Escape To The Chateau Exclusive: How to Upholster a Dining Chair

We’re obsessed with Escape to the Chateau. We love Dick and Angel, their adorable children Dorothy and Arthur, and their epic dream home (estate, really) Château-de-la-Motte Husson. We’re also very much taken with Angel’s ingenious decorating skills – so we leapt at the chance to hear how she does it in this exclusive extract from their new book, Living the Chateau Dream. To order a copy for £17 (RRP £20) until 7 November, go to or call 020 3308 9193.

Photo: Ian Wallace

Looking back, I have heard many people talking about a dream, a business, changing their
life, but they haven’t done it. There is always a reason not to, often excuses. Not the right time, maybe next year; no money; not the right skill set. If I have an idea, I go