BEFORE & AFTER: Vintage Chair Makeover From the Nursing Home

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I get easily attached to things, like this vintage nursing home chair.

Especially if they conjure up thoughts of people I love, places I’ve gone, and things I’ve experienced.

Organizing guru’s would just call this “memory clutter” and preach that we should always pear down these things.

But there’s something to be said for tangible objects that help us to remember parts of our life that were meaningful.

It’s like holding a piece of the past directly in our hands so that we know we didn’t just imagine it.

It’s the reason why I’ll never be able to scan pictures of my children’s artwork into digital files.

My kids’ little hands actually touched the page…You can’t see the bleed-through of the crayons and markers on a digital copy…

It’s just not the same.

And that’s why I also saved this chair from my grandmother’s nursing home the day before she died on New Year’s Eve.

No one else saw its beauty but me.

It’s not like I needed one more piece of furniture in my house.

It’s not like my mom needed one more piece of furniture, either.

But I knew this vintage chair that sat in her nursing home would be beautiful with a makeover and that our family would appreciate its memory.

This is what it looked like the day I lugged it out to my van, knowing this would be the last time I was visiting the nursing home.

My grandmother had passed the morning after.





A few months later, after I got my hands on it, this is what it looked like the day I gave it to my mother.



Vintage chair gets a pretty makeover! | Thrift Diving Blog



Vintage chair makeover with new upholstered cushion with piping. | Thrift Diving Blog


I have recovered cushions before, but this one threw me for a loop because I had never done piping before.

In all my years of sewing and furniture makeovers, I steered clear of doing it because it looked too time consuming and easy to mess up.

But with this chair, it was practically unavoidable. I had to do the piping. The cushion just wouldn’t look the same without it.

In the end, although it was a little wonky, it turned out pretty awesome for a first-timer!




A Vintage Chair Makeover From the Nursing Home

When I first started working on this vintage chair makeover, I was confused about these holes.

It looked like wormwood holes, but I had never encountered wormwood holes so I didn’t know what do.

Silly me didn’t know if they were real or just fake ones that the chair manufacturer had made (wormwood is generally a desireable look).



But since I had already filled most of the holes with wood filler before even knowing it could be wormwood (and painted it!!), there wasn’t much I could do to keep the wormwood.

I sat it in the garage for a few weeks to see if I notice any weird worm-boring holes re-emerge (to see if there was an active infestation). Thankfully, there wasn’t!






You can see here that I had filled as many of the holes that I could find, and then sanded them smooth with 220 fine grit sandpaper.




Next, I slathered on a few coats of Annie Sloan Pure White chalk paint.

(TIP: If you’re not sure which furniture paint to use on your projects, click here to read about the 12 Best Furniture Paints.




When I say a few, I mean a few.

Usually, with chalk paint, you have to put two coats, but sometimes, you have to do more.

This was one of those cases.

No matter what I did, I couldn’t totally cover some areas; some of the brown kept peeking through.

This is what it looked like with just 1 coat. You see how spotty it is?

Don’t be afraid to add more paint as you go. Sometimes you just have to.




After painting, I took a fine-grit sandpaper and smoothed out the whole chair, then added a coat of Annie Sloan clear wax weeks later when I realized that no worms were coming out of the chair. Ugh….how disgusting! LOL


I Re-Used As Much as Possible!

The most amazing thing about this chair makeover is that it didn’t cost me a single penny.

Nada. Nil.

I reused everything, or already had things on hand (like the fabric, which I can’t remember where I had ordered it from years ago!).

Surprisingly, the inside cushion insert wasn’t as nasty as I thought.

Well, there was some nasty ickiness on the edge of the batting, so I just cut that off and kept it movin’.




After I trimmed off the yuckiness, I tossed the cushion in the dryer on high heat.




I also salvaged the dark brown zipper from the original cover.

Why buy a new zipper when the original would work just fine, you know?






I laid the cushion down on paper and traced out its pattern.

When doing this, though, you have to make sure that you add in 5/8″ up to 1″ for seam allowances when sewing the pieces together.




Then I cut it out.

(TIP: You can get those big rolls of brown builder’s paper from Amazon for under $12!) They’re great for making patterns or covering tables and workspaces when you’re painting!




I also cut out the two long pieces of piping. Piping isn’t too expensive, but since I had some that was already good to go, no need to buy more. Looks like mine was a plastic, but piping today is cotton (and maybe easier to use??).

Cotton piping on Amazon

Since I had never used piping before, I didn’t realize that I should pay closer attention to using tape to secure the piping in place [insert palm slap to the face here]. 🙂




I used my seam ripper to help tear apart the other pieces, and then used them as patterns on the new fabric, making sure I had enough seam allowances.


Making a pattern from the old pieces


Constructing This Vintage Chair Cushion

It’s been ages since I’ve sewn in a zipper, but I knew I could do it. I used to sew pants and skirts back in ‘da day before I had kids (and had alllllllll this free time on the weekends to do it, LOL).

But I knew it wouldn’t be too hard to do again.

In a nutshell, how you sew in this type of zipper (which I believe is called a lapped zipper…??), is to sew a seam with a baste stitch (which is just a long, temporary stitch).

Then lay your zipper down on top of the seam.

