How to Recover a Chair or Bench Cushion
One of the very first DIY projects I ever did when we moved into our first apartment 15+ years ago was recover the chair cushions on our government-issued base furniture. Even then, when I had few tools and didn’t know a thing about DIY, it was a really easy and budget-friendly way to breath some fresh life into some (veeeeeery) dated furniture. I’ve since recovered all sorts of things, the latest being the lids to our bench-style hampers. I decided to detail out this process so even the most weary DIYers out there can feel confident giving this simple project a try. Let me show you how to recover a chair or bench cushion…a 1-hour project anyone can do!
Below are the wooden bench-style hampers I found at Ross ages ago. They were the exact size, shape, and style I wanted but came with boring brown fabric. Since the lids on the hampers were so easily removable, I knew I’d be able to swap the fabric to something I liked better.
Since adding a really busy wallpaper to our Master Bedroom, I’ve been looking for ways to calm down other areas of the room. As such, I was ready to swap the navy scallop fabric on these hampers (above right) to something a little simpler and classier. This sleek grey velvet was just the ticket!
I chose this grey velvet for a few reasons:
- Matching blues is really tough, and with so many other blue hues in the room, I was having a lot of trouble finding a velvet that matched just right.
- The light grey was a really nice contrast to the dark hampers yet matches our dressers perfectly.
- Velvet is super durable and kid-friendly (as I outline here), but it still adds a sense of luxe to the bedroom!
This simple swap really made a difference and was more-than-worth the $20 and 1 hour it took to pull it off. If you’re ready to breath some fresh life into some chairs or benches in your home too, let me walk you through this simple process!
Here is what you’ll need to recover a chair or bench cushion:
- A cushion – It’s important to note that this tutorial is for cushions that are attached to an easily-removable base. If you can’t remove the cushion from the base, check out this option; and if you have a fully (removable) cushion that needs covering on all sides, refer to this tutorial.
- Fabric – enough to cover each cushion + ~5″ in both directions.
- If your chair or bench is a high-use item, refer to this post for picking good upholstery fabric.
- If your cushion is more decorative, any home decor fabric will do!
I have step-by-step picture instructions on how to recover a chair or bench cushion below; but if you’d rather watch the process instead, here’s a short video tutorial too!
Video not showing for you? You can also watch it HERE!
Removing & Prepping the Cushion
The very first step when learning how to recover a chair or bench cushion is to remove it from its base. You might be tempted not to (and just work around any hardware or base), but you’ll get a much cleaner and more professional result if you take the cushion completely off.
NOTE: If you cannot get the cushion off, this is not the best tutorial for covering your specific chair or bench.
For most dining chairs and benches, you can simply unscrew the seat from the legs or base; my hamper lids are held on with hinges that were easily unscrewed.
TIP! If your cushion has a direction, consider using a pencil to notate which way is front so that it will be easier to re-attach correctly later on!
To Remove Existing Fabric or Not?
This next step is theoretically optional. When recovering a chair or bench cushion, you don’t necessarily have to remove the existing fabric. Depending on your circumstances (like if you’re using rental furniture or just doing a temporary makeover) or what fabric you choose, you might be able to get away with adding new fabric over the existing fabric.
However, you do run the risk of patterns/textures showing through, bulky corners, and difficulty stapling your new fabric tightly if you choose to leave existing fabric in place. When possible, I suggest removing the existing fabric (but not any foam, batting, or extra padding layers).
How to Remove Existing Fabric
Most upholstery will be held on with staples or tiny nails. No matter what you encounter, you will likely need to use both a flathead screwdriver and needle-nose pliers to remove everything cleanly. I find it works best to slide a flathead screwdriver under the staples to pry them out.
If staples come out unevenly or are in really snug, I’ll use the needle-nose pliers to pull them straight out.
Try hard not to bend or warp the staples/nails as you remove them because they can get stuck in the wood. The goal is to remove everything cleanly from your wood base.
Cutting & Prepping New Fabric
Typically home decor fabrics don’t need to be pre-washed before use. But if you are worried about colors rubbing off on your hands or your walls, you might want to consider it. Otherwise, you can cut your fabric right away.
