Makeover — Eastlake Parlor Chair

by Diana Durkes

Wahoo! It’s time again for chair sorcery from our furniture and accessories makeover specialist, Contributor Diana Durkes. Diana gives “New Life to the Tossed and Found” at her blog, Fine Diving in Chicago.

Parlor Chair Makeover

What to do with a challenging, homely chair?

Years ago, this one may have occupied pride of place in the parlor. It emulates the Eastlake style, a late 1800’s cousin to the Victorian period, one that simplified high-relief ornamentation with geometric shapes.

Chair Detail Before

This quirky chair also appears to be home-crafted. The mismatched wood pieces, the sharp corners and the glued on appliqué provide the clues.

The chair sat in the entry of a friend’s apartment until she vanquished it to storage last fall. At one time, I’d volunteered to help her make this family relic into something that didn’t so thoroughly stick out from her Metropolitan Home style. Instead, she called and offered the chair to me.

The good news, and for the sake of friendship: I said yes, I’d take on the chair as a makeover project. The bad news: there are two of them.

Eastlake Parlor Chair Before

Step 1: When in Doubt, Go White

When I brought the chair to my workspace, I mentally tried on a buttery yellow to cover the chair’s mismatched woodwork. But if I were going color, why not turquoise or magenta, something vibrant to romance the eye away from the chair’s homespun detail?

Removing Upholstery and Repainting

In the end, I kept it simple with a white gloss paint. I stripped the chair’s red velvet upholstery and double cording, then hand sanded the original finish to take off the shine, and brushed on primer and top coat.

Reupholstering Chair Detail

Step 2: Distract with Pattern

From a local fabric chain store, I chose a cotton canvas to reupholster the chair. My thinking was to find a breezy print or textured fabric to juxtapose the period style rather than attempt to complement it, which to me sounded like a dull proposition—or a prop for a stage play.

I measured and cut pieces for the seat and backs. With a manual stapler, I attached the pieces to the chair’s frame, quite a challenge since the upholstery channels were narrow. Last, I sewed cording by machine, then adhered it to the chair with fabric glue. The print has a 60’s vibe—a good foil or a mixed metaphor?

I’d love to get your thoughts on this makeover.

Chair Before and After

Diana Durkes

Diana Durkes is a creative recycler and a confessed alley shopper. She gives a makeover to one found item each week, and publishes the before & after on her blog, Fine Diving in Chicago.

She also writes the Tossed and Found column for Time Out Chicago and pens the blog Garage Sale Warrior for the Chicago Trib’s Chicago Now.



Is there a similar chair lurking somewhere in your basement or garage? How would you make it over?

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17 Comments for “Makeover — Eastlake Parlor Chair”

I have two chairs nearly identical that we purchased at an estate sale in upstate NY. My husband hates the chairs, but I can’t bring myself to get rid of them. You have inspired me to give this a try. I have two additional problems though…the bottom fabric underneath the seat is ripped and hanging down on one of the chairs, and the casters on the front legs seem fragile. Do you know how to fix these so the chair will be safe? Thanks – I love your makeover!

Hi Debi,
For the fabric underneath the chair, there to cover up the underside, it’s easy to replace, so go ahead and rip it all the way off. Then, when you rehab the chair, just staple a new piece on the bottom. It doesn’t have to be the official cambric that upholsterers use–I find it’s a great way to recycle old bed sheets.

If you decide you need to replace the casters, try a vintage place like The casters on my chair pull off, and there’s a hole to slip in new ones.

Please keep us updated – we’d love to see your chairs!

Thanks, Diana. Now if I can just get to it! Your reply is holding me accountable – just what I need! Thanks!

Wow, what a refreshing change! Very perky! Well done.

Love the update to this chair! It looks so fresh now! The fabric is great.

I was just thinking about you, too, Kathy! Thinking I needed to get over here and see what you’ve got going on. Be well!

I love love love it!! In fact, I am in the process of pulling together my little workshop in order to go to estate sales and yard sales to find furniture that I can re-hab in a similar way and hopefully re-sell! Thx for the extra inspiration!

Debi and Karen and Fellow Furniture Rehabbers,
If I can help with a tip, my workroom’s always open!

It’s wonderful to hear from those planning similar projects. Debi, I know you can do this and can’t wait to see your Before and After photos!

Karen your business sounds like a fab idea.

And Diana, thanks for the inspiration–always stunning makeovers and helpful advice from you.

Keep on designing,

Leona and Kathy,

It’s so nice to get the reaction of trade pros like yourself.

Diana’s choices did make for a refreshing change. I am struck by how the finish and fabric change make the chair seem smaller and less imposing, don’t you think?

Thanks for stopping in,

Really nice way to update a stodgy old Victorian piece. Love the fabric!

Dear Diana,

We are not offended that you called our inherited chairs “challenging, homely, and quirky”…we thought so too…

Thanks for rescuing them!

Your friends,
Tom and Betty

P.S. we vote for “good foil”..great work!

Tom and Betty,

You are cracking me up here. So glad you weren’t offended, and I can’t wait until Diana reads your note!

Thanks for visiting,

Tom and Betty,
Too funny!

This similar jewel has been in my family since my great grandmother Huckabye(Nee Hyde),of London brought it to New York sometime before 1901.The top carving is a little more ornate. However, the seat frame and legs and casters are exact! I received it after my mother passed away in 2006.Poor thing has had too many reupholstery attempts with glues, nails, tacks, and staples. Where can I find a detailed picture of how the original upholstery was done?My husband’s cousin makes beautiful furniture from dead trees so I’m thinking of emploring him to reinstate the wood infractions.

Hi Gwyneth,

I’m no antiques expert, but a little search for Eastlake Parlor Chair on Google Images returns a great assortment of similar chairs. Looks like most are upholstered in velvets and florals. I get a bit different assortment of photos when I do a similar Google Images search for Eastlake Parlour Chair. Maybe this is a good place for you to start.

Thanks so much for stopping in, and sharing your story!

I hate to be the lone voice of dissent, but I do not like the chair makeover. Painting antique furniture freshens it up temporarily, but when the paint gets chipped and worn no one is going to want to take on refurbishing the chair and it will most likely be discarded. What a travesty! There are fewer and fewer of these beautiful pieces every year thanks to makeovers like this.

I have an eastlake shell and do not have the money to invest in the springs for the seat. Is there a way without doing the springs and still look nice. Also wondering how to do the back of the chair. Thanks

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