DIY Upholstered Armchairs With Parisian Style

Have you ever spent countless months scouring the internet for a specific piece of secondhand furniture and eventually gave up? For almost a year we were on the lookout for two matching upholstered accent chairs with cabriole legs for our living room. After having given up the search Mr. Frugalista stumbled upon an ad in a neighboring town for exactly what we were looking for. The price was right, they appeared to be in great condition, but the fabric? not so much. We decided to take them anyway and set out to dive feet first into a DIY upholstered armchair makeover with Parisian style.

DIY Upholstered Cabriole Leg French Chair Makeover

DIY Upholstered Parisian Style Armchairs

To say we were nervous about the makeover is an understatement. Having never upholstered a living room accent chair before we were not feeling confident about our upholstery skills. However, the cost of having them professionally upholstered was not in the budget and the motivating factor behind teaching ourselves how to do DIY upholstery.

This post contains affiliate links so you can see what products I used or recommend for this project. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you.

These are the chairs before the makeover. The upholstery was actually in pretty good condition other than the color. There were some scratches and a little damage on the cabriole legs but nothing that a little paint couldn't fix.

DIY Upholstered French Armchairs Before

And here are the living room accent chairs after the makeover...

DIY Upholstered French Armchairs After

What do you think? For our first major upholstery project, I think they turned out pretty good! They look wonderful flanking the curvy Swan Tableanother DIY project. I also used them in the dining room with our Modern Farmhouse Dining Table Makeover and they look great there too!

But I'd be lying if I said the makeover was a breeze. It took four hours per chair just to remove what seemed like a gazillion staples, and we have the puncture wounds to show for it. I dealt with a couple botched attempts at sewing double welting and the chairs had stubborn paint bleed (more about that later).

Would I attempt upholstering living room chairs again?

Heck ya! I learned that your camera and the old fabric will be your best friend. Before you get started, pull out your phone and take photos of every corner and every fold in the old fabric. This will be your pictorial when attempting to replicate them with the new fabric.

Also, use the old fabric as a pattern for cutting the new fabric. It may take extra time carefully removing the old fabric but it's so worth the effort. When broken down into baby steps, upholstery isn't terribly difficult. The biggest asset...patience (a virtue I wasn't blessed with). Oh, and straight fabric. 😉

DIY Upholstered Living Room Chair Makeover

I built my confidence up enough to tackle making two matching lumbar cushions for each chair with the leftover fabric. The chairs are quite deep and I'm vertically challenged and feel like Edith Ann in her big rocking chair with her feet dangling over the edge. (Perhaps I'm dating myself but please say you remember the Laugh-in show from the 70s?) Anywhoo, the cushions help scoot me and my vertically challenged guests forward in the chairs.

DIY Upholstered Accent Chairs With Lumbar Pillows

Painting the dark wood frames white made such a difference to these chairs. Now the wood carvings command attention, especially being highlighted with a distressed finish.

I have to thank my friend Christy from Confessions Of A Serial DIYer, without her double welting tutorial I would not have been able to successfully sew the piping and attach it to the chair.

DIY Upholstered French Armchairs Painted White

When I started the makeover I had no vision for fabric other than perhaps stripes or a solid neutral. I paid a visit to our local Fabricland store (Canadian retailer) for inspiration. When I set eyes on the bolt of Rosedale Meadowland Parisian fabric, I knew instantly it was THE one.

DIY Upholstered Living Room Armchair Parisian Fabric

Our living room accent color is a chartreuse green so the color was perfect and I'm a sucker for anything with French charm.

I like the fabric so much I went back the next day for more to upholster our ottoman. No such luck, someone else liked it as much as I did and they were sold out. 😢

With the chairs going in front of our living room window and the backs visible from outside, I wanted a more subtle pattern or solid color. I found a neutral mushroom color fabric with subtle metallic swirls that I like.

DIY Upholstered Armchair With Metallic Swirl Fabric Back

This is where I would normally include a detailed tutorial in my post but because this was our first attempt at a larger upholstery project, we needed our full focus and attention so no photos were taken of the steps. BUT I do share a detailed tutorial in my armchair makeover from hell post. Now that chair came close to flying out the workshop window!

