September 26, 2006

The Hot Seat: Reupholstering a Retro Dinette Chair

Women with tools are hot, and Beatrice has an entire workshop filled with ’em. This lady’s got pliers, hammers, an ancient sewing machine, a pneumatic staple gun and a whole lot more in the back of her vintage furniture shop, Atlantis, in sleepy-cool Red Hook, Brooklyn. The store is filled to the brim with all sorts of mid-century treasures, and I left the proud owner of juice glasses painted with a buck-in-forest scene.

The furniture shop isn’t the first endeavor for this born organizer. Not only did she learn how to play bass and start a band the same week, but she founded New York’s first all-female moving company and schlepped Roseanne Cash‘s stuff (I can only assume this is how she got those kick-ass guns). You have before you a New York original passing on time-honored furniture trade secrets. A crochety old man at a former job taught Beatrice how to restore 50s dinette sets (an invaluable lesson since vinyl dries out and is usually cracked once you stumble across a set at a junk shop), and she teaches us here how to do it. The secret weapon? A space heater. Prepare to be wowed by a hot lady and a red hot chair.

1/2″ or less double stick tape

1/2 yard vinyl per chair

1 yard vinyl in a contrasting color for trim

dacron or upholstery batting

chrome upholstery tacks



000 or 0000 steel wool



space heater or blow drier

welt cord for piping

sewing machine
In a Nut Shell:

1. Dissasemble and chairs and pull off the old, crummy vinyl

2. Clean chrome with steel wool

3. Cover seat of chair and front of the back rest with dacron

4. Cut vinyl to size and heat

5. While heating, stretch and staple

6. Cut contrast vinyl into 2 inch strip

7. Sew piping

8. Make magic strip (watch video to know what this means!)

9. Tack vinyl strip

10. Staple Piping

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  • Baerbel: This is fantastic! It looks so easy and fun. And I thought you need a master in doing this.
    9 years ago

  • glynda: Thank you so much for creating & posting this tutorial. I have two wonderful sets (kitchen desk & table) that both have chairs that saw their *good days* long ago. My vinyl attempts thus far have been futile and the cost of having them done professionally was too much for this DIY girl. I’ll try again with heat! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
    9 years ago

  • marie: i’ve had my dinette set for 5 years not knowing what to do with it. this is a godsend. will let you know how the chairs come out though i’m sure they’ll be beautiful. the table is a little discolored i guess from wear and heat. do you have any ideas. thank you so much
    9 years ago

  • Christina: Looking for advice as to where to buy the vinyl featured in the retro chair makeover. (shiny vinyl – not the matte vinyl)
    9 years ago

  • Sarah: Marie, Good luck with the chairs. As for the table top itself, I’d probably just learn to love the wear and tear — or spray paint it!

    Christina, The best place I know for vinyl fabrics online is Denver Fabrics. On the side navigation bar they have a tab for vinyl.
    9 years ago

  • TFloyd: I have a question in restoring my new but very old vintage airstream trailer. There is not dinette seat in it and I am going to put one in.. on my own. I would like a little bench seat with the old time color vinyl material. But I want to make part of the seating “rippling” look. Do you know what I mean. It is where a say a middle portion of the chair or seat ripples. It looks like the material is in pieces or maybe the same piece but there is stitching inbetween it and there is some slight custioning behind it? Can you help me. Thanks. TF
    9 years ago

  • Sarah: I’m having trouble finding shiny vinyl. I’ve got the most gorgeous retro chairs ever, but they desperately need new seats. Please help!
    9 years ago

  • Brandon Matthew: Nice chair…
    8 years ago

  • Beverly Parrish: I’m looking for yellow vinyl for sale or yellow vinyl with gold flecks in it to recover some chairs. Do you carry it
    8 years ago

  • Cheryl Powell: I am attempting changing the vinyl on two kitchen chairs. I brought it used. Someone painted the chrome silver. How do I remove the silver paint? I purchased some cracked ice vinyl online. Why do I have to heat it first and how to I put tacks along the back of the upper chair? Questions, Questions1 Thank you
    8 years ago

  • Rebecca: I love this video and will use it when i reupholster my dinnette chairs. I am concerned about what kind of vinyl fabric to purchase. I would love something retro and floral, but does it exist. Can you point me in the right direction?

