Mid Century Bentwood Chair Makeover

Several months ago I acquired 11 Mid Century Modern chairs that were very dated and on their way to the dumpster. I only really wanted/needed two for our house, but hey, what’s 9 more. Some of the chairs still had the original Knoll Furniture sticker on them and were dated December 1975! After some research I found out that the chairs were designed by Bill Stephens for the Knoll Furniture company and were manufactured mainly as office furniture in the 70’s. The company still makes furniture today! Half of my chairs have bentwood arms and the other half are armless but with the same overall design. I love the lines of the chairs, but the dated magenta-burgundy turned pink wool fabric had to go. My original plan was to update two of the chairs for our house by sanding the blonde oak and staining them darker and updated the fabric. I went with a simple black and white ticking stripe pattern for the fabric. The transformation was awesome, and the chairs were seemingly easy to update. We tried selling the remaining chairs on Craiglist, but never had many takers. Even after I spent several hours sanding down the million black scuff marks and reattaching some of the fabric that had started to peel off.

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One of my girlfriends saw the chairs in our house and fell in love with the Mid Century design as well, so she asked me if she could buy two and pay me to update them for her. I ended up taking them apart, sanding and staining, but we decided to turn the project into a live DIY tutorial! It was a lot of fun teaching someone, and her chairs came out amazing! Since this was my second pair to update, I had my own rhythm for dissembling, staining, and adhering the new fabric.

Sorry about the first few blurry photos as they are from my ancient iPhone.  First step is to remove the seat part from the wood frame. I did this with a large flat head screw driver and hammer by lightly tapping the seat base until the staples popped up from the wood. This created several dents in the wood, but since I had to sand the old finish off, I wasn’t too worried about the marks on the wood. Then I ripped off all the old fabric and foam from the plastic base.

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Once I removed the fabric, you could easily see the staples that were holding the chair together, which were still embedded in the plastic seat. I removed them with a very small flat head screw driver and nail puller pliers. This was probably the worst part of the hold process! But if you look closely in the left hand corner of the below picture, I had a fluffy friend to keep me company.

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Once the chair frame was sanded and stained with a rich and more modern mahogany stain, we were ready to reassemble. We started with the back of the chairs. I used quilting batting as the base to go underneath the fabric and a heavy duty spray adhesive to glue it on. Then we stapled the plastic seat back to the chair frame, so we could glue the batting and fabric to the front.

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The front of the chair got two layers of batting plus the fabric. After you trim the the fabric around the edges, you use a plastic cord and tuck the fabric under the plastic seat (there is a small lip between the seat and the chair frame, so the fabric can tuck in neatly).

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I really think the chairs came out perfect, and I love the fun and playful fabric she picked!  The makeover is definitely a fresh update to these Mid Century Modern chairs.

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3 thoughts on “Mid Century Bentwood Chair Makeover

  1. I cannot tell you how great it is to find this. I have a couple of these chairs and I’m determined to re upholster them myself. But until this moment hadn’t found any helpful information on the internet. I’m so glad to have found your site, and wanted to thank you for writing about your experience. It’s funny how these chairs are valued online, isn’t it? Some sites say 2000 dollars for 4. Then there are folks on ebay selling 10 for 500 dollars. I decided I like them because I like them, and I’m going to ignore their real or imagined value beyond that. I’m excited to get started, and especially now with your help!

  2. One question – I see the rubber cord here, as I’m removing the seat from the frame. Do I need to be careful to preserve that? Did you keep the original one or did you buy something new? Seems like an important element of the process. And how did you figure out that that’s how you do the front??

    • Hi Jennifer! I’m so sorry it took me so long to respond! I did keep the cord after I pulled off. I used it to tuck my extra fabric under the plastic rim!

      I hope you had fun and you were pleased with your new and improved chairs. It was a trial and error process for sure! I’ve redone 8 of them now!

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