Cane Back Dining Chair Makeover: A Vintage DIY Upgrade

4 Days

Find out how I updated these cane dining room chairs for a more modern, sophisticated look in just a weekend with a little paint and stain!

This post contains affiliate links. Please see my full disclosure policy for more details.

Before I dive into this amazing before and after, I gotta be real with you for a minute.

As beautiful as these vintage cane chairs turned out, there were so many times during this process that I was ready to throw in the towel and regretted ever buying them.

But I pushed on, testing out different colors and techniques, and boy am I so glad I did. I get so many questions daily about these cane dining chairs from people wanting to purchase their own set. I’ll just give myself a big ole pat on the back for this project.

They were seriously the pieces that tied our entire dining room makeover together.

Are cane back chairs in style?

I’m always keeping my eyes peeled for a good furniture makeover project. Vintage pieces that have a classic look a personal favorite of mine, especially when they happen to be heavily trending at the time.

Cane furniture adds just the right mix of texture and vintage flair to make a statement in any room.

So when I scrolled past this set on Facebook Marketplace, I knew it had some serious potential.

Now, at first glance, they probably don’t look that bad right? Unfortunately some previous DIYer thought that a really uneven gel stain job and some very ugly upholstery was a good look.

See how caked on and blotchy it looks up close? It even had this gritty sticky texture to it when you touched it.

Nope, my perfectionist tendencies weren’t having it. So I got to work scheming up some good makeover ideas for these beauties. And I had so many questions on how to start this project.

Can you paint cane dining chairs?

Yes, you absolutely can paint cane dining chairs. In fact, many people opt for this method because it’s much more efficient than staining, and still adds a big wow factor to the chair’s appearance.

But of course, I wasn’t like most people, and insisted on having these cane chairs match the wood in my refinished dining table.

What I didn’t know was how difficult it can be to try to match two completely different wood species to the same stain color. Hence why I said I was ready to throw in the towel a time or two.

Can you refinish cane?

I really struggled to find a good solution to refurbish this cane.

I had hoped to remove the old cane webbing that had been previously spray painted. My goal was to replace it with new natural cane that I could stain to match the color of the wood on the chairs.

Apparently there was a massive material shortage though, because every supplier was on backorder for several months, so replacing it was out of the question.

There’s really only one option for refurbishing previously painted cane, and that’s to simply just paint over it.

It’s such a delicate material that any efforts to try to strip and remove old paint or finishes will weaken and damage the cane beyond repair. Trust me, I tried.

So on to plan B I went.

Cane Dining Chair Makeover Supplies

  • Palm sander and sandpaper
  • Tack cloth
  • Wood Stain
  • Matte Polyurethane Sealer
  • Painters tape
  • Black satin spray paint

In terms of materials, this was a fairly inexpensive furniture makeover project. Especially since I had most of the supplies on hand already.

So here’s how to reupholster dining chairs.

Step 1 : Remove old seat cushions

The seat cushions on these vintage cane chairs were very easy to remove, so I just unscrewed them from the bottom of the seat base and put them aside for a later reupholstering project.

Step 2: Sand the wood chairs

This is really where the bulk of the work comes in. If you’re not used to sanding through old finishes, then you might need to muster up a little patience before you get started.

I used my palm sander and a 60 grit sandpaper to remove the old stain finish from the chairs. For some of the hard to reach areas, I ended up hand sanding the corners and grooves of the wood.

I had to be very careful not to sand overtop of the cane webbing so that I wouldn’t damage it.

Step 3: Clean and prep the chairs for new stain

I used our shop vac to remove the bulk of sanding dust from the chairs before I went over them a few times with tack cloth. You want to be sure to remove all debris before you being staining furniture.

Step 4: Apply stain finish

Using an old rag, I applied Minwax stain in the color Jacobean to each chair. Early in the process I made the mistake of applying the stain too heavy and it was very uneven so I ended up sanding it back down and reapplying in lighter coats.

I let the stain absorb for about 15 minutes before wiping off any excess with my rag.

I love how the beautiful wood grain shows through now and has a much more even appearance.

Step 5: Apply a stain sealer

After allowing the stain to dry for a day, I used a foam brush to apply my matte polyurethane finish to the chairs. This will protect that gorgeous new stain finish.

How to paint cane back chairs

Here’s where the magic happened! Since my only option was to paint over the existing cane webbing, I decided to go ahead and tape it off to test out a few paint color choices.

I ended up settling for a black spray paint in a satin finish. It gave just a hint of gloss without looking overly tacky and shiny.

I removed the painters tape while the paint was still wet to avoid it from peeling off the chairs.

Isn’t it gorgeous?!

I’m so glad I pushed through this project despite a lot of its challenges. It gave our dining room that perfect mix of vintage and modern that I was going for.

Be sure to check out how I reupholstered the seat cushions to give them a fresh clean look and match our linen slipcovered chairs.

Have a question? Leave me a comment below, I love hearing from you!

Martina at The Lived-in Look
Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!
Frequently asked questions
Have a question about this project?
Join the conversation
3 of 5 comments
  • Lisa Evans Lisa Evans on Nov 20, 2021

    Absolutely georgeous, I love the juxtaposition of the wood against the black and white. I am looking vfc tut o replace the chairs for my dining table and iI am now going to follow your lead.I just hope I can find cane chairs in as good of shape as yours.

    • Thank you so much Lisa! This room is one of my favorites now and I'm glad I was able to give new life to some old furniture :)

  • Meredith Michener Meredith Michener on Nov 18, 2022

    Gorgeous chairs and well written description. I'll be on the lookout for something like this to do in the future!