an opinion piece on painting upholstery

by | Aug 12, 2016 | All Things Home, Tutorials, upholstery | 51 comments

I’m often asked for my opinion on painting upholstery, which I usually field as they come, but I decided I would finally share my opinion in a post.

Before I share my opinion on the subject, let me say that I get it.  As an unabashed paint enthusiast, I get it.  You have an old sofa or chair that’s in good shape, but the fabric is ugly or totally the wrong color or has seen better days.  You have no interest in sewing a slipcover or delving into the world of upholstery.  And you just can’t afford a replacement right now.  So, painting it is tempting.

miss mustard seeds milk paint

Second, I know that you can paint a piece of upholstery.  Many people have done it and I admire them for having the guts to do it!

Actually, at one of my furniture-painting workshops, one of the attendees asked if we could paint her upholstered chair, so we did!  It turned out well, but I still have my hesitations.  You can read the details of the makeover HERE.

painted upholstery before and after miss mustard seed

For pieces that I own and work on, though, I’m not going to be painting an upholstered piece any time soon.

Now, there are a couple of cases where I would just say, “Go for it!”

1.) If you have a hand-me-down piece of furniture that you couldn’t possibly hate any more than you already do.

2.) If you’re using the piece just for the look of it, like for a photo prop.

So, why am I not personally a fan of that route?

1.)  It may make a piece look better cosmetically, but it’s not really adding value to the piece.  If anything, it’s devaluing it.  I know this is funny coming from someone who paints a bunch of antique wood furniture, but painting wood is different.  Wood can be stripped.  Painting a piece of upholstery is not easily undone.

2.) When you’re painting a piece of upholstery with the batting and foam underneath, you’re only seeing what’s happening on the surface.  The paint that is seeping down into the batting and/or foam is going to be a real mess and will end up being more costly if you ever want to have the piece properly reuphosltered (or do it yourself) in the future.

ticking french chair miss mustard seed

In the end, it’s your piece of furniture and if you want to paint it, then paint it, especially if you have nothing to lose.  My opinion is just my opinion and this isn’t a case of right of wrong.

What are your thoughts on painting upholstery?  Any success stories?  Failures?  Tips?


  1. sandi

    I’m with you Marian, well said.
    To me painted upholstery is useless unless it’s simply for show, never to be used – for anything. What happens to the ‘fabric’ if it’s sat upon, or something is spilled on it, or subject to temperature changes, or when it gets dirty? I’ve never seen painted designs on clothing ever work in the long run. Even pieces painted by your competitor never look right.
    And I think you put your finger on it by saying it really devalues the piece,

  2. Kate

    Slightly off topic, but you mentioned stripping wood. Have you ever stripped a piece of furniture you had formerly painted with milk paint? Is it any different than stripping off other paints?

    • Miss mustard seed

      If a piece has an existing finish on it prior to being painted with milk paint, then it can be stripped, because that finish acts as a bartier, preventing milk paint from soaking in. If you paint a piece that’s raw, it cannot be stripped.

  3. Julie

    I think the texture of painted upholstery would not be something I would be comfortable with. But I’m a very tactile person.

    • Cindy Hayes

      It actually feels like soft leather

    • Laura Henderson

      I agree. It’s all personal preference, but when I see a beautiful piece of linen or wool, I just have to touch it!

  4. Kelly @ Elevation Home Staging & Redesignl

    I had never painted fabric before & was hugely sceptical. We bought a new house and needed furniture at the same time as my grandparents estate was being divided up. My parents gave me a wing chair – I don’t even like wing chairs, but I said thank you and took it. I was working on a clients home and she was getting rid of a wing chair – I took that one home too. Now I had two mismatched wing chairs that I didn’t like. I thought about reupholstering, but didn’t want to spend the money. I’m not a good enough seamstress to make slip covers that I would be happy with, so I painted them. They look great! I get so many compliments on them and people are amazed that I painted them. I still don’t love the wing chairs and I agree that painted upholstery isn’t ideal, but it sure did the trick for me with using what I had, and making a room look finished for little investment of money and time.

    • Miss mustard seed

      Good for you! Yes, I think that’s one of those times where it’s worth going for it!

  5. nancy w.

    I don’t like how it looks or feels and I cannot imagine how it would stand up. Would think it would even attract dirt..

  6. Pam Clark

    i painted a vinyl wing backed chair and it looks great. It’s not one that gets tons of use, so it hasn’t shown any wear. I agree with you about the porous fabric, though. It seems like an awful lot of work to paint that kind of fabric as well.

    • Linda @ q is for quandie

      I’m with Pam. I’ve painted a couple of vinyl chairs and it has worked beautifully. One is a vinyl stool that I sit on while painting furniture, so it has gotten a lot of wear over the past year and it still looks good. Thumbs up on painting vinyl upholstery.

