How to Reupholster a Dated Settee - Restoration Hardware Style!

7 Materials
This settee was part of a three-piece grouping I purchased about a year ago. I had a customer who wanted two Bergere style chairs custom painted and upholstered and this was left over. It is not antique; my guess is that it's a reproduction made in China sometime in the 80's :) Never the less, it still had pretty lines and was reasonably well-constructed.
Here she is - completed and staged for sale.
Settee as purchased from Craigslist
The first thing I did was remove ALL the staples. Every last one of them. This (for me) is something best done over a few sessions, as it's tedious and not very fun.
Bare frame after stripping all upholstery
After the frame was completely stripped of all upholstery, I wiped it down with Liquid Sandpaper (deglosser). This will help the paint grab hold of the existing finish.
I painted the frame with Behr Rustic Taupe, which I made into chalk paint.
To make the chalk paint: I add water to 1/4 cup of Calcium Carbonate; just enough to make a thick peanut butter like paste, then gradually whisk in one cup of paint until everything has been blended. The Calcium Carbonate adds texture and makes latex paint more porous. It also sands to a beautiful smooth surface if you choose that sort of look. For this piece, I wanted to keep the texture so didn't sand.
After applying two coats as the base, I dry-brushed the entire frame with Miller Paints Rudimentary Beige (also made into chalk paint). To dry-brush, gently dip your brush into the paint and wipe 90% of the paint off with a towel or paper towel so there is very little paint remaining on your paintbrush. Lightly drag your brush over the base coat, leaving just barely a hint of your second paint color. I use a cheaper quality brush for this step because sometimes, I can be a little rough with brush strokes, moving in circles. It always depends on the piece and what you want to bring out. I suggest practicing on a scrap first until you get the hang of it. Everyone's touch is different.
Closeup of the front frame edge
Continue dry brushing until the entire furniture piece is uniform in coverage
I used a painter's drop cloth for my upholstery. It's trendy, durable and cheap. The first step in recovering this piece was to staple the back facing back into the frame. I started at the top center and moved out to each side, then pulled straight down and did the same with the bottom edge; working my way all around until the fabric was taught and even.
Although not necessary, I reinforced the back by adding jute webbing. I use a webbing stretcher (sorry - no photo) to pull each strap taut, then staple into place. As you can see, the straps are woven into a basket weave.
I sprayed the back side of the original foam back with spray adhesive and placed it against the straps in the back. I then laid another piece of drop cloth over the foam and stapled into the back in the same manner as the back facing piece was done. I turned under the edges of my fabric to provide extra reinforcement.
Here's a step that many people would skip over but I have found it makes a HUGE difference in comfort. I take scraps of my cotton batting and 'pick' it apart, then scrunch together into a nest-like pile. I work this out all the way to the edges of the seat.
After the 'nest' is completely filled out to the edges, I tear off a section of cotton batting that will cover my seat, plus a couple of inches overhang on all sides.
I cover all the cotton batting with a piece of ordinary cotton sheeting (muslin) and cut in at the arms to fit it into place.
Using the muslin allows me to do all my sculpting to get the seat uniform and crowned evenly. I staple it into place around the ledge of the chair frame and trim close to the staples when it's completely stapled all around.
Using the original seat fabric as a pattern
I saved the seat from the original settee to use as a guide for cutting out my new upholstery. I added about three inches all the way around and used the leg and arm cut-ins as my guide for pre-cutting for my fitting. Once I began stapling the new upholstery into place, I had to do a few snips here and there to adjust the fitting to my chair frame.
Seat and back installed
Now the seat and back have been completed. All that's left is to cut out new foam for the arms and cover them, then add welted trim around all the exposed staples. I made my own welt with a special sewing machine foot and used laundry cording. Check it out - it's far more affordable than what's sold in the upholstery section at the fabric store. I bought 100 feet for just $6.99 vs. $2.99/yd of the stuff (that looks and feels exactly the same) in the upholstery section
I cut 2-inch strips of my upholstery on the diagonal and joined them with 1/4-inch seams (also on the diagonal) and wrapped two strands of cording with the strips, then sewed down the middle of the cords with my special pressure foot. I turned under the start end and began affixing the welting with a hot glue gun, working about 8-inch spans at a time. When I got back to the starting point, I cut the welt about 3/4-inch past where the ends should meet, then cut into the center stitching to peel back my fabric so I could snip the ends of the cording at the correct length. Once the ends were snipped, I folded under the upholstery fabric on the end and glued down to meet at the starting point.
If you decide not to make your own matching welt, you can always buy decorative braid, twine or some other decorative trim of your choice to us in its place.
Finished Settee

Suggested materials:

  • Paint - Behr Rustic Taupe   (Home Depot)
  • Paint - Miller Paints Rudimentary Beige   (Fred Meyer)
  • Calcium Carbonate   (Amazon)
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Frequently asked questions

Have a question about this project?

3 of 7 questions
  • V Valencia V Valencia on Jul 31, 2016
    Since you used your own mixed chalk paint, did you use any wax?

  • Linda Linda on Aug 04, 2016
    You write an excellent, step by step clear tutorial, and I appreciate that a LOT. I like the drop cloth for durability, but feel the piece cries out for more color. Have you ever painted the drop cloth fabric with, say, large flowers? Lest you think this is critical, I really admire your work, just making a suggestion which you can take or leave.

  • Sandra K. Sandra K. on Oct 13, 2019

    I love this settee project, I am about to tackle something similar. How did you attached the cording to the settee? I may use nailheads but have not decided yet.

Comments

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3 of 46 comments
  • Althea Althea on Sep 05, 2016
    Oops..the even crown on your seat, I know how hard this can be to get even with no puckers.

    • Chairished Furnishings Chairished Furnishings on Sep 05, 2016
      Thank you! Yes, getting the crowning even is super important and often taken for granted. Using the muslin to do the initial shaping eliminates wrecking the final fabric. But... it also helps reduce wear on the outer fabric long-term. An extra step I include that many DIY'ers don't 😊

  • Karolyn Karolyn on Sep 22, 2016
    You explained this so clearly! Thank you so much! I have an old settee/sofa that I now don't have such a fear of redoing.... yours turned out beautifully!

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