Give Thrifted Chairs a New Life

Give Thrifted Chairs a New Life

I found this not-so-broken chair at my local Goodwill® store. I love finding things like this at Goodwill because it gives the item a new life without sending it to the landfill. Plus, every purchase has the potential to help someone find a job, strengthen a community, and preserve the planet.

Even though it looked like someone had used it as a step stool and broke the caning, the chair’s frame was sturdy. It just needed a new seat. Since I don’t know the first thing about caning, I figured I needed another method and removed it.

I thought this chair would look good on the front porch. It’s always good to have an extra chair for guests, and if I put it next to the door, it would be a great place to remove muddy shoes. However, the brown stain didn’t really work with the decor, so I decided to paint it. Because I’ve gone through the trouble of stripping painted wood, I hate to paint anything that isn’t already painted, so I made a compromise: I would keep the natural wood on the seat, but paint the rest of the chair to match the rocking chairs and trim.

Composite image showing chair with caning removed and close up of new wood stain

To freshen up the wood on the seat, mix equal parts denatured alcohol and lacquer thinner in a metal bucket or glass jar. Dip a rag into this mixture and rub on the wood (I would recommend using chemical-resistant gloves). This gets rid of the dulness, and really brings out the wood grain.

When using solvents like these, it’s best to work outdoors or in a well-ventilated area because this stuff is toxic to breathe. However, if working outside, it’s best to be under cover in case you get one of those summer showers.

Composite image showing varnished chair and set template

Add a coat of primer and two coats of paint—I like to use glossy paint on furniture. Varnish the exposed wood. Before you paint and varnish, or once the paint is dry, make a template of the seat opening by tracing it onto a piece of paper. I was going to install the new seat by attaching it at the corners and the centers of each side, so make sure to mark those too.


Composite image showing fabric and modified seat templateI’m using fabric from an unused curtain panel. this curtain is reversible, and is kind of like two separate panels sewn together, so I had two types of fabric to choose from. Goodwill stores often have a large selection of vintage and modern fabrics—from tablecloths to bed linens. You may find the perfect pattern.

To make the template for the new seat, take the tracing from the chair and make another line an inch larger than the seat opening. Then, make another line about a half inch larger than that to account for the seam. Cut the template out on the outside, seam line


Composite image of fabric being cut and sewed
Pin the template to the fabric (you can cut both sides of the seat cushion at once) and cut. Sew the seat panels together inside out leaving an opening at the back of the new seat large enough to fit your hand through.

Composite image of grommets being fastened

Turn the fabric around to the right side. I like to use a bone folder or a chop stick to push the corners out. Add the first 3/16″ wide grommet by laying the paper template on top of the seat fabric and pushing the grommet hard enough into the paper, so it leaves an impression on the fabric.

Cut a small slit in both sides of the seat to push the grommet through. Then, fasten the grommet by pounding the grommet tool with a hammer. I used a scrap piece of wood to pound the grommet on, so I didn’t make a mark in my table. The scrap wood I used was kind of dirty, so I covered it with a dish towel. Repeat this process until all the grommets are attached—except the back, middle grommet where the opening in the fabric is.

Stuffed pillow with grommets

Sew a seam an inch inside the outer edge of the seat on the sides and front. Leave the back open. Stuff the seat with poly-fill and sew the back seam an inch from the edge. Carefully hand stitch the opening on the back edge of the seat.

Composite image of chairs with tufts sewn into them

Optional: make a tuft in the seat by making a couple stitches in the center using embroidery thread. Tie the thread on the back and trim.

Composite image of chair seats with cushion and twine

Loosely attach the seat to the chair with screws without attaching the nuts. Find the hole in the center of the back of the seat where the last grommet will go. Press the grommet into the fabric and hole to make a depression. Remove the seat and attach the last grommet.

Because the fabric and grommets alone probably won’t hold a regular-sized adult, reinforce the seat by stringing twine through the holes. Make sure the twine isn’t strung into the holes that will attach the seat by placing screws into them as markers.

Fastening chair seat to chair frame

Insert screws into grommets and fasten on the bottom side with nuts. To find the right size screw, I brought a grommet with me to the hardware store to make sure it would fit. Measure the width of the seat and add a quarter inch to find the correct length.

This chair looks brand new, and looks great on the porch. Stop by your local Goodwill to inspire you to make something old into something new. Not only will you find something unique and special, but you can feel good about your purchase since eighty-two percent of collective revenues raised through the sale of donated goods go directly toward supporting and growing Goodwill’s critical community-based programs and services.

Refinished chair