Duncan Phyfe Dining Chair Set Makeover

Recently while perusing the aisles of our local Salvation Army store, Mr. Frugalista came across a set of four Duncan Phyfe style dining chairs for $20.00 each. When he sent me the text I was doing a happy dance around the house because recently we gave a Duncan Phyfe Style Dining Table a makeover for our dining room and were in need of chairs.

With just a little paint and new seat upholstery, they couldn't be a more perfect match for our dining room.

Duncan Phyfe Dining Chairs Makeover

Duncan Phyfe Dining Chair Set Makeover

I couldn't be more happy with the results and they were so easy to do. The white paint and lime green accents in the new fabric work beautifully in our dining room. Here is a link to the Duncan Phyfe Style Dining Table makeover.

Duncan Phyfe Dining Chairs Makeover With Table

Before I get into the details of the makeover let's take a look at what the chairs looked like before. They had a glossy finish and someone took two pieces of fabric, stuffed a thin layer of foam between them, and glued it over the existing seat fabric. Now that's some fancy-schmancy upholstery job!

Duncan Phyfe Dining Chairs Before

Painting them white made all the lovely details in the wood pop.

Duncan Phyfe Dining Chairs After

The scoop on the Duncan Phyfe Chair makeover

This post contains affiliate links so you can see what products I used or recommend for this project. At no cost to you, we receive a small commission if you make a purchase.

Painting the Duncan Phyfe Chair Frames

The first order of business was removing the glossy finish on the wood. To do this I scuffed it first with 150-grit sandpaper to give the primer and paint some bite.

The chairs are mahogany which is guaranteed to cause paint bleed where the tannins in the wood bleed through the paint, especially when painted a light color like white. To avoid this I brushed the chairs with one coat of clear shellac primer first.

Again like the table, I didn't want them painted a bright white nor an antique white so I mixed a 50:50 ratio of Old White and Pure White Annie Sloan Chalk Paint.

Painting an entire set of dining room chairs is daunting and so I sprayed the chairs with my go-to paint sprayer. They needed three coats for complete coverage but boy did a sprayer speed up the process.

Distressing the Duncan Phyfe Painted Chairs

Once the last coat of paint was completely dry I gave the chairs a shabby chic distressed finish just like the base of the table. To do this I used a sheet of 220-grit sandpaper and removed some of the paint along the edges and details of the painted wood.

Duncan Phyfe Dining Chairs Distressed

Protecting the finish on the Duncan Phyfe painted chairs

Using a round wax brush I applied a coat of clear wax, wiping the excess with a lint-free rag. Next, I brushed dark wax making sure to get it nestled into the ridges and around the details of the chair. I lighting removed the excess dark wax with a lint-free rag. I let the wax sit for about 15-30 minutes before buffing it to a matte finish.

Duncan Phyfe Dining Chairs Painted White

Replacing seat fabric on the Duncan Phyfe chairs

I found the pretty fabric at our local Fabricland store and the green pairs beautifully with the colors in the adjacent living room. Upholstering the seats on dining chairs is super easy. But if you've never done it before you'll need a staple removal tool (trust me, your fingers will thank you), and a heavy-duty upholstery stapler.

Duncan Phyfe Dining Chairs Upholstered Seats

I don't start any upholstery project, big or small, without having this amazing The Complete Guide To Upholstery book by my side. I call it my upholstery bible.

My apologies for not taking photos of the upholstery process but hopefully the instructions below will help.

Tips for upholstering chair seats

  1. Remove the seat from the chair frame. 
  2. Remove all those nasty staples and the old fabric. Some people upholster right over the old fabric but I like to remove the nastiness first. 
  3. Use the old fabric as a pattern for cutting the new fabric plus about 2-3 extra inches. 
  4. If the foam is in poor condition or just plain nasty, replace it with new foam. A tip for cutting foam is to use a serrated knife. I have an old electric knife that I use for this purpose.
  5. Replace the batting with fresh batting (I always replace the old batting). 
  6. Lay the fabric, good side down, on a clean work surface.
  7. Lay the new batting over the fabric. 
  8. Flip the seat upside down and line up the pattern on the fabric so it's nice and straight.
  9. Wrap the fabric and batting over to the underside of the seat. 
  10. Tack a staple in the middle of one side. 
  11. Pull the fabric taut but not too tight that it distorts the pattern, and tack a staple into the center. 
  12. Repeat on all four sides. 
  13. Working from the center and towards the corners, staple the fabric and stop about 2-3 inches from the corners. 
  14. Fold the corner fabric over the corner and staple in place.
  15. Repeat on all four corners.
  16. Trim the excess fabric and reattach the seats to the chairs.

In the photo below you can see the big void on the opposite side of the table. We repurposed an old headboard and footboard to make this Headboard Dining Bench and it couldn't be more perfect.

Duncan Phyfe Dining Set Painted White

If you have any questions about this makeover, please leave them in the comment section below or press the Contact Me button at the top of the blog to drop me an email. I love hearing from you!

Duncan Phyfe Chair Makeover Before and After

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  1. Marie, I'm so happy you posted this project. I have one Duncan -y-e (sorry, keyboard still not printing sixth letter or alphabet) chair that was my mother's. She used it as her desk chair. It is that same mahogany -inish as yours and the entire seat is misssing. But now I know how to proceed to paint my chair due to your intructions regarding bleed-through. The entire seat is missing so I will have to have a new one cut to -it out -rom some plywood or other material. Also, when you replaced the -abric on your chairs did you use any padding like -oam or batting or something else?

    I've been dithering about re-urbishing this chair or years?? Yes, years! Now I think I can do it! Thanks a ton! And by the way, your dining room looks spectacular with its new -urnishings.

    1. So glad this post gave you the inspiration and motivation to refinish your Mom's chair! My apologies for missing those two important steps in my upholstery tips. I've since edited the upholstery tips to include them. Good luck with your chair makeover!

  2. Hi! I’m curious about how thick your foam is? I was thinking about going with two inches once I measured but I’m afraid it might look too big once the batting is added on top

    1. Our foam is 1-inch thick but I've got to tell you, two-inches sure would be more comfortable.


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