    Thank you! Rebecca
    8 years ago

  • Cindy Garber Iverson: Thank you SO MUCH for this wonderful post and video! I’m almost feeling brave enough to reupholster my own set of dining chairs… almost. Gotta get a bit more bravery worked up. 🙂6 years ago

  • Stefanie: WOW! My chairs are in a very sad state and need to be recovered in the worst way! I talked to the man that usually does all my reupholstering and it just so happened he had a set of chairs exactly like mine that he had just done…They looked like garbage and he charged the people $300 labor (not including the vinyl) to do the chairs. Right then I decided I am going to have to do this myself because well again his work looked horrible and I am cheap! LOL After seeing the video I am so ready to do this…Looks so simple! THANKS!5 years ago

  • Anita: I bought some “practice vinyl” at a local store called JYSK. They also sell similar vinyl at Walmart. After I do a trial run, I will purchase the “good” vinyl at either Fabricempire or FabricDirect, both of whom have shiny vinyl and sparkle vinyl. The video was a great inspiration! Thanks!5 years ago

  • erin: HI! I just bought two of these at a yard sale and immediately came home to see how to reupholster them! 🙂 Thanks so much. I am wondering how long you have to hold it in front of the space heater for it to work? How long did she pause with the fabric in front of the heater before stretching it and stapling it? The video is in fast forward, so I can’t tell! 🙂 Thanks.5 years ago

  • Hey Erin, She hold the fabric in front of the space heater until it’s heated enough to stretch and become pliable. Hope that helps!5 years ago

  • J. Roddy: I’m looking for strong double sided tape for the trim. – Any specific kind that work best? I tried carpet tape and the vinyl popped back off.5 years ago

  • Linda: THIS IS AMAZING. I had no idea I could do this myself. I’ve been living with split vinyl for more than a decade. And you know what? On my old chairs, the row of upholstery tacks turned out to be fake! They were strips of “tacks” which had a real tack every few inches to hold them in place.5 years ago

  • Melissa Blavos: Thanks for your article! I found it through a web search, and it inspired me to finish a project at my house. I’ve got to say my chair was loads easier, since I didn’t actually do anything with tacks. Please check it out at years ago

  • Yolanda: Thank you for this video. I have a set of 4 chairs and wanted to reupholster them for years, finally I can.4 years ago

  • Sarah: Holy crap! I’m so happy to find this tutorial! I have 14 of these chairs stashed around the house all needing attention.4 years ago

  • Jolene: THANKS! I’m picking up a set tonight and the table is gorgeous but the chairs are h-i-d-e-o-u-s! I can’t wait to put this video to use!4 years ago

  • Linda B: Trying to get some of that specific vinyl she used in the video. Any good ideas. I live in the pacific northwest.4 years ago

  • Linda, I’d look at a big fabric website, like years ago

  • Jennifer: I tried getting in touch with Beatrice directly through her website contact and etsy account, with no such luck. I saw a post on from December where a person got in contact with her and Beatrice sold her the patent/pvc vinyl for the chairs. I also was wondering about what kind of double-sided tape to use, as was someone else who commented on this thread.

    I have seen patent/pvc vinyl on fabric sites, but most say they have some type of backing, where the vinyl Beatrice uses does not. I also would really love to use the sparkle/glitter vinyl, but it because I can’t get in contact with her, I don’t even know if they make it without backing to stretch easier.

    I just don’t get how she can do this without getting any seams/puckering, even the person on retrorenovation ended up with a beautiful new set, it must be that specific type of vinyl Beatrice uses. Sarah, do you know of any way to get in contact with Beatrice to find out where she buys her vinyl?!

    Or if someone else knows where she got this very specific vinyl, or if it comes in the glitter/sparkle style, please post.

    Thanks!4 years ago

  • Rats, Jennifer! The email I have for Beatrice is the same. Let me reach out and see if I hear anything. I’ll post here for sure if I do. This post gets more questions than any other–wish I had gotten more sourcing info from her at the time. 4 years ago

  • Brooke: I used the foil abbrasive approach on 2 of my 4 chairs and then figured I’d give my dollar store brand CLR (calcium, lime, rust remover) I had in the cabinet. Great results! Some rust was pretty established under the seat but thist didn’t come off with the foil/steel wool either and is covered by the seat. Give its a try. It’s all a labor of love but I think CLR and a green scrubby was way easier and effective.3 years ago

  • Lisa: This was an awesome tutorial. One chair done, one to go. Thanks!2 years ago

  • Cynthia: I got a wonderful 1950 mini type formica dining set…the chairs are horrible i cant wait to do this …i cleaned the rust off the chrome with diet coke and aluminum foil! Thanks to everyone involved2 years ago

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