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Before & After: Ladder Back Chair - Faux Antique Finish

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One of the fastest, easiest and most rewarding 'furniture renewal' projects is the simple side chair. You get a stunning makeover with very little effort. We've split the steps into two days: today for refinishing and tomorrow for the new cushion. My husband, Bob and I did this project together, and he gets all the credit for these great step-by-step instructions. "Thanks, Bob!" Depending on drying time in between your coats of paint, this is a great weekend project. When we started, we were a bit uncertain how it would all turn out since we didn't have much experience with glaze and sponge painting. However, we discovered sponging paint is very forgiving and quite fun. The different color blends, layers, and textures you can create are limitless; it's a true blank canvas for whatever you envision.

Here are the supplies we picked up (except for the well worn staple gun and screwdriver) at Home Depot. Missing from the photo is the Minwax Clear Satin polyurethane finish we applied last, which we had on hand. The most important thing to remember is that we used a paint glaze not a solid paint. Home Depot carries the full line of Behr paints and will mix up these small sample cans to match any swatch. It's a fun and inexpensive way to play with a lot of different colors.

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  1. First step: find your chair. Ours belonged to a family member and had put in a lot of good years as part of a vanity set. The chair itself was in pretty good shape, but the fabric was shot.
  2. All the side chairs we've ever encountered with a fabric seat are put together in the same simple manner. The seat is a piece of fabric-covered plywood screwed to the chair frame at each corner.
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  3. Get the correct screwdriver in there, remove the screws and the seat will come right off.
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  4. Easy as that, you are ready to go!
    NOTE: If your chair isn't in quite as good shape as this one. This would be the point where you should stop and take the time to glue and or nail any loose pieces in place so you are starting with a solid frame.
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  5. First step: prep... very important to insure a good base so the paint will adhere well. We bought and used stripper in this project.
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  6. It turns out, we could have eliminated this step and just roughed up the surface with sandpaper before painting. That's because our chair had a very light coat of varnish on it and we weren't interested in removing the stain down to the bare wood. In fact, we liked the idea of the stain showing through the layers of paint as an additional shade. However, we kept the stripping step in the instructions since it will be necessary if your chair has a heavier finish, such as a super dark stain or multiple layers of paint.
  7. Glove up and apply the stripper, using an inexpensive utility brush.
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  8. Be sure you are in a well-ventilated area. Outside is best. This stuff stinks, and the fumes are not something you want hanging around. Give the chair a thick coat that lays on the surface. There's no need to brush it in like paint... simply apply in one direction, making sure you get into the tight areas. Do not keep going back over the application; the stripper forms a film that helps keep it from drying out. Let the stripper stand for about 30 minutes (follow the manufacturer's direction for your stripper), then test an area with a plastic scraper to see how much finish comes off.  If it needs more time, let it go, but don't leave it on more than an hour or so....you don't want the stripper to completely dry.
  9. When time is up, you can use a plastic scraper to take the stripper and finish off (you may need to repeat the above step if the finish does not all come off the first time). We just used a Scotchbrite pad, which we rinsed in a bucket of water frequently, to remove our stripper and light varnish.
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  10. A small brush like an old toothbrush can be helpful to coax stripper and finish from a tight spot. We used the tip of a screwdriver to carefully peel varnish out of some of the carved areas.
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  11. Once we were satisfied with the removal, we dried the chair with a rag and let it stand overnight to completely dry.
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  12. Once dry, we sanded it down with 220 grit sandpaper. This smooths out any rough wood grain raised from the water, and scuffs the surface so the paint sticks well.
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  13. After sanding, we removed the sanding dust with a slightly damp rag.
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  14. Stripped, washed, dried, sanded and dusted. We are ready to paint.
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  15. Our glazing required a ratio of one part glaze to four parts paint. We just eyeballed it, using some small containers we had on hand from the recycling bin. The household sponges were cut in half and a fresh one used for each color.
  16. Before we started slapping on paint, we thought it would be a good idea to experiment with the type of texture or pattern we wanted on the chair. Our goal was not to mimic our fabric (Jenean Morrison's Silent Cinema in Orange Sunrise), but instead to create a nice palette that complimented the colors. So, we decided to test a couple of ideas on a scrap of wood. There was a little scrap of hardboard in the shop, and the color and smoothness matched our chair wood well. It gave us a chance to practice our sponge technique, as well as decide which colors to put down first, second, etc.
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  17. The pattern in the middle is the one we settled on: white on first, followed by tangerine, and finally accented with the gray.
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  18. When we applied the white, we used a dabbing and arcing motion to simulate a random pattern that would give a good base.
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  19. Consistency was important and this color took the most time. Let this first coat dry completely.
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  20. We applied the tangerine as more of a solid wipe-on coat, but one that could be seen through
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  21. This semi-transparent color really paid off.  It's a perfect compliment to our fabric's orange tones, but is understated.
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  22. When the tangerine dried, we put on the finishing gray color.
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  23. Extra care was taken with this layer to create a grain pattern. To help smooth, blend and feather some areas, we used a small dry foam brush in a very light dusting motion.
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  24. If there was spot that appeared too dark, some tangerine was rubbed over it and blended lightly. We discovered this was like an 'eraser' for areas we wanted to lighten. We put our gray layer on all the surfaces, and then carefully went back over the chair once more to be certain the pattern was just the way we wanted. We let the chair dry overnight - although that was probably overkill.
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  25. Next morning, our little chair looked very cool, but as an afterthought, we decided to put on one coat of clear satin polyurethane to protect the paint and it give a nice sheen.
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  26. Again, we let this final coat dry overnight, but it would probably be fine in just a few hours. The new seat went back on easily and straws were drawn for the first sit down in our 'new' chair!

Come back tomorrow for the easy steps to recover the seat.


Comments (11)

Josefina said:
Josefina's picture
Me encanta todo lo que haces te felicito
¡preciosos trabajos!
Beth T. said:
Beth T.'s picture
Wow--what a difference! I love this idea, as it adds a stylish twist to "reduce, reuse, recycle".
LCO said:
LCO's picture
I second the awesomes! Now I want to go buy a used chair to fix up! I can see this being great for a teenage girl's bedroom, with a glazed pastel finish. smilies/grin.gif
Kristin Cole said:
Kristin Cole's picture
What a wonderful how-to. I have 8 dining chairs given to me by my parents that I want to redo. I've been looking online for instructions I could actually follow and these are the best. First time I wasn't feeling lost at some point. I'm excited to get started!! Love the glaze concept.
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
@hippiidippii -- there is no end in site smilies/grin.gif... thanks for sharing us with your friends!!
hippiidippii said:
hippiidippii's picture
Is there no end in site?smilies/grin.gif I have shared this wonderful site with all my friends and both of my guilds. There just isn't any better sewing site out there ladies. I've checked. It's always colorful, inspiring, and easy to grasp. What a bang up job S4H. We love you smilies/cheesy.gif
Tracy Perkins said:
Tracy Perkins's picture
that's a great idea! I've got an old chair that I've been debating tossing out. I think instead of tossing I'll give it a facelift. : )
Crafty Mama D said:
Crafty Mama D's picture
Awesome tutorial and so timely! I can't wait to do this to my favorite old chair from my childhood, it is in desperate need of a make over. I pinned this smilies/smiley.gif