{HOW TO} Painting Upholstery

You read it right! It is possible.  I myself was skeptical about the whole putting paint on fabric and it actually working but I am here to tell you that it is possible! The key to making it work is water and fabric medium.  The fabric medium is what softens the paint so that your fabric doesn’t become super stiff and the water helps to be able to spread the paint evenly along the fabric.

Let’s take a peek at my victim.

Painting Upholstery

This chair was not mine to begin with and it also happens to have a matching partner so since I had no attachment to it and there was another just like it I was willing to give this whole painting thing a try.  What’s the worst that could happen? It doesn’t work and I’d have to toss it? Sounds good to me.

The chair itself worked fine in the corner but the color was not working with the rest of the living room.  While the space is pretty neutral there are a few pops of blue throughout the room so I wanted to keep that going with the chair.  The color I chose was wedgewood grey from Benjamin Moore.  To get started I brought the chair to a well ventilated area, the garage.  Here’s what you’ll need:

A large spray bottle
A quart of paint (latex, chalk, acrylic…doesn’t matter)
3  8 oz. bottles of Fabric Medium (found at any craft store)
Measuring Cup
Paint Brush

You will be doing 3 coats of the paint on the fabric letting each coat dry for 24hrs. This is not something you will complete in one afternoon.  The first thing you’ll need to do is make sure the fabric is clean of dirt, dust or anything else.

Painting Upholstery

First Coat:
Mix 1 part paint with 1 part fabric medium
Mix 1 part water to 1 part paint mixture
In other words: if you used 1/2 cup of paint and 1/2 cup of medium you will now add 1 cup of water

The mixture will be super thin and that is what you want.  Think of it as more of a stain than anything else. Now this is where you’ll want to grab your water bottle. Before you begin painting the fabric you will need to spray the section your working on heavily with the water. The reason for this is it allows the paint to absorb easily and spread better rather than the fabric just soaking up the paint in blotches. 

Painting Upholstery Painting Upholstery

Brush the paint mixture on in the direction that the fabric goes. You can go against the fabric in order to really work it in just make sure that the last stroke you do in the section you brush in the right direction. Continue to spray the water and brush on the paint. Here is what the chair was looking like after the first coat on half the chair.

Painting Upholstery

After you do the entire piece allow 24hrs for it to dry. Before you start the next coat you can go in with sandpaper (220 grit) and smooth over any parts that might be hard.  It won’t dust or anything the fabric will just soften a bit.

Second Coat
Use the same exact mixture as you did for the first coat.

You’re going to follow the same directions as you did for the first coat. Spray area with water and then brush on in sections. Here’s it after the second coat. I chose not to waste paint on the part where the cushion would cover it.

Painting Upholstery

Third Coat
Mix 1 part paint with 1 part fabric medium
Drop of water

Your paint mixture will be a bit thicker this time around.  You will continue to spray the fabric with water before you brush the paint on.  Once you’ve done the entire piece you’re done! All that’s left to do is let it dry. To say that the fabric is as soft as it was prior to painting would be a lie but it is not terrible.  I would describe the fabric as feeling a bit like a canvas texture.

Here is what I learned from doing this:
1. The color you choose may become a bit lighter due to the white colored fabric medium you add to it.
2. Don’t be afraid to brush in all directions to allow the fabric to absorb the paint.
3. It looks worse before it gets better.
4. The color will become much more opaque the longer it sits and dries.
5. Corners and edges will become hard and stiff so make sure you sand those areas well to avoid that.
6. The hardest part is spraying the chair with the water. Your forearm will burn! 

Here’s what it looks like back in its space. I added a few other items to help bring it alive! 

Painting UpholsteryPainting UpholsteryPainting UpholsteryPainting UpholsteryPainting UpholsteryI honestly had zero faith in this actually working but I’m telling you it does! Is it plush and perfect? No. But it is definitely a piece of furniture I feel confident in having people sit on including myself. 

Here are some shots of the rest of the living room since I’ve never posted the space in its entirety.


unnamed-3DSC_0381Painting UpholsteryDSC01165DSC01167DSC01169

And let’s get back to why you’re here in the first place!Painting Upholstery

So do you think you’ll give that old chair you have a little paint job? Let me know if you do!
Come back later this week when I share how I brought the tray table next to the chair to life!



3 thoughts on “{HOW TO} Painting Upholstery

  1. Thanks for this post I think I may have thought of paint as a solution for upholstered furniture but quickly pushed it out of my head. I wish the screen made it possible to actually feel the texture of the chair. I’m really curious. It looks great and I am happy to hear you are satisfied with the results!! I LOVE your living room! It’s such a serene space and sooooo cozy! We have a similar aesthetic and you’ve provided so much inspiration in how I can accessorize my own living room! Love your posts and Happy Engagement!

    • Thank you so much! It’s so funny I tried to make a video of my hand pushing down on the chair just so you can all see the texture and try to get an idea but I couldn’t figure out how to get it onto the blog! Thanks so much for the support!

  2. Pingback: Tray Table Makeover | Made2Style

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