Painted Upholstery, Decayed Elegance, New Canvas…What’s in a Name?

French Chair with Painted Upholstery and French Florals

I have been painting for a long time and love to paint just about everything including landscapes, animals, folk paintings and mostly florals. I have also been refinishing/upcycling/saving/reconditioning furniture since I was a kid. In the last several years, Cathy and I have created a business that combines these two passions so I am always looking for unique “canvases” to use for my art. I absolutely love to paint on items that we use everyday and we have really found a market for painted furniture. We are having so much fun.

As Cathy mentioned in our post on our French style table, each piece of furniture is a unique challenge and presents its own set of problems. A few weeks ago, we heard about two French chairs that were for sale. They were in a rather damp basement but we knew we had to have them. The price was right so we snatched them up, but when we got home, reality set in. Both of the chairs were very solid and in good shape but they were really not very attractive. The picture is a bit deceiving but the chairs had definitely seen better days. Both were covered in an unattractive blue velour and were poorly distressed. The painting on the chairs was a yellowed white that made the chairs look like they were covered with a layer of nicotine. Not attractive in the least.

French Chair

So what problems did these chairs present? First of all, we decided not to do the chairs as a set as we felt we could do each in a different style and appeal to different segments of our market. Also, the upholstery on one of the chairs was relatively stable and on the other chair was torn and tattered but both were terribly stained so we knew we had to do something. We didn’t really have the money or time to reupholster either of them so they sat for a while.

Chair Seat

One night I was pondering, obsessing and fixating on the chairs. I loved the lines of them and really wanted to do something but had no time or money to change the upholstery. Cathy and I got in to a discussion about the chairs and she said, “Why don’t you just paint the upholstery and treat it as a canvas”. Light bulb! Okay, the seed was planted. One of the chairs had ugly but stable upholstery but I had never heard of painting upholstery. Time to research on the Internet. I came across many posts of people that had done just that, painted the upholstery. Who knew? Luckily, I strongly believe in the products that I use and I wanted to find a way to use them in this adventure. Since one of the chairs was torn and tattered, I knew I could experiment on it and preserve the other one for the “good treatment”.

Next we had to make some decisions. The piece had very well defined French lines and it was already distressed but the color didn’t work. I was trying to break away from overusing the white chippy paint look so I decided that I would eventually like the wooden parts of the chair to be brown with some off white underpainting. I also knew that I wanted the upholstery to be of a lighter value but not a straight white color as white is too difficult to paint on and is not a great background color. I decided on a “coffee with cream” color that in the painting world we refer to as Medium White. I decided to paint the upholstery first and the wooden parts of the chair second because, well frankly, I was excited to see how the painted upholstery turned out.

I wanted to use Heritage MultiMedia products as they have NEVER failed me and are truly wonderful. I first decided to “seal” the upholstery by mixing one part water with one part of Multi Surface Sealer. I applied this to all of the upholstery soaking it pretty well.

I let this dry for about an hour in the sun. Now it was time to paint. I mixed my paint color and doubled the paint with water as I knew that several thinner coats would work better than one or two thick coats. I applied the first coat with an old brush and just let it soak in. The results were pretty uneven and splotchy but I perservered.

Painting Upholstery

See, fairly splotchy!

Painted Upholstery with one coat

I applied four coats to the upholstery but could have gotten away with three. I was happy with the results.

Next I moved on to the wood.

I love the term Decayed Elegance. I wanted this piece to look like it was expensive and “French” when it was first made but sat in somebody’s garage for about 100 years or so before I stumbled upon it. A victim of benign neglect. So, I underpainted with some off white, overpainted with brown and did a chippy paint technique to distress. A bit more sanding and glazing and this is the chair that we ended up with. We loved it. In fact, my daughter wanted to claim the chair right then and there. She really wanted that chair. But wait, everything is a canvas so we decided that it needed to be painted with some florals.

The next problem that we had to solve was the problem of balance. See, the color was fairly bold contrasting with the underpainting so we knew that soft, light florals would not work. We decided to go for a stronger and slightly more graphic look without losing some of the “Versaille” effect. So I painted big flowers on the seat and some smaller flowers and garland on the back. The results are really stunning and very dramatic.

Finished Painted Upholstery

French Chair with Painted Upholstery and French Florals

French Chair with Painted Upholstery and French Florals

French Chair with Painted Upholstery and French Florals

This project has opened up so many doors for me as I now see painted upholstery as a wonderful opportunity to ply my art. The sky is the limit. Wow, I love this business.

Until next time,


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