How To Easily Upholster A Sofa {and Paint It}

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Upholster a sofa…sounds complicated yet in my experience it isn’t that bad! If you search thrift shops and yard sales like I do, you never know when you might come upon something golden. Not golden as in made of gold..but a nugget of inspiration for an entire makeover. Since a sofa is often a cornerstone of a room, I was thrilled to find this French style sofa when out yard-saling one day. It sure didn’t start out looking like this, so let’s see what I did with instructions for you (just in case;-)
french sofa Louis style Upholster A Sofa

You know that old expression “fake it until you make it”? That is kind of how I feel about giving you a tutorial about upholster a sofa because I am N.O.T. a professional upholsterer.  To be brutally honest it’s not something that I would ever want to be. My husband  jumped in to help me several times with this project, “no wonder the pros charge so much to do this”! I reminded him gently that it’s the same with his construction business. Without him this would have not been completed in just a weekend. It was time consuming, but not especially strenuous. To upholster a sofa in a weekend is possible and doable!

Upholster A Sofa

Above was my muse (source, unknown) and below is the finished sofa. It is  a settee that is a smaller size and style than a full size sofa. I found it a couple of weeks ago when on the way to the grocery store at a yard sale and paid $35 for it. I could see from the other side of the road that my husband would have to make a quick u~turn for this one…it had great bones. You have to look past the yuck sometimes…oh, and having a truck is a huge help! 

Upholster A Sofa french sofa

Painting Wood Furniture

Maybe I’m stating the obvious, but in a project like this you’d want to paint the wood first. I have to be upfront that I am not a huge fan of chalk paint. I know that so many are and I have used it on several projects over the years, but I have been DIY~ing for many years and I just prefer to use regular paint. Chalk paint is pricey and a bit on the thick side for me and I’m not wild about the finish or the fact that you have to wax finish. You have to find what’s right for you and this is what does it for me.

painting wood kilz paint Upholster A Sofa
The wood was dark and had what looked like a polyurethane finish from what I could tell. I used my good old standby that I always have on hand in the garage…Kilz oil based paint. It’s not the most environmentally friendly I realize, but I dispose of it correctly and a little goes a long way. Setting up in the driveway on a sunny day kept the smell outside and it dried quickly. I was able to do all of the painting in just a couple of hours!
Upholster A Sofa rustoleum heirloom white spray paint

Next I decided to spray on my favorite spray paint to make life easier. The color that I used is {affiliate} Heirloom White which has an antique look with no further waxing. I did however choose to lightly distress with 150 grit sandpaper in just the places that would normally age.

miss mustard seed antiquing wax

After cleaning with a cotton rag I applied Miss Mustard Seed Antiquing Wax and used an old soft stencil brush that was laying around and then buffed it with an old t~shirt.

french sofa details
Looks old as dirt and here is a detail shot.
how to restore an old sofa

How To Upholster A Sofa

Next it was time to upholster and we brought the frame into the kitchen/dining area to work in the best light of the house.
After checking it over closely and deciding how exactly I was going to tackle the upholstery work, I noticed that it has some remnants of leopard fabric. So not me!

 

Upholster A Sofa With Denim

I purchased some heavyweight white denim that I’ve used in the past. When I found this piece the fabric had already been stripped, so I made a pattern out of quilt batting and decided that I would use that as a liner to make sure that the yellowed (but still good) foam batting wouldn’t show through. If you are going to tackle a project with white fabric make sure that it’s heavy enough to block what is underneath, or add a liner.

antique french sofa

Staples…ugh! I am not sure what the wood used to make this piece was, but it was very hard and I needed to remove all of the staples so that I’d have a new place to staple the fabric into. I had a really hard time getting the screwdriver under the staples and pulling them out with my pliers. That’s when my husband came in to the rescue and he was able to remove them pretty quickly.

Create A Pattern

After cutting out patterns and trying to figure out how this thing was originally made, we decided to carefully pull off the foam piece from the back to use later, setting it aside. I began by doing the small arm areas so that I could see how the fabric looked. I liked it! Then we worked on the seat portion, lining with the quilt batting and then the white denim fabric on top in a slightly larger piece. Then we stapled, and stapled and stapled some more. The stapler that we used was a HEAVY DUTY ELECTRIC STAPLER and I would not recommend using a typical staple gun for a large project like this. You could also use a pneumatic stapler with an air compressor if you have one…or rent one.

Staple Gun

We then stapled the white denim to the back (from the inside) with the wood center brace behind it. Then the foam was put into place again and we covered the front of it with a layer of the batting first and then a piece of the denim that we cut slightly larger. My husband gave this analogy which I think is a good one…it’s like an oreo cookie with fabric on the outsides and the foam inside.
I know from past projects to start in the center and work outwards to make the fabric as even as possible with the least wonkiness of the fabric in the corners. This part of the project was a 2 man job {one woman/and one man:~} so that one could hold and stretch the fabric and the other do the stapling.

 

After carefully checking our work, pulling a few staples out and redoing where it looked a little lumpy…we were happy! I had some braided burlap trim in my sewing stash and hot glued it over the staples to cover. I thought about using white but I didn’t have any and like the contrast that the burlap gives.

 

beautiful french style office

 

Originally I had thought that I would add upholstery tacks to finish the piece off, but the wood is so hard that it seems not worth killing my hands over. Sometimes I think too that you need to step back from a project and enjoy it before going further, so that’s what I’m doing for now.

It’s obviously much easier to go out and purchase a new reproduction piece, but I love having one of a kind items that we have made in our home or found, or been gifted and it makes it unique! For a tutorial on how to easily make these pillows, you’ll find that HERE.