To cut down your fabric, take your cushion dimensions (including the top and sides) and then add another 5″+ to the total width and length numbers. If you don’t feel like measuring or doing math, using the fabric you just removed as a template is a great shortcut!
TIP! If your fabric has a pattern, be sure to orient it and center it to your preference!
This is IMPORTANT! It is very difficult to remove wrinkles or creases after the fabric is stapled onto your cushion. Take the time now to work out any and all wrinkles with an iron set properly for your specific fabric.
TIP! I LOVE using my Cricut EasyPress to “iron” large swaths of fabric because the heat plate is so big!
How to Recover a Chair or Bench Cushion
Once your cushion and fabric are both prepped, it’s time to recover them!
Psssst – if you think your foam cushion needs to be replaced before you add the new fabric, see my tutorial here: How to Cut Upholstery Foam | Easy & Precise
Place your fabric right-side down onto your work surface (I suggest the floor or a very sturdy table). Place your cushion right-side down onto the center of your fabric.
The general process of recovering a cushion with fabric is to pull taught then staple. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Along straight edges, pull the fabric taught toward the center of your cushion; not on diagonal.
- Take care to pull taught with consistency in order to prevent puckering or bubbling.
- Staple straight down into the wood base of your cushion. Do not get too close to the edge or staple on diagonal, as the staples can slip to the outside of the fabric.
- If the staple doesn’t go in flat, either remove and re-staple or tap it flat with a tack hammer.
Making Pretty Corners…Easily!
If you Google how to make pretty corners on your covered cushions, you’ll see all sorts of methods to try. I will admit right here that what I’m about to show you is not necessarily the “right” or “correct” method. But it’s easy. It’s fast. It doesn’t require special tool…and you STILL end up with nice-looking corners!
Getting fabric to lay nicely around corners can be really frustrating and may even turn you away from a simple DIY like this. The key is practice, taking your time, and re-doing it over until you’re satisfied. No matter what kind of fabric you’re using, you can get it to fold nicely with some patience!
Start by taking the corner of fabric and pulling it diagonally, directly toward the center of the cushion back, to create a triangle.
Once you have it pulled taught, staple it in place.
Once you staple the larger triangle of fabric in place, you will notice smaller triangles naturally form on either side. Fold one side up, in, and then down…ensuring everything is tucked in flat and smooth.
Staple the one flap in place before repeating on the other side. This will create tiny folds on either side of the corner.
Once the corner is done, you can proceed stapling down the sides until you come to the next corner. Then repeat as necessary.
Even after you’ve stapled all the way round, you might have extra fabric (beyond where the staples are). Feel free to trim this fabric away or staple any excess in place so it doesn’t hang down once you reassemble your chair/bench.
Adding a Lining
This next step is also optional. Typically, this kind of “upholstery” method produces a pretty ugly underside to your cushion. This isn’t usually a problem since chairs and benches aren’t often flipped upside down. However, if you want to give the underside a more polished appearance OR if your cushion flips up (like mine does), you might want to add a lining.
To do this, cut a stretch of fabric (either matching or contrasting based on your preference!) to fit the exact size of your cushion + 1″ on each side. Then fold over each edge 1″ toward the wrong side and iron in place.
Place the liner right-side up onto the underside of the cushion, lining up the edges and covering all the staples from the previous fabric application. Then pull taught and staple in place along the perimeter.
Reattach the Newly Covered Cushion
Your cushion is now fully recovered! Simply reattach it to the chair or bench base using the same hardware and holes that were in place previously.
Recovering chair or bench cushions is one of the easiest DIYs you can take on…and it can really go a long way in adding pattern, color, or style to boring, dated, or damaged furniture. Once you master this easy method for wrapping the corners, the toughest time you’ll have will be picking out just the right fabric!
Although I don’t like the grey with the beige walls, I am loving these crisp, clean, and soft new covers on our hampers! My next (and final!) little project in our Master Bedroom is finishing up that mini gallery wall, and I think you’ll love my idea for filling up those blank frames!