What have I learned from this upholstery project?

Have the right tools for the task at hand. I will not do another upholstery project without these tools. My bleeding fingers will thank me.

Also, have resources available at your fingertips. I consider these two books by Cherry Dobson my upholstery bibles, just like the name says. Seriously, this chair makeover would not have been completed without the guidance of these two books.


Painting the chair frames and the paint bleed debacle

Most often when painting dark wood white, especially cherry or mahogany, the tannins in the wood bleed through the paint. Knowing this I primed the wood first with clear shellac primer.

Next, I mixed a custom 50:50 ratio of Old White and Pure White Annie Sloan Chalk Paint and got busy painting the chair frames.

When I went back to brush the second coat I noticed there was still paint bleed. No need to panic when this happens, simply brush another coat of clear primer over the paint. Once it's dry, brush the second coat of paint.

This rarely happens but I still had paint bleed in some spots and repeated the primer process, just in those spots, and touched up the paint. That did the trick.

It took a total of four thin coats of chalk paint to cover the dark wood, sanding with 220 grit sandpaper between coats. It's better to paint several thin layers than slathering one or two heavy coats of paint if you want a nice smooth finish.

Once the last coat of paint was dry I distressed along the edges and the carved details with 220 grit sandpaper. To protect the paint finish I applied a coat of clear wax and buffed to a matte finish.

I hope I've motivated you to consider upholstering an old chair that has great bones but needs an update. Upholstery seems like a daunting task but if I can do it, you definitely can too! If you have any questions, please leave them in the comment section below or the Contact Me tab at the top. I love hearing from you!

If you enjoyed this makeover, I'd be so thankful if you pinned and shared it with a friend.

DIY Upholstered French Armchairs Before and After

I share my projects at these inspiring link parties.



  1. These chairs are so pretty and spring like. I love them!

  2. WOWZA! What a great update, but even with the phone tip I don't think I'm gonna attempt any reupholstering.

    1. Thanks a bunch, Bliss! Girl, I know your work and your talent, you definitely can do this!

  3. Your chairs are absolutely gorgeous Marie! Love love love the fabric you chose. That green is so pretty and fresh.

    1. Thank you very much, Tuula! That French fabric just had to come home with me. Wish I could find more of it.

  4. These are gorgeous, Marie! What a fabulous makeover!

    1. Thank you so much, Beverly! I was tickled pink with the results considering it was our first attempt at accent chair upholstery.

  5. Thank you for sharing at #OverTheMoon. Pinned and shared. Have a lovely week. I hope to see you at next week’s party too!

    1. Thank you, appreciate the pin and share, Marilyn! Have a lovely Sunday 😊

  6. Wow, this is an amazing chair makeover ~ Pinned! You definitely have patience. The closest I get to upholstering is covering a simple chair seat.

    1. Thank you, Allyson! I was determined to get new living room chairs at a bargain basement price. Thankfully, they turned out or it could've been a hot mess. We were surprised at how it was easier than we thought. If we could do it, you definitely can!

  7. Gosh, Marie, those chairs are just beautiful! I have a similar chair in my garage that is upholstered with (dirty) tan leather. I bought it at an online auction and didn't know 'til I picked it up that it was leather. It's really ugly and I want to reupholster it but am petrified to attempt it. I don't have fabric or anything yet nor have I painted the wooden parts so I'll be starting from scratch if I get up the nerve. I think Marian from the blog Miss Mustard Seed reupholstered several similar chairs and did tutorials of the process so I'll have to see if I can find those for guidance and courage! You folks did a really gorgeous job on yours. Thanks for sharing them!

    1. Hi Naomi, so glad you like the chair makeover! I didn't realize Marian did upholstery tutorials on her blog. Dang, they probably would've been helpful when we did these. I'm curious now and will pop over to her blog to check them out. I was very intimidated too, Naomi, before we started. Good luck with your chair. YOU CAN DO THIS!!!


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