10 Steps of Re-upholstery – Step 4 – Deconstruction

before & after photo of DUX chair make-over

Before you begin tearing into your DIY upholstery project, be sure to take a ‘before’ photo – the fun part of restyling your chair is looking back at where you started and seeing all that you have accomplished!

before & after photo of DUX chair make-over

A mid-century modern DUX-style chair before & after restoration

First you will label your chair parts with masking tape or a sharpie and as you remove the fabric pieces, keep them as intact as possible for patterning in Step 7 – Fabric Layout & Cutting. I recommend taking lots of notes & photos of your progress. As you peel each layer away, the next will be revealed. As a general rule, the order of removal will progress from the bottom-cloth to the outside back, outside arms, inside back, inside arms, and finally the seat. This order will be reversed during Reconstruction in Steps 8 & 9.

Three views of labeled chair ready for upholstery deconstruction

The labeled parts of an upholstered chair

Removal of the old cover fabric is usually messy and can be challenging and tedious, though students have told me that the excitement of seeing it covered in their new fabric has carried them through this step without abatement of enthusiasm, or they just like tearing things apart!

two photos demonstrating the use of a staple remover

The forked staple remover is a common tool used in upholstery deconstruction

Antique pieces may present you with hundreds of tiny tacks to pull. Some chair styles will have decorative tacks to remove, while others (the lucky few!) will be upholstered with relatively few staples. Hardwoods such as oak and maple hold staples and tacks tightly in their closed wood grain, while the softer alder and poplar woods are more forgiving.

two photos of antique chair stripped of upholstery

The age-old upholstery technique of horsehair stuffing is almost a lost art and preserving it in a DIY project is always a rewarding experience

It is best if you do not remove the upholstery padding at this point unless there are foundation elements beneath the padding such as springs, webbing or wood platform that need attention. If you do remove it, preserve it as best you can. I always re-use the old padding whenever possible, as it defines the shape of the piece, which may be difficult to re-create accurately with new material. It is often advisable to add new material on top of the old to reinforce, fill or reshape in certain areas. This is done in Step 6 – Reconstruction: Padding

three views of a deconstructed antique chair

This antique chair’s upholstery was held together with hundreds of tiny upholstery tacks in a hardwood frame. The muslin shapes and protects the original horsehair stuffing.

Previous: Step 3 – Fabric Selection
Next: Step 5 – Cleaning, Repair, & Refinishing

About the Author

CarlaHey there! I'm Carla Pyle. I love the stories that our furniture tells. For me a picture of my Granddaddy Milton's green upholstered arm chair brings to mind the vivid rhymes & colors of 'The Cat in the Hat' and his soft low voice in the telling. I love too that there is always an element of nature in furniture - the warm-toned curving grain of a walnut leg or the reflection of life in a mid-century chrome piece. The best part of teaching & sharing natural upholstery is that it ties all of these things together. Stories - of individual experience and of the planet - help us build happy & healthy homes.View all posts by Carla →

  1. Erin MelenbackerErin Melenbacker06-25-2012

    I’m excited to follow and read your remaining steps! I recently found a chair which is in great condition and has a shape I love, however I’m quite intimidated to reupholster it myself as it’s a channel back chair with wooden arms.

  2. CarlaCarla07-01-2012

    Thanks so much for your comment! Channel backs may present a bit of a challenge in stuffing the channels so they are smooth and not lumpy. You might have the best luck if you can re-use the old channels without taking them completely apart – this will depend on how your particular chair is put together. The next step in the process is Step 5 – Cleaning, Repairing & Refinishing, which I have posted here: I will post the remaining 5 steps soon!

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