      • marian

        Good to know about vinyl! I would think that would be more conducive to receive paint. I haven’t dealt with many vinyl pieces, though! 🙂

  7. jackie pankuck

    I have done a lot of work stenciling fabric using fabric paint. That would be a good option for changing the feel of a piece without covering it all in a mass of paint. It also requires a lot less paint which tends not to seep through to the wrong side of the fabric thereby messing with the foam and batting underneath. That said, it’s challenging to do on fabric that is already on a piece of furniture rather than a flat piece of fabric… but it could be done.
    I would be curious to see how milk paint would take to adding fabric medium…

    • Miss mustard seed

      Yes, I do think painting or stenciling fabric prior to using it on a piece is totally different and Is something I would try.

  8. Sue

    I will say that I have tried several different ways – adding fabric medium, using chalk paint, watered down paint, etc – and it has never looked right and is always crunchy. The one piece I still have – a cane-backed chair that came with a mauve “veleveteen” seat and no way to easily recover the seat – is in my living room and looks “okay”. But it took seven coats of paint and it is crackly like worn leather. Not a fan.

  9. Tammy

    I’ve painted fabric on a chair before. Once. I hated it. Everyone said that it felt like and looked like leather. It may have slightly looked like leather. Let’s face it looked OK. More importantly, it was rarely sat on but looked terrible over a very small period of time. My advice, for what it is worth, go ahead and slipcover or reupholster.

  10. Lorie

    While I don’t think I would ever paint a piece for indoor use, I DID spray paint my outdoor cushions with fabulous results. They were faded and headed for the trash so I thought, “why not?”
    I used a good quality spray paint, not fabric paint, in the same color that they were originally and I was amazed at how well they turned out. It took me three cans of paint (about $15) and yes, they are a little stiff, but no more so than most outdoor fabric, and they look like new!

  11. Wendy from

    Never say never but it will be a long time before I paint fabric.
    Great post, thanks for your opinion.

  12. Marti

    I have stayed away from this trend. I just can’t imagine it holding up in the long run, and when I see it I can’t imagine how it doesn’t get crunchy eventually. It just isn’t for me.

  13. Judy

    Great timing for this post! Like Kelly, I too have a pair of unmatched wing chairs. In fact I’m going this morning to buy some paint to give painting the fabric on these chairs a try. I’ve done some research on the topic and it seems if done right, with the right paint and technique, all will go well. I’m not worried about the padding, if the paint is watered down enough, it should act more like a stain and not produce any “crunchieness.” In any case, I’m curious enough to try this experiment. We shall see.

    • Melissa

      Judy, I’m curious how your painted upholstery turned out?

  14. Vikki

    Thanks for the post and it was great reading everyone else’s opinions. I have been thinking of painting two very out of date wing back chairs. Now I guess I will just bite the bullet and make the slipcovers I have been putting off.

  15. Mary Ferraro

    I painted Roman shades in my kitchen that had material edging and natural reeds with an insulated backing. It was a lot of work and probably would not do again. However, I was really unsure about what color fabric to use for new ones. My kitchen is mostly white with an off white patterned wall paper, so I just could not make up my mind. I was looking at custom, so you just hate to make a mistake.
    So I figured, what the heck.
    The finished product is “ok” looking, but definitely helped me see that a cream/off white solid fabric would look great.
    On the hunt to find that perfect fabric.

  16. Diane

    I bought a chair, slightly “loco rococco”, at a yard sale for $10. It was wood, with a stained apricot silk or poly-silk upholstery on the back and seat. I didn’t want to make an investment to reupholster it for myself, and it was too asymmetrical for me to attempt for my flea market booth. So I painted it the same Steamed Milk that I do everything else. I stripped off the double piping and replaced with two rows of jute. Since it’s not a chair for daily use, I think it turned out OK. We’ll see if it sells once I get it to the booth! On the whole, however, this is not a technique I would use again or recommend.

  17. Pam G

    Yes, I agree that many painted fabrics don’t look good and certainly feel strange. However, I had this antique chair many years ago and I wanted to keep some of the original upholstery. I left the least stained upholstery on the front top. The back was velvet green so I chose a neutral fabric for seat and arms. This year I tried to sell it and no one wanted it. So, I thought, why not? I painted over just the original fabric on the top front and then decided to add a little something peeking out. Since that part doesn’t get much use and it doesn’t feel bad at all, I think it worked. Now many people want it, but I love Boston Terriers so I can’t seem to let it go! Wish I could post a photo!

