $75. But you can find a vintage dining room set for an equally good price at a thrift store, flea market, or Facebook Marketplace. If you are patient and know what you want eventually you will find it in your price range.
I knew exactly what I was looking for, some of my "must-haves" were: beautifully chunky turned legs, solid wood, matching chairs with upholstered seats, solid (no wobbly legs), & hidden leaves that slid out from in the table. This table had all of my wants and was in my price range, so I scooped it up.
Tip #2, Live With It For A While.
Before you decide what work needs to be done it's really helpful to live with a piece for a while. Especially if it's in relatively good physical shape. You may buy a piece to paint it and then after a week decide it's great just as is.
In my case, I knew that I needed to cut off the wooden pieces connecting the 4 legs together so that all 6 chairs could fit tucked into the table. I have a small-ish dining room so keeping the area clear of chairs sticking out was preferable. Cutting the piece off was easy, but when I did it also needed to be sanded in those areas. After sanding, the wood was a different shade than the rest of the legs. So, I had to choose to either try to match the stain or paint the base of the table.
I really didn't want to have to paint it, but this was my best and quickest option. I chose to keep the chairs completely natural. The carvings on this table and chairs is reminiscent of Nordic carvings which spoke to my heart in a big way. I wanted to preserve the historic feel of it.
Tip #3, Sometimes A Good Cleaning Is All That You Need.
I started off with a good thorough cleaning. Because sometimes this is literally all a piece needs. Well, a good cleaning and an upholstery job in my case. That's all it really needed. Everything else is a choice and preference. Don't feel pressured to do more if you get a piece home and you actually like it exactly as it is.
I use a damp rag and a bucket with warm soapy water (I use Dawn dish detergent) for the first go-through. Sometimes I use a non-abrasive scrubby if it has the need. Let it dry completely, then I use a wood soap. Because this table had carvings I did use an old toothbrush to get into all the hard-to-reach spots.
Tip #4, Re-upholstering A Chair Seat is Nothing to be Intimidated About.
- Washed Drop Cloth or Fabric of choice
- New Padding*
- Quilt Batting*
- Spray Adhesive*
- *Optional, not every job will require this
- A comfortable spot, you might be there a while
- A pair of garden gloves, so you don't accidentally poke yourself with an old staple
- A butter knife or metal scraper, to slightly pry up the old staples or nails so your pliers can get a grip
- A pair of pliers to finally pull them out
- A Staple Gun, to install the new fabric
- Purchase your fabric. Measure each seat plus 2-3 inches for overhang on each side. I used washed drop-cloth because it is thick, inexpensive, and neutral coloring.
- Unfasten the seat from the chair, put the screws in a Ziploc bag altogether so they don't get lost.
- Pull out all the old staples/nails from each seat. (This step is the longest and most tedious)
- Use the old fabric as a template for the new seat fabric, lay it right side down on the new fabric, and give yourself some grace on each side. More fabric is better than not enough.
- Cut out your templates.
- Turn your seat over onto the template and make sure it has enough space on all sides to be stapled securely.
- Start top and bottom, pulling the fabric taut, but not too much to squoosh the padding flat in places.
- Keep the fabric smooth all the way across the side you're working on. Any excess should be pulled toward the corners so it can be easily hidden at the end.
- Leave the corners for the very end.
- Continue side to side. It's ok to go staple happy, make sure there aren't any large gaps without a staple.
- Now for the corners; pull up, straighten them, you can either wrap them like a present (one side and then the other, away from the front of the seat) or you can fold the sides under leaving the top smooth. If it is a rounded seat this works best, if it is a very square seat with a point it may be better to fold like a present.
- Staple the corners in place.
- Reinstall the seat.
Congratulations! You have now reupholstered your seat. Don't forget, if you don't like it, you can always pull out a staple and redo whatever isn't working. Be patient with yourself and the process. If you need to, only do one chair at a time. That way your mess will be minimal and easily picked up in between seats.
Besides the parts of the legs where I altered the wood, the entire set was mostly in great shape. But the top had some heat stains where the previous owner had placed some hot dishes without a barrier of some sort to protect the finish. My choices were to either completely sand the top and restain, or try a product I never had before.
I chose to give it a shot and was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked! Howard's Restor-A-Wood Finish. *
*I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.”
I didn't need perfect, I just needed better than what it was. And I feel like this was really successful and saved the table top.
Tip #5, It's ok to walk away and take a break if you aren't sure what you want to do next.
This sat for a couple of weeks until I decided to paint the bottom part, simply because I didn't want to rush into anything. Living with a piece is pretty important. You can always undo it, but it will be a lot of work and take up time that I know I didn't have. So, it was best to wait.
Eventually, I did one single white coat of chalk paint and it sat like that for a long time, again, as I contemplated a second coat and was suffering through one of the worst pregnancies I'd had yet (surprise #5).
In the meantime I reupholstered the chairs!
I chose to use a neutral fabric color for two reasons, 1. It will allow the dining room design to be flexible, I can use color on the walls or decor wherever my whim takes me. 2. It makes the carvings and beautiful wood tone the star of the show.
It took about six months of sitting but I finally decided that one coat of plain white chalk paint was good enough probably and finally chose to just distress it and see how it went.
Tip #6, It Doesn't Need To Be Perfect. The Charm Is In Those Small Flaws, The Life It's Had.
Both my table and chairs have scratches and I don't mind it. I have five children so chances are my furniture will end up distressed in the end. I don't need to worry about the first scratch, it's already got them. It's already had a life and I don't want to erase that. I want to honor it by appreciating its history.
In my earlier refinishing years I always thought I had to sand everything smooth and paint over imperfections. I've learned to lean into the character of each piece. My dining room is still a work in progress, but at least this piece is done.
Thanks so much for stopping by!