Painting Upholstery

Have you ever found a project and thought to yourself “I can do that?” And then you tried it out and it was a complete failure? No? Me neither.

Just kidding. The great thing is when you do a project and it turns out pretty awesome, even though somewhere along the way you may have wanted to set it on fire. What’s that you say? You haven’t wanted to do that either? Well, then you are lucky. Anyway, this is a story about awesome things that almost got set on fire. Enter the painted barcalounger…

Painting Upholstery 1

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Isn’t she purdy?

I actually started out with two of these puppies. You may remember this photo from awhile back. (Don’t bother looking for the post. It disappeared into oblivion when we lost all of our blog posts {mentioned here}. That is a lesson on backing things up!)

2 Green Chairs

We scored both of the chairs on Craigslist for FREE. Yes, you read that right. And they were is great condition. No funky smell. No nasty stains. Only a small amount of dust and hair clung on for its life as I vacuumed them off.

A while ago, while perusing {Pinterest}, I found a photo of a beautiful upholstered wing-back chair {by Kristy Swain of Hyphen Interiors} that had been painted with latex and acrylic paints, of all things, and immediately knew I wanted to work that kind of magic on my own set of twins. Plus it is a much more inexpensive option than reupholstering.

I decided to see if anyone else had painted their upholstery and there were a ton of tutorials out there, so I figured that this was totally a project I could pull off. I gathered my supplies.

These included:

– One quart of Glidden Satin Latex Paint in Granite Gray
{Ceramcoat Textile Medium}

Painting Upholstery 2


– a spray bottle filled with water
– a disposable cup to mix the paint in
– a paint brush
– white semi-gloss paint for the legs (already owned)

These supplies were based mostly on Kristy’s process, minus the acrylic paint, after I read about several successes using only latex.

Then it was time to get to work. I started by removing the head and arm rest covers (do those things have a real name?) and pulled the seat cushion off as well so that I could paint it independently. Next, I mixed my paint with the textile medium and some water in a 1:1:1 ratio. With the spray bottle, I spritzed the water onto the fabric of the back rest and used my paint brush to spread the mixture onto the fabric. You can see below that the first coat looks like it is going on decently, considering I was painting a light color onto a darker fabric.

Painting Upholstery 3

I spritzed and painted until the entire chair was covered, making sure to get in all of the nooks and crannies with my brush. Then it was time for a break so that everything could dry and I could make lunch.

One salad and five gluten free pretzels later, I headed back to check on the drying process and that’s when I started to freak out. It looked like there was the slightest bit of dust on the chair, but not any sort of noticeable difference in color. I didn’t even take a photo because there was nothing to photograph. The chair literally looked the same, like the right side of the photo above.

I mixed up some more paint, medium, and water, this time changing things up a bit and using a 1:1:1/2 ratio and hoping that this would allow for a bit more coverage. Spritz and paint and wait. Again, when I came back, it only looked as if someone had sprinkled a light dusting of baby powder on top of the chair. Grrrrrr. It was time for someone to light the fire, because this chair was going to burn. I could only imagine how many more coats I was going to have to do to make any sort of impact.  10? 20? 100? So I waited. And waited. A couple a of days actually.

I knew I couldn’t give up on this chair, so after some whining to my husband and sister, I again mixed up my paint, medium and water, but opted not to use the spray bottle with water. That, my friends, was the secret to my success, because the next coat was definitely showing some decent coverage. Just a little green showing through.

Painting Upholstery 4

One more coat after that and I was done. Finally, my green chair was gray. I slapped some white paint on the legs and once that was dry…

Painting Upholstery 6

I used a hair dryer to heat set the medium, which seemed to make the finish a little more pliable.

Painting Upholstery 5

This chair is so lucky that I had a little perseverance and with a little more, it’s twin sister will get the same treatment so that we will have two GRAY barcaloungers.

Painting Upholstery 1
We love the way this chair turned out, regardless of the blood, sweat and tears that went into it. Parent approved and kid tested.  Hmmm… I wonder how spill resistant it is???

Painting Upholstery 7

Things to note:

1. I would describe the texture of the chair as being similar to waterproofed outdoor fabric. It is a bit plastic-y, but still squishy and very comfortable to sit in.

2. My theory is that the final texture of the chair has a lot to do with the beginning texture. My fabric was fairly stiff and rough to start out with, so a more plush fabric may produce a softer finish. No guarantees on this though.

3. I used four 8 oz. bottles of fabric medium and one quart of latex paint, which equaled four grueling  coats of paint. This amount would have been less had I done fewer coats with my newly figured out mixture. (1:1:1/2 ratio of paint, medium, and water with no spray water bottle added.)

4. Use a coupon. I could have spent around $12 less if I would have utilized coupons from my local craft store. Doh! You can even load a lot of them onto your phone with the right apps!