  18. Ann

    I painted the upholstered cornice boxes (over 22 feet !!!) in my family room. It took a long time and lots of paint . I was going from a dark burgundy plaid to a cream colour. I figured if I hated them then I could replace but they turned out great, visually at least! I’m glad I don’t have to sit on them or touch them because they are crunchy! A lot cheaper than any of the alternatives.

    • Kelly @ Elevation Home Staging & Redesignl

      I agree with the ‘crunchy’ feel, but I very lightly sanded my wing chairs & remarkably they feel good! Even my highly skeptical better half thinks they are great. I say go for it!

  19. Char Swoveland

    I recently painted some upholstery on the chair backs ( 2 arm chairs) after attempting to remove the tiny long staples in a narrow groove, it just wasn’t happening and I would have ruined the piece trying. Anyways I painted the fabric cream and trimmed it with a jute covered rope trim with a stripe of decorative burlap webbing down the center. They turned out beautiful and I get compliments on them all the time. The seats were re-upholstered in ticking stripe so they are soft to sit on. I wouldn’t recommend painting a seat because it’s scratchy.

    • Janna

      A few years ago I saw an old couch that was spray painted purple in a Halloween display and it was awesome! I haven’t yet found a couch I wanted to paint or justified doing that and then having to store it.

  20. Sheila

    I bought an arm chair at the Springfield Extravaganza that had been beautifully upholstered with a copper damask. And then left next to a wood stove for decades. Well, at least that’s what it looked like. It was absolutely filthy and multiple cleanings with an upholstery/rug cleaner couldn’t get the worst off of it. So I painted it with Annie Sloan French Linen and did a multi layer paint job on the wood. It’s gorgeous. And comfortable. I do wonder about painting velvet, though.

  21. teri

    I have some roller blackout blinds that aren’t too fresh looking any more and I’m thinking of painting them. Hmmm. Anyone done roller blinds?

  22. Cyn Benson

    I painted my outdoor love seat cushion with chalk paint, it looked okay for about 2 months, same with 2 outdoor pillows. I hated the feel even after sanding and they cracked a looked awful. I ended up finding some nice outdoor material and redid them all and I am so glad.

    Years ago I had a chair that was really comfy, but the seat was a mess. I ended up making a cushion cover, it was fabric on the sides and top. but I put elastic around the bottom edges and it turned out cute.


  23. Laurie

    Big fail! I watched many how-to videos and all claimed after applying the wax my piece would feel smooth like leather. Nope! More like crunchy, stiff and crackly! Maybe it was just applicator error but the piece is now covered with a blanket, hiding in shame, until I have enough time and energy to try prying off that awful mess and reupholster it.

  24. Patricia

    I came this close to painting three faded sofas, but I am so glad I decided to take the time to reupholster. With your tutorials,some other you- tubes and a few prayers they came out fabulous. I learned a new skill and saved myself a few pennies in the process. win win.

  25. kddomingue

    I don’t care for the feel of vinyl so I have seriously doubt that I’d care for the feel of painted fabric.

  26. Carol

    I painted the fabric on a chair in our bedroom that never got used and it looked better than it did but the paint made it stiff I didn’t like -I also worried about the paint rubbing on my clothes. I ended up reupholstering it and now it is used in the family room and looks a lot better.

  27. Cindy Hayes

    Let me dispel the myths about painted upholstery. I have painted fabric and vinyl with equal success. The painted fabric feels like supple leather if done properly. I followed Annie Sloan’s instructions. I wish I could post a photo here so that you could see the results.

  28. Cheryl

    I painted an old stool with chalk paint and it turned out very bad. I think I did something wrong, lol. The paint ended up very hard and now I need to take the hardened fabric off. Live and learn.

    • MJ

      Maybe you, as I on one dining chair, used the paint straight out of the can? Not good…stiff and ugly. But on another I tried watered down chalk paint, which is more like a dye, and didn’t soak the fabric, and it looks much better. Going to find time one day to do the rest of the chairs, but since I’m the queen of UFOs (unfinished objects) it might take awhile and i hope ASCP doesn’t discontinue th color! And what will i do with the first chair? One problem leads to another!!!!!!

      The set is not a keeper, as I had my sweetie take too much off the bottom of the table legs. (Peter Hunt always cut a couple of inches off table legs, as most tables seem just too high. He didn’t warn that this works on New England tables without aprons, but not on standard Everywhere Else FP style with fairly deep aprons). Couldn’t invite anyone over 100 pounds to have dinner with us. Thich legs wouldn’t get under the table.
      So sweetie put some of the cut off pieces back on the bottom of the legs. Paint will cover that up. but not a table to sell in a booth…….so scratch that…..My life is one disaster after another!!!!

