DIY Chair Makeover Ideas With Designers Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent

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Playing Pro Tips For Making Over Old Chairs | Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent
Pro Tips For Making Over Old Chairs | Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent Aired September 19, 2019

When it comes to old pieces of furniture that you just can't seem to part with, the goal is always to update the look without breaking the bank.

So, we enlisted design duo and married couple Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent, who are sharing their best (and easiest) tips for bringing dated chairs into the 21st century — while staying on a budget, of course.

Tip #1: Paint The Wood

When one viewer asked for advice on updating her old club chair, Nate explained that the wood finish on this chair is in "no man's land, because it's not dark enough to be elegant and it's not bleached enough to feel time-worn or antique."

Club Chair Leg
Rachael Ray Show

See what we mean?

"The easiest and most inexpensive thing would be to paint the frame yourself," Nate advises. He suggests keeping the color neutral, using either pale gray or white paint. "Prime it, seal it, and you'll be in really good shape," he says. 

Tip #2: Know When To Reupholster Yourself (And When To Go To a Pro)

Nate explains that you can find instructions online for how to reupholster a seat — we have tons of tips and inspiration on our site for how to reupholster a chair seat yourself, how to reupholster a chair with velvet and easy no-sew ways to reupholster an old couch, just to name a few!

Depending on the state of the fabric, however, you might want to take it to a professional. "Send a photo around to a couple of mom-and-pop upholstery places in your town," the design pro says. Ask how much they would charge and how much fabric is needed for the job.

Bonus Pro Tip: When buying fabric, make sure to purchase enough for all of the chairs in the set, even if you can't afford to have them all reupholstered at once. You have to make sure the fabric matches, Nate says.

Tip #3: Sew Fabric Onto the Seat Instead of Reupholstering

In the event that a chair isn't beat up, but just isn't your style, Nate says there's an alternative to reupholstering.

Office Chair
Rachael Ray Show

This tip works especially well in the case of this viewer's black leather office chair, which he points out is a hard, very specific job because of the curved cuts that would be needed.

"What you could do yourself, which I think would be really, really cool is get on Etsy," he says. "Find a great vintage pattern of a fabric or even a really cool scarf — a knit scarf or a printed, patterned scarf — and lay it over the top and then just sew it, cut the pattern, so it's almost like you're putting a belt around the whole back of [the chair]."

Tip #4: Add Seat Cushions Or Armrest Padding 

Rocking Chair
Rachael Ray Show

Another viewer was looking for suggestions on how to spruce up this wooden rocking chair that holds a lot of sentimental value for her family. Jeremiah told her that for an easy update, the first thing he would do is paint the wood a simple white color, such as Chantilly Lace.

Next, the designer had the idea to create a subtle cushion for the seat and round pads for the arms of the chair. This plays on the existing country farmhouse look while adding a chic modern vibe, he says.

Bonus Pro Tip: You can find patterns online with strings that simply tie under the arms, according to Nate.

Tip #5: Repurpose The Chair's Silhouette Using Faux Fur

Round Chair
Rachael Ray Show

The next viewer chair in need of a makeover is this chair with a round silhouette and lines in the fabric.

Jeremiah says to play into the fun piece and add texture, she should reupholster it with faux fur. He likes the existing patina of the chair legs (patina is essentially aesthetically pleasing discoloration), but if she wanted to paint it, he suggests a high-lacquer black or gray. "Something with a sheen," Jeremiah adds.

Tip #6: Strip Down Wood To Highlight Details

Upholstered Chair
Rachael Ray Show

With a wooden chair like this one that already has such beautiful lines, Jeremiah suggests stripping the wood down so it feels unfinished. "With a wax finish on it, it's going to really highlight all of these details," he says.

Tip #7: Focus On The Back Of The Chair — And Keep It Simple In The Front

Blue Velvet Chair
Rachael Ray Show

This viewer wanted a cool accent chair for his apartment, and he thrifted this "mini throne" — but the velvet doesn't line up with the rest of his beach-style décor. 

Nate's tip? Change the entire look! He suggested doing "a bold black-and-white pattern on a neutral ground." Basically, this means leaving the front of the chair plain and focusing mainly on the back of the chair instead.

"It's like a chair mullet — a party in the back and business in the front," Jeremiah adds. We can dig it!

Watch the pair's backstage makeover consultations in the video below.

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