5. The kind of chair I chose to use may not have been the best candidate for this project. Barcaloungers move and lounge (duh!) and have foot rests, so a stationary chair may be a better choice because it will have less surface area to cover. This will definitely be something I take into consideration in my future upholstery painting projects.

Moral of the story:  If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.  We would love for you to share your upholstery painting stories with us if you end up trying this out!

40 thoughts on “Painting Upholstery

    1. Jerri

      Love this idea! I recently bought upholstered (back and seat) dining chairs. They are a dark burgundy, and I want to lighten things up a bit. I read where someone sprayed their painted chair with fabric softener…what do you think?

      1. Erin Post author

        Thanks, Jerri! How awesome that you found some chairs to redo! I haven’t heard anything about using fabric softener, but it sounds like it could definitely soften things up. Worst case scenario is that you would have to reupholster the chairs, which isn’t incredibly hard. Hope that helps!

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  4. Janice

    Did you wet the chair at all before finally using your 1:1:1/2 ratio or die you just allow the paint to saturate the fabric?

    1. Erin Post author

      Hi, Janice! On my last 2 coats I did not wet the fabric and this seemed to provide better coverage for this particular fabric. Hope this helps!

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  6. Susannah

    You asked about the name for the headrest and armrest covers. The headrest cover is called an antimacassar, because back when hair oil was a common grooming product, Macassar was a popular brand. If you didn’t want hair oil soaked into the back of your chair or sofa, you protected the upholstery with a removable piece of fabric or a doily. I don’t know of a name for the armrest covers.

  7. Nancy Fox

    Elizabeth I used your exact method. I will post the before and after on pinterest.
    However, while the look is great, I am not happy with the feel of the fabric.
    I started out with a smooth jacquard fabric.
    The painting felt great when I just used 1:1 water to latex paint.
    Then when I did the thicker paint to textile medium, on coat 3, it now felt like you said – outdoor waterproof fabric.

    I’ve tried misting, sanding, and it’s better BUT I’ll now try the hair dryer.
    Any other suggestions?
    If I had it to do over again, I’d not use the last coat with the 1:1 or 1:1 1/2 ratio but just use more coats of the watered thin painting.

    It was covering better and better each coat and still felt soft.


    Thanks for your post.
    Your chairs look lovely.

    1. Megan

      I know it has been a while since your post, but maybe this will offer an idea to follow…..I have read on other blogs (sorry, not sure exactly where now), but use a wax on the painted fabric. The discussion stemmed some how from using chalk paint on fabric and stated that the wax softens it is to the feel of leather. Can’t hurt to google it if it still bothers you!

  8. Erin Post author

    I’m so sorry about the texture. Like I mentioned in my post, depending on the type of fabric, the outcome may be different. Our chair has become a little bit softer and less plastic-y with wear, but we don’t use it a lot, so I’m hoping with more use, it would soften up a lot more.

  9. Amber

    Okay, I need to know the trick! I literally have the exact same chair and I tried this months ago and totally failed!!! It’s hard as a brick!

    Yours looks great!!!!

    1. Erin Post author

      Have you tried using a hair dryer on it? I know that some of the fabric mediums advise the use of a hair dryer to kind of finish them off.

      I think one of the biggest things for us was to just use the chair. It seems like it is softening up after some use. Still not plush like, but a lot more pliable than when we first finished it.

  10. Valerie

    I have been looking into painting upholstered chairs and have heard that acrylic paint can be used instead of latex paint with a softer result. Have you heard of this?
    Love your project!!

    1. Erin Post author

      Thanks, Valerie! I have heard that some have used acrylic paint, but not necessarily about the softness of it. If you give it a try, we would love to hear your results!

  11. Linda Webb

    Better Homes and Gardens has instructions that involve chalk paint and fabric medium. Yours sounds easier. BHG does recommend sanding the fabric after painting and before setting the fabric medium (“according to directions for the particular brand”). I’m going to try with two office chairs I got for $10 at ReStore (part of Habitat for Humanity). Wish me luck!

  12. Deborah

    Hi Erin….LOVE LOVE LOVE your chair and I love the white legs cuz it all pulls together with your choice of pillow. You did a great job and thank you for sharing it. So many find something like this and charge someone or don’t share…bless you for those on a fixed income like me. I do have a question….I had, you notice I said had, a hubby that had 4 dogs and smoked like a chimney. My furniture all smells now and even professional cleaners I don’t think could get it out…now if I do this paint thing will it cover the smells? I know you said yours was not stained nor did it have any smells but just wondering if you or someone else has tried this with furniture that does. I have white /cream furniture that was expensive, don’t want to sell as I can’t afford new plus I would not subject anyone else to the smells as I don’t like them….so wondering if this would be a fix for my problem. Thank you if you could also let me know an answer or what you think here and by my email please? I am not sure I would get back here as I saw your post on FB….if it tells me I have a reply that is fine to do it on here. Thank you ahead of time again for all your help. Have a blessed Sunday.