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32 Comments

  1. Lynda Brandly says:

    Huge change and it looks beautiful!
    Lynda @ Gates of Crystal

  2. That looks gorgeous! I'm so glad you posted this. I recently scored two beautiful French Bergere(sp?) chairs with great bones but hideous fabric. I'm determined to paint and re-upholster them but have been a little nervous about starting. Now I believe I can do it!

  3. Great looking project! May I recommend purchasing a tack puller for less than $10? You will NEVER regret it!

  4. You and your hubby did a fantastic job!….Yes, upholstering is a bit intimidating to me too….the only thing I do is recover a chair seat…something anyone can do…:) Love the choice of the fabric and the trim!….The settee was certainly calling your name and you rescued it and gave it a new life and home!

  5. Sheila Irwin says:

    LOVE, love, love this Janet!! I saw when you posted on IG, but I really liked reading all the details. Like you, I am not much of a DIYer when it comes to upholstery (or paint, for that matter) but this makes it look so easy! Now i just have to find an old cheap piece!!

    Thanks for such a helpful post!

    Sheila
    http://www.maisondecinq.blogspot.com

  6. DD's Cottage says:

    it is so lovely and looks comfy too!

  7. Wow! First of all what a deal!! I'm trying not to be jealous! I'm not a fan of chalk paint either. I love this though, you did a great job! This is my first time visiting your site and I'm already so inspired. I just saw an old one of these that is in need of love and was considering buying it. Now I know it is a possibility. Thanks for sharing.
    https://allthingsrenee.com/

  8. You did a fabulous job. How beautiful!

    I hope you will join us at Thoughts of Home on Thursday. This would be a fabulous contribution!

    Laura
    White Spray Paint

  9. Kristin @ My Uncommon Slice of Suburbia says:

    WOW this piece is just stunning, you did a fabulous job. Will be featuring on Monday, thanks for sharing on Inspire Me Monday, have a great weekend. XO

  10. I knew when you posted this on FB it was going to be delicious but…. this is absolutely drool worthy! Well done! I agree… don't be afraid of white! If it is a fabric that can be cleaned and those who sit on it can respect it then why not enjoy it? Well done! I hope you have a fabulous week and congrats on the feature on Stone Gable!
    Smiles!
    Terry

    The Curator's Collection & Making Broken Beautiful

  11. Believe me I know how tough and hard it can be because I've done it a few times and it was BRUTAL!! It was really fun and learned a lot but let me tell you it's not something I'd want to be a pro in either!! lol. That's not to say what I've made I'm not proud of but I think I'd prefer lighter things 😉 Great job by the way!!! Would love if you can drop by to check out my https://the-wardrobe-stylist.com/2016/02/22/window-shutters/

  12. Simply gorgeous! Definitely bookmarked as I am thinking about redoing a sofa my mom wants to give to me. Not the same style but the technique should be similar. What do you think about using painters drop cloth as a upholstery fabric?

  13. This came out fantastic. I am curious why you didn’t use the gesso that you used in another project? Was the wood that dark that you needed the Kilz to hide it?

  14. Rosary Cottage says:

    I loved reading about this project and how you described the process of transformation from cast off to treasured piece. I get my best inspiration for creativity from you. Thanks so much!

  15. Love it…I upholstered a french chair and bought an upholstery staple gun (quite inexpensive $25??) to use with our compressor so I could staple into a groove for cording to be pushed into…..I do use homemade chalk paint (calcium carbonate+ paint samples) but use a antiquing glaze(oil based) instead of wax…Its much more durable and I am cheap…LOL

    1. Sherry Stuifbergen says:

      I bookmarked this blog because I have a full-sized sofa I would like to tackle maybe next winter. I need to learn how to retie springs yet, Lucky you! I am amazed of what you all find on the way to grocery stores! MY garage sales are usually the “pits.” I like authentic pieces too. No reproduction things for me! You have a nice stash of antiques, I see. I wish you were my neighbor. You would be like a big jolt of caffeine, to spur me on in my projects each day! (that’s a compliment!) Thank you for posting, it looks great!

  16. Ellie Hill says:

    Thank you for this post! I have an antique victorian sofa inherited from my moth-in-law that I can’t bear to part with. I had no idea how to revive it! You made it look so easy!

  17. Love this. I deconstructed a chair very similar to this but I didn’t do anything with the arms. Now I think I’m inspired to cover the arms as well to give it a little more finished look. I use the upholstery tacks around instead of the braided trim but I do like the braided trim look better I think.

  18. Teresa Snipes says:

    Gorgeous! Well done!

    Like you, I have a great, multi-talented engineer hubby who knows how to work with wood, etc. We are definitely blessed! We can do things others might not be able to do because they don’t have that other set of hands and great brains!

    We are currently redoing our newly married daughter’s suite into another guest suite and I’m so enjoying working with him to make it happen. I can’t wait until it’s finished for our April 5 guests!

    Blessings,
    Teresa

  19. Wow Janet, beautifully done. I have never ventured further than covering a stool so this is very impressive! Love your choice of fabric too!

  20. Wow that is stunning what a terrific find well done Janet.

    1. Thank you Marilyn…I enjoy this piece!

  21. Beautiful!! I have a similar settee I am working on now. The staples are pretty embedded to getting them out is testing up the wood. Curious to know what your husband did to get yours out without damaging the wood.
    I know this is a very old post so hope you are still answering questions! 😊

    1. Hi Bronni! We used a needle nose screwdriver to initially loosen the staples and then pliers to pull them out. Patience is definitely key to get them out and so work slowly;-))