  29. DiB

    Too many beautiful fabric choices to paint fabric on furniture. I have not and won’t paint any fabric pieces of furniture. I have come across fabric pieces that were painted and I found the fabric resukts to feel very stiff.

  30. Lynn@thevintagenest

    I have painted two reproduction vintage French arm chairs. One in French gray and the other a soft vanilla….both turned out beautiful. I found the key to a great look is to lightly sand the painted fabric. Feels like a fine soft leather.

  31. Naomi S.

    I fine all the comments on this subject very interesting. I ‘ve never seen a furniture fabric painted so I don’t feel I can say I like it or don’t. I’ve imagined that the painted fabric would feel stiff and rough to the touch. But some readers say that’s not necessarily true. I love fabrics so much that I think painting fabric on a piece of furniture would be a last resort for me. But who knows, I might do it just out of curiosity about how it would turn out. But it would have to be a piece that I wasn’t concerned about preserving its quality. I do realize that that could be an issue.

  32. Amy Garrison

    I consider myself a very beginner level upholsterer (I’ve upholstered a couple of chairs in an upholstery class because I lack the skill, knowledge and even more important than that the proper tools). I have broken down 3 chairs and for that reason alone I’m not interested in painting an upholstered chair that I don’t know the history of…I’m constantly amazed at how dirty and gross used upholstered pieces can be. When the fad got going about two years ago I started painting the cushion of a chair that is in great shape (had been reupholstered not long ago but I really don’t care for the choice of fabric), but I really disliked the way the paint felt so I cut my losses and plan on just reupholstering it soon. I painted a vinyl couch, it looked and felt great but required touch up painting after heavy use.

  33. Judy Williams

    I recently painted a wing back chair that we had for over 30 years and it was in pristine condition but was really faded. It has been in the MBR for the past 16 years for looks and my husband sits on it to put shoes and socks on — that is pretty much it! The fabric was a very tight weave upholstery weight fabric. I painted it with acrylic chalk type paint with fabric medium (which did not really help that much) and watered down the thick paint quite a bit. I painted the chair a hot pink/fuchsia and it was originally mauve so not a huge departure. Sprayed water in sections before painting, sanded after each coat (about 2.5 coats). I waxed with Miss Mustard Seed wax with a wax brush (VERY little wax on the brush). Two coats was on surfaces that would be touched and just one elsewhere. So far it is great looking and not too crunchy. It has gotten a little softer in the month since painting. Not a chair you would take a snooze in, but works fantastic for its purpose. I would paint upholstery again (but would be very selective)..

  34. Renie Gile

    I found a chair similar to the one in this post. I painted the natural wood soft light Aqua. The upholstery was in good shape with welting but the color was dated. I ordered special upholstery paint in charcoal and it turned out beautifully. Wish I could post a photo! The paint did not feel at all stiff. It was permanent, I couldn’t get it to rub off. I sold the chair and would definitely use upholstery paint again. The fabric did have to be painted in a color darker than it was.

    • Rose

      What type of upholstery paint did you use if you don’t mind my asking?

  35. Laura Walser

    I purchased a sofa that had been painted. It does feel like cheap leather. My intention was to recover it…it is a beautiful camelback priced very low i imagine because of the painted upholstery. I have had it a year (it is for my house and I am usually working on pieces to sell!) and although it has not had heavy use, it looks shabby…cracked and worn. It is too much messy work for the outcome. I think for a piece that is ugly or worn time would be better spent making loose slipcovers.

  36. Marianne Davies

    It just doesn’t appeal to me at all!

    When I think of what it might look like it would be too hard and not comfortable at all. I would rather see it upholstered or slipcovered

  37. Shelly Dayton

    I have painted an upholstered headboard….crushed velvet to be exact…it was gold gilded wood trim with olive green tufted velvet….I have no experience in that type of upholstery, and it was a freebie, and I decided, what did I have to lose? As a conversation piece in my store & on my Facebook page, was a great project….and it sold relatively quickly…..but personally I didn’t like the texture of the painted fabric, the look was fabulous! Would I do it again? It would depend on the piece, and if I thought it would sell in my store….:)

  38. Maureen

    As a dressmaker, painting fabric goes against every grain in my body! No, no, no. I have seen some items that look lively, but I can’t imagine sitting in them. I also have to wonder how they will hold up over time. Finally, my favorite thing about an upholstered piece is the visual and tactile satisfaction fabric brings to the chair. It just seems like a lazy way out, especially when the painted wood is so beautiful. The fabric can be the crowning fewel. And let’s face it, half the fun is searching for just the right pice of material to complete your vison. Just my opinion!

  39. Laura


    I love the chair in the picture, do you by chance remember where to fabric came from?

    Thank you 🙂


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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…


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