Mid-Century Modern Chair Makeover: PART 2

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This project was sponsored by Rockler. All opinions are my own.

How could we forget this mid-century modern chair makeover…

You know, the one that I was ready to put a hammer to and (as one reader suggested) make firewood out of it. HA!

I had found it for about $7.00 one day at the thrift store, and for that price, I had to have it!



mid-century-modern chair makeover from the thrift store - BEFORE


But it sat in my garage for so long, collecting dust, until recently I decided I was going to tackle it in hopes of working through a lot of the projects that I been hoarding in my garage.


mid-century modern chair makeover


If you recall from Part 1 of this mid-century modern chair makeover, I had stripped the chair, most recently using Blue Bear Paint & Urethane Stripper from Rockler, which is a soy-based stripper (it has virtually no odor–LOVE LOVE LOVE).


Blue Bear Paint Stripper soy based stripper non toxic Review - ThriftDiving.com


While stripping the chair, I learned that the wood on the back of the chair was not the same wood as the body of the chair.

You awesome readers informed me that this was often done by cheap manufacturers to save money.

(…for unsuspecting DIY’ers like me to figure it out after all that stain is stripped away!)


The Makeover of a Mid Century Modern Chair - PART 1 - ThriftDiving.com


I applied Blue Bear stripper on this mid-century modern chair - ThriftDiving.com


I had decided to keep going because you never know–even with different tones, maybe it would look awesome after it was stained! (ahem, cought).

I had to get that stripper off, so I used a bucket of water and a scrub brush to clean it.


To remove stripper I scrubbed down with water and a brush - ThriftDiving.com


I sanded it down as best as I could, thinking that I had done the World’s Most Amazing Sand Job on this chair (HA! Little did I know…).

And that grain….it was soooooo beautiful!


Mid-Century Modern Chair Makeover - ThriftDiving.com


I applied the General Finishes water-based walnut stain. It’s much more natural than oil-based stain and you can’t smell it! If you’ve used oil-based stains, you know you’ve got to use that stuff outdoors and it’s pretty toxic.

I wanted to try it out to see how it would perform (and smell!) compared to the oil-based that I was familiar with.


General Finishes Walnut Stain - ThriftDiving.com


The directions said you have to slather on a lot so that it’s easy to wipe off and get an even finish,  so I painted it on and tried to wipe it off in even strokes.


Mid-Century Modern Chair Makeover - ThriftDiving.com0474


But as I wrote in PART 1 of this mid-century modern chair makeover, it turned out an awful, blotchy mess because of the crap sand-job I must have done.

Plus, since this stain is more “gel-like” it requires a bit more carefulness. One wrong move of your cloth while wiping and you can easily brush stain again parts that are already stained.  And that’s what happened to me.

The chair was a hot mess, all because of me.

As disappointed as I was, I had hoped I could salvage the chair.

I just needed to think about how I wanted to proceed.

This is how the chair looked when I walked away from it at the end of that day. Yikes.


Mid-Century Modern Chair Makeover - ThriftDiving.com0484


Mid-Century Modern Chair Makeover - ThriftDiving.com0480


My first thought was to paint the body black while keeping the wood grain that I had stripped and re-stained.

So the body got a coat of black paint (I used Amy Howard–worked so well!), and I left the back wood-toned.


Painting the mid-century modern chair makeover black - Thrift Diving


But I didn’t like the difference in painted wood and wood tones. LOL

Don’t you hate when that happens?? You get stuck and then have no desire to finish a project because you’re no longer inspired.

But I wasn’t going to let that happen. I don’t just give up on projects.

I use them as teachable moments and to train myself to think of solutions!

I decided to just keep going. It’s hard to say you don’t like a project when you haven’t even finished!

Someone in the comments section on Part 1 of this project reminded me about using steel wool, which is flexible and can work well on wood (especially rounded parts, like legs).

I actually have a ton of the stuff lying around and decided to use this really fine steel wool to smooth out the wood parts of the chair, which worked really well!


Steel wood for fine sanding


After a few passes with the steel wool, I wiped on some Rockler tung oil.


Rockler Tung Oil - ThriftDiving.com


You can see how smooth the wood is after the steel wool, and adding that tung oil was like magic! The wood seemed to come alive!

It polished the wood so beautifully it made me wonder why I hadn’t been using tung oil sooner! (Thanks to the reader that put a bug in my ear to start using this!).


Mid-century modern chair makeover - Using tung oil - Thrift Diving


Mid-century modern chair makeover - Beautiful natural tung oil


For the body of the chair, I used the steel wool on the black paint, too, and was surprised to see it begin to turn shiny, as if the steel wool was waxing the paint!

Once I added some Light Antiquing wax on the body afterward, it was turning into an amazing chair that I was actually proud of! And the way that black shined again the wood tones–loved it!

But the last thing I needed to do was cover the old seat by removing the old staples with a tack remover.


Removing the old seat cover


It was super icky!


Old seat cover removed mid-century modern chair - reupholstered


I was too cheap to go and buy a new piece of wood for the seat, which I may decide to do later since this one was a bit warped. But I just worked with what I had!

And I chose this fabric because 1) I already had it on-hand, and 2) I loved how the geometrical shape complimented the chairs diamond-shaped back.

(Don’t you love when you already have stuff on-hand?!?! I think it more than justifies the reason why we hoard craft supplies, don’t you? HA!)


Mid-century modern chair makeover - Removed the old fabric and added a new geometrical shape pattern - Thrift Diving


Mid-century modern chair makeover - Use a light duty stapler to reupholster a seat - ThriftDiving.com


And while there are still a few issues, like the fact that I have to fix a wobbly arm, and there’s still some discoloration in parts of the wood’s diamond-shaped part, you know what??

This chair actually turned out pretty cute!


Mid-century modern chair makeover with old thrift store chair


Remember how the back was looking after my horrible stain-job?


Mid-Century Modern Chair Makeover - ThriftDiving.com0484



Well, it looks like a whole new chair now!


Mid-century modern chair makeover painted black - ThriftDiving.com

Mid-century modern chair makeover - The back of the chair - Thrift Diving



Mid-century modern chair makeover - Chose fabric that complimented the geometrical shape of the chair - ThriftDiving.com


Mid-century modern chair makeover - before and after - ThriftDiving


Lessons Learned

This project was challenging. But it taught several lessons that I thought I would include:

  • Never give up. Yep, I just about wanted to throw in the towel on this project after the PART 1 debacle, but I kept going! It’s normal to become discouraged after a flop, but if you just step away, regroup, and think about solutions, you can usually keep moving forward.
  • Steel wool is amazing! It was such a gentle abrasion and smoothed out parts of the wooden back that fine sandpaper would have probably scratched up. Glad I have lots of it on-hand!
  •  There are safe products for stripping! I’ve always used toxic products when stripping and staining, but I love the Blue Bear soy-based stripper, the General Finishes water-based walnut stain, and the Rockler tung oil, which are all more natural and can be used indoors because there are no harsh odors! I’ll be keeping these products stocked on my shelf from now on! Go to Rockler.com and find some safer refinishing products, too!

Stripping supplies needed for DIY projects - ThriftDiving.com


So what do you guys think of my mid-century modern chair makeover save?? 🙂 Leave a comment below and let’s talk about it!



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  1. Deb West. says:

    Nice save! Your chair looks stunning!
    I too am doubly pleased with myself when I don’t have to go out and buy a component for a project.
    It justifies my years of shlepping around my fabric stash and ‘things’ with possibilities.
    Here’s a good trick I’ve learned from working with upholsters….steam your foam before you reuse it. You can usually do it over a kettle. It will restore the foam, sometimes to it’s original size and shape….and it helps to clean it. Let dry before reusing. Also, I learned, a layer of batting wrapped around the foam helps ‘marry it’ to the fabric.
    I found your blog searching for a quick refinishing fix for my MCM chairs. Yep, no luck so far. They say, “a job worth doing is worth doing right”, but I sooo love those happy oopses.
    May you always feel rewarded and never frustrated.

  2. Mid Century Modern items aren’t meant to be painted. You are supposed to see the grain of the wood. And no offense, it wouldn’t sell for a high number because the only person who would buy it would be someone who would strip all the paint off, refinish it the way it is supposed to be and sell it for a few hundred. You literally devalued the chair by painting it.

    When the wood and paint weren’t getting along, that was a hint that you shouldn’t have been painting it. Do it with other pieces of furniture, but please leave the Mid Century Modern ones alone.

    1. A bit of advice when leaving a comment on someone’s work. Is it kind? Is it helpful? Is it necessary?
      The chair is hers, not yours. And if this is how it turned out that’s totally fine! How do we create new things if we only follow what’s already been done.

  3. alice gamble says:

    I love the way this chair turned out, yes a lot of work, but you had the perseverance to see it through. Serena you know this is now a “Serena Original” and frankly, should be in some high end shop in LA. It would sell mega bucks for someone looking to add to their contemporary designed home. Good Job….

  4. I am sooooo glad you kept on going, especially the chair. Yes, DON’T GIVE UP!! You give me big time inspirations. I look for your blogs each and every day!! thanks, jean…..

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