How to Paint an Upholstered Chair

This is a fun story.  I’m going to share with you how to paint an upholstered chair, a project that I absolutely hated.  It was truly one of the most annoying projects I’ve ever done.  Actually, I think it probably gets top billing.  I did cover an entire HUGE mirror frame in teeny tiny green rocks with a hot glue gun once (see here), but this was worse than that.  I painted my favorite chair.  An upholstered chair, not a wood chair.  And my favorite.  I’m crazy, I know.  But I didn’t hate it because I’m not happy with the outcome, I hated it because I found the process annoying and tedious.  More annoying and tedious than hot gluing a million teeny tiny green rocks.

How to Paint an Upholstered Chair

But, don’t let me discourage you from trying this!  I really do love the outcome, although it is not what I imagined when I started.  And I think I mostly found the process annoying and tedious because I did have an idea of what the chair would look like in the end and it seemed like I would never achieve that idea and I felt like banging my head against the wall.   In my mind, the chair was going to come out one solid color, no pattern showing through.  I used really dark paint (Hale Navy by Benjamin Moore).  I was imagining the chair being a blue/black color in the end.  About two and half coats in I was no where remotely near that and ready to fling my paint brush at the wall.

But I didn’t, mostly because I already had a huge mess going on because in addition to not having the outcome I had intended, this project is also SUPER messy.  But seriously, still, don’t let that stop you from trying this.  I would advise that you do this in say, your basement if it’s ventilated or your garage.  Not in your living room like I did.  Where someone was very likely to sit on the soaking wet chair, or worse, where a cat was likely to take a nap.  Don’t worry, magically, neither of those things happened, but I did have a lot of watery paint spills that had to be cleaned up. Not fun.

Ahh, yes a reminder of why this whole annoying project was worth it. It is SOOOO much better than it used to be.  And I think I probably like the outcome better than what I had pictured, that blue black solid color chair.  In person the color is actually darker than pictured and it feels very vintage lodge or library to me.

Before I get to the tutorial, if you’re having a strange case of deja vu, it’s because this is not the first time I have redone this chair.  Remember this:

I reupholstered this chair a while back.  My son is BRUTAL on furniture (I need to sign him up for parkour classes) and the upholstery job didn’t stand a chance.  It took quite a beating.  I would do this again on a chair that would be sat on more often than jumped on, however.  If you’re curious about those instructions, or if you’d like to read about why I love this chair, check out that post here.

How to Paint an Upholstered Chair


A Chair (duh)

Paint – I used Benjamin Moore in Hale Navy and I used about a quart, maybe

3-4 8 oz. bottles of Fabric Medium (you can get it at the craft store, but I got mine from Amazon)

Spray Bottle filled with water

Paint brush

Disposable cups for mixing your paint and fabric medium

A tarp or other large piece of something to put under your chair for spills. There will be spills and drips.


  1.  First, mix together your painting mixture.  I tried to use equal amounts of paint and fabric medium.  I basically filled about half way one disposable cup with paint, then filled another half way with fabric medium, poured the fabric medium into the paint and mixed them together.
  2. Next, add some water to your paint.  I added about half the amount of water as paint/fabric medium.  So if I filled the cup half way with paint or fabric medium, I filled it a quarter of the way with water and then added the water to the paint/fabric medium mixture.  Make sense?  Good, mix all that together.  You want it to be somewhat runny.  I’ve read a lot of tutorials that call for more water, so if you’re into super runny paint, add equal amounts of paint/fabric medium/water.
  3. Then, spray your upholstery with water.  I did this most of the time as I worked on this project.  I do think it helped the paint seap into the upholstery, but to be perfectly honest, I also forgot to wet parts of the chair ahead of time and it didn’t seem to do any harm.
  4. Now, use a paint brush to paint your chair.  This is the messy part.  The paint mixture is fairly drippy, so be prepared.  Grubby clothes, lots of paper towels, etc.
  5. Allow the chair to dry.  It will look something like this after the first coat and you will want to cry your face off and quit blogging for life:

5.  Once both the chair and your tears have dried, give it a good rub down with some sandpaper.  You will probably start to cry again as you realize you are taking off a crap ton of paint.  Don’t despair. If you don’t do the sandpapering, your chair will feel like sandpaper itself and that is not fun for sitting.

6.  Add a second coat of paint.  Cry a little less as you think to yourself, “Maybe it’s kind of cool how the pattern is still coming through a little?  Who am I kidding, it’s horrible!  It’s the worst painted chair in the history of painted chairs, I QUIT!”

7.  Allow the chair to dry and sandpaper through your tears again.

8. Add a third coat of paint.  Have an epiphany.  “Wait a minute, this actually *does* look good with the pattern coming through!”

9.  Call to your husband/wife/son/daughter/imaginary friend:  “Hey!  Come look at this!  Does this look good or am I officially crazy?”

10.  Perform a quick jig when husband/wife/son/daughter/imaginary friend says, “Wow, that does look good.  That might be my favorite thing you’ve made”.  That comment actually came out of the mouth of my husband who could literally not care less about anything to do with painting, chairs, or upholstery, as long as he has a place to sit.  So I was kind of thrilled to hear that.  Mostly because I didn’t think he really noticed I had done any other projects. I guess he is paying a little attention.

10.  Allow the paint to dry and lightly sand it one more time.

I tackled this project about three days before Thanksgiving and the chair is one that is sat in every day and it’s holding up very well.  No fading and no paint rubbing off on clothing.  Pro tip, three days before hosting Thanksgiving at your house is not a good time to tackle painting an upholstered chair.  In case you’re wondering.

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