Best of MMS – French Chair Makeover & Tutorial

Marian ParsonsBefore and Afters, Furniture Makeovers, Painting & Refinishing, Tutorials, upholstery makeovers4 Comments

Welcome to another “Best of MMS” post. A few of you offered up the brilliant idea of sharing some of my past posts while I’m busy working on things for the book, so that’s what I’m doing.  (I’m sorry about the wonky spacing in the post.  Something funny happens when I put code from my old blogspot blog on my new site.)
  I painted these French chairs before I had tried ASCP or Milk Paint and I thought I would share the makeover and technique again, so you can see a great look can be achieved with latex paint, which is less expensive and more readily available.  I really love ASCP and Milk Paint, but latex shouldn’t be totally forgotten.
Here’s how the pair of French arm chairs started…
(I had two arm chairs, although only one is pictured.)  The back of one was upholstered and the other was caned, but the cane was broken.
I started by removing the upholstery and painting the frames in Georgian Revival Blue by Sherwin Williams. This color was a little shocking at first, but just wait.
Before moving on to the next step, I want to point out the texture I left on the frame. I did not sand this piece before painting it and that was intentional. This texture is going to work in my favor.
Once the darker blue was dry, I used a brush loaded with a very small amount of Light French Grey (Behr) and hit the high points of the frame. I made sure to brush with the grain of the wood and kept the brush “dry.” Now, remember when I said that there is a point in every “faux” technique where it will look terrible. Yeah. This is that place. It looks like a streaky, bad paint job. Don’t quit here, though. It’s about to get better.

Once the light grey was dry, which didn’t take long, I sanded the edges with 80 grit sand paper. I like a really rough sand paper for this step, because it leaves great scratches in the paint. I also like to do this step by hand. It’s harder on the biceps, but I have more control and it looks more natural than an electric palm sander.  Instead of rubbing the sand paper back and forth, rub it across the surface in one long stroke, while applying hard pressure to the sandpaper.


Working in small sections, I brushed on an antique glaze making sure I worked it into the crevices.
Here is my “secret” glaze formula. It’s Ralph Lauren’s Faux Effects Glaze tinted in Espresso Beans by Behr. It gives a soft, aged finish that’s perfectly brown. I have found most “mocha” or “antique” glazes look really orange. Orange like a bad bronzer or self-tanning spray, so I have one custom mixed.  (I don’t think the RL Glaze is available any longer, but you should be able to have any faux glaze tinted to this color.)
After applying the glaze, I immediately followed with a wet paper towel to wipe off the excess.
Remember that texture I left…
Oh yeah. See what I mean? Imperfections really work to your advantage with this kind of finish.
And a word to the wise…wear gloves during this process. You see, I am a fool and I spent about five minutes at the sink with a nail brush and soap.
Now, onto the upholstery. Once the frame was dry, I dragged it into my basement workshop to upholster the back. The chair was already upholstered, so I reused the batting, which was natural cotton and in good condition.
I smashed it into the recess behind the caning. The caning was left to give stability to the back, but if the caning is missing altogether, just stretch and staple some burlap in its place.
A piece of canvas drop cloth was placed over the batting and stapled to the wood frame. I have upholstered furniture with a manual staple gun, an electric one and a pneumatic one. There’s only one way to go. Pneumatic all the way. It does involve having a compressor and the gun is an additional $150, but it is the very best way to go and it will save you a lot of frustration. The other guns are a waste of time. Trust me.


Here’s the back upholstered. Don’t worry about the line of staples. We’ll get to that in a minute.


This is the upholstered back from the front view.


Repeat the steps on the front side. This really is an excellent way to handle a chair with a broken back or one that’s been punched through, so don’t be scared of those anymore.


To cover the staples, I use hot glue and trim (in this case) or double welting. Ann, aka Nutbird, asked why I use bright white trim instead of an off white that would match the canvas better. Honestly, I like the bright white against the nubby canvas. I think it provides a nice clean contrast and frames the fabric better. It’s a personal taste thing, so use whatever color you want.
Apply a bead of glue in small sections and press the trim on the glue with your finger. Watch yourself. It’s hot stuff!


Cut the trim where the pieces meet and smush the ends together. If this is done well, it’s almost unnoticeable.


I chose a slipcovered skirt for the seat, so it’s machine washable. I wrote a full tutorial on how to make these for Cottages & Bungalows and you can read it here.



I was so tempted to keep these chairs and sell a couple of my dining chairs, to go with the mismatched look, but the arms didn’t fit under the table. Probably a good thing. I can’t keep everything.



I took the chairs to the Lucketts Store for the Groundhog Day Sale last year and one of the designers for the Design House bought them.  I spotted them a few weeks later in this gorgeous room…
I wanted them back when I saw them there.  And that table.  And that butterfly print…although, I think I can make one of those.  Hmmm…
I hope you’re enjoying the “best of” and that you’ve found you don’t have to totally forget about latex paint for furniture.
Best of MMS – French Chair Makeover & Tutorial

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4 Comments on “Best of MMS – French Chair Makeover & Tutorial”

  1. Hi! I’ve been reading a lot of your stuff lately. I need some expert advice – I got a great deal on 6 dining chairs with tall narrow backs, caning in the center of the back, but not the whole back. Cane is in great shape. Chairs have been painted but have yellowed. So, I’m def. painting them. I’m leaning toward the technique and materials in this post. But, in your opinion, should I keep the cane or upholster over it? I have a great sprayer, I’m thinking about spraying the base color and then distressing by hand. Do you really think latex is as good as chalk? I’ve tried several types of chalk paint, but ASCP is the only I’ve really done well with. My local distributor closed down. I’d love to have your opinion – such a fan of your work. Thanks for any help!

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