I actually like to use hot glue to help zippers stay in place (this fabric adhesive didn’t work well).




Flip it right-side over and sew about 3/8″ from that temporary seam, on both sides, which secures the zipper in place.



Afterward, the seam ripper opens up those temporary stitches to reveal the zipper.





Now there’s a zipper! 🙂

Mine came out okay. It was a little wonky in some places because the fabric adhesive I used didn’t keep the zipper in place while sewing, so it slide around a little. But overall, not bad at all for being the first lapped zipper I’ve done in years!




Sewing the Piping–GULP!

When sewing piping, you should use fabric cut on the bias (which means using strips of fabric cut at a 45-degree angle). But I was working with a limited amount of fabric, so I just used strips not cut on the bias.

Silly me forgot to use tape to make sure the cord didn’t move while sewing, so there was a lot of adjusting. Plus, it was a plastic piping, which has to be harder to sew than cotton piping!

Next time, I’ll be all the wiser! LOL


Sewing the Piping


The Hardest Part

I’m skipping some of the steps.

I mean, this post is already wayyyy too long. LOL.

But to sum up, I sandwiched the piping in between the top fabric and fabric holding the zipper, and sewed as close to the piping as possible.

Getting around the tight corners was the hardest part.




It was looking pretty good by the time I was done!




Squeezing the cushion in was tough because–oh no!–it was a little too small.

And all that adjusting of the piping creating some wonky twisting of the piping in the final cover.

But overall, it still looks much better than when I started!







Vintage chair makeover with new upholstered cushion with piping. | Thrift Diving Blog


Kojo, my 4-year-old, wanted to take a pic in the chair before we delivered it to my mom this weekend.




And before you know it, he and Ohene (his 6-year-old brother) were fighting over who would get to take a picture in it. LOL

Don’t you love the elbow to the cheek?

Silly boys….











Vintage chair makeover with new upholstered cushion with piping. | Thrift Diving Blog



When I took it home to my Mom this weekend (an early Mother’s Day present), she absolutely loved it!


Me and the chair


She said she had already cleared out space in her bedroom for it, right here:

Vintage chair makeover with new upholstered cushion with piping. | Thrift Diving Blog

And although my mom clearly didn’t need any more furniture in her house, this is one piece that belongs.

She says it’s going to be her new reading chair. 

I hope that when she looks at it or sits in it that she thinks about the fond memories she had with her mom during the last year of Nanny’s life in the nursing home.

Times like this, it’s okay to hold on to “memory clutter.”

Sometimes it’s exactly what is needed.

So what do you think of this vintage chair makeover? Leave a comment below and let’s chat about it!



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  1. Cindy Phipps says:

    I love this chair makeover!! I have a thing for chairs. It turned out beautifully and I am sure your mom will cherish it for years to come and then you might get it back to do over for your home!! You are so inspiring.
    My Mom’s name is Serena too!😉

    1. Hi Cindy! Oh wow, the number of “Serena”s are far and few between, so that’s awesome your mom’s name is Serena, too! 🙂 Glad you like the chair!!!

  2. You are certainly braver and more talented than I am. I would definitely redo the wood chair, but I would buy the cushion-I haven’t ever made a cushion for anything and would therefore make a big mess of it, I am sure. Very pretty results, Serena!

  3. What a gorgeous chair and find!! I love the curves and swirls. Great job recreating it!

  4. Beautiful project and beautiful memories with it. I wouldn’t have tackled the sewing part but I certainly would have saved that chair. Enjoy it for many more years. #HomeMattersParty

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Hi, Serena,
    When I first saw the chair, I could not for the life of me see the good bones of this chair. This is one piece of wood that looks fantastic painted! I would have never saved this chair (aside from sentimental reasons just like you have.) You did a great job giving it new life. (And the boys are growing so fast!)

  6. Angela Chase says:

    I love this idea! I had done a smaller, less complicated makeover of a footstool from my grandmother years ago. I love having it in my house and will probably never get rid of it. Thanks for sharing all of your projects, I really enjoy reading and seeing what you do. And I always give you a silent, ‘go girl!’ when I see you modeling in Duluth Trading (which is where I learned about you). Keep up the good work, from a fellow Marylander!

  7. Serena, That chair is one of a kind fabulous. I’ve never seen anything like it and I love the style. You did such a wonderful job. I love your posts and congratulations on studying to become a contractor.

  8. Great story and great results – and most importantly a special gift for your mom!!

  9. Dawn Wisusik says:

    I don’t think your post was too long at all! I love when you share your trials and tribulations, because we all have them too! I can relate to having to dredge up old memories and sometimes need to use things like this to remind me that those projects on my back burner CAN be done and this is HOW. I think your boys are adorable and it warms my hear they feel the love to fight over the chair. I am sure your mother will cherish the memories and always be reminded of your efforts and thoughtfulness every time she sees that chair in the corner of the room. The uniqueness of this project are the stuff wonderful memories are made of!

  10. Considering all the extra work and your lack of having done a zipper etc in such a long time, I think your chair turned out excellent! I’m getting ready to get some “experience” with that “bend eye” metal edging stuff… THIS should be very interesting as well. Good job! Enjoy reading your blog and all your adventures. 🙂

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