    1. Erin Post author

      Hi Deborah! Thank you so much for you sweet words!

      As far as the smoke smell goes, I’ve been able to cover the smoke smell on wood by using a good primer (Zinsser’s B-I-N) before applying the paint. However, I’m not sure how well using primer would work on fabric and I have not yet heard if anyone has been able to cover smells with this method. I’m sorry I can’t be of more help! If you decide to go ahead and try it, we would love to hear your results!!

      1. Deborah

        Thank you for replying Erin….Probably will just have to take it to the dump. I really hate to do that cuz I dont’ have money to throw away but can’t stand the smells…don’t always smell them except when hot or humid outside. If I do try your method will let you know on this….

        1. elaine simmons

          You might try setting your piece out in the sun and spraying with Lysol. I once did this to an antique sofa we had sitting in our basement that got water in it and it completely got rid of the moldy smell. Might work the same on yours.

          1. Deborah Newberry

            Hi Elaine…Thank you for sharing. Again, in Iowa the weather is not always good to expect to leave furniture outside all day. Great idea though! can’t lift all to move it outside…I handicapped too and I tried to hire someone and it seems nobody wants to negotiate wages, which I would gladly pay, to get hired. Lots of people say they are out of work but nobody seems to WANT to work. I have also heard to help someone else possibly that filling a little bowl (shallow one with a little ammonia and waiting for it to evaporate and filling again) and repeating until the odor is gone will work. You set the little dish under the piece of furniture each time…which would be great but I have a sheltie and cat and that would not be safe…so off to the dump for my stuff. Thank you to all who tried to help me…I sure appreciate it very much –bless your hearts!!!

    2. Linda

      I have had good results of getting oders out of fabric by putting it outside on a nice warm windy day. With really strong oders, I have left them outside for a few days.

      1. Deborah

        Hi Linda…thank you for your help….I live in Iowa and we have weather that really would not allow setting furniture outside…besides I can’t get it outside. I am partially handicapped, but you had a good idea if I lived some place that had different weather. Thank you…..

  13. Laura @ Rather Square

    I did a fabric furniture painting project recently as well, but for drawer bins:

    A little different from painting a chair, because I didn’t need to keep the material soft and pliable. So I used less water and fabric medium, and more paint – like you, I found that if I used less water I got better coverage. It’s hard to find the right balance! And for these fabric bins, keeping the material stiff helped the drawers hold their shape – I only sprayed water on the fabric at the very beginning, to help the paint mixture bond. I also sanded lightly after the first couple of coats.

    The type of fabric you start out with is definitely a factor in what you end up with. I like the hint of pattern that comes through your painted surface.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  14. Sheri

    I don’t want to rain on the parade but this is from the MSDS ( material safety data sheet) for the glidden paint:

    Carcinogenicity :
    Treatment related nasal tumors were observed in rats and mice exposed to vinyl acetate via inhalation at 600 ppm for 2 years. In a lifetime inhalation study, exposure to 250 mg/m3 titanium dioxide resulted in the development of lung tumors in rats. These tumors occurred only at dust levels that overwhelmed the animals’ lung clearance mechanisms and were different from common human lung tumors in both type and location. The relevance of these findings to humans is
    unknown but questionable. The international agency for research on cancer (IARC) has classified titanium dioxide as possibly carcinogenic to humans (group 2b) based on inadequate evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals.

    Do you really think it is a good idea to coat your furniture in this stuff? Would you want to sit on a chair or sofa coated in a carcinogenic material? Paint on a wall in one thing but on furniture it just cannot be a good idea. Not to mention people are sanding the paint!!! You might want to mention this in the article so people that are foolish enough to try this will know what they are exposing themselves to. Also, spraying furniture with lysol also is probably not to healthy. People seem to have a little to much trust in the manufacturers of these products – they care about the bottom line not your health!

    1. Erin Post author

      Thank you for your concern, Sheri. As with any DIY project, it is important to do your own research and figure out what your limitations are. For anyone who wants to learn more about the effects of vinyl acetate and titanium dioxide, click on the highlighted links.

  15. Susan

    Oh my goodness! I know the “cancer” post is old, but I just have to respond. I wonder if the poster has researched all the various chemicals in her upholstered furniture, carpet, drapes…and the list could go on forever. I refuse to live with those sorts of fears and especially when things change on a daily basis.
    Now…back to the subject. I painted a practice piece with latex paint, fabric medium, water. Color is beautiful but definitely stiff. Tried softening with wax and some of the paint rubbed off. Will retouch that. Then tried your hairdryer thing and I thing it is working. Fingers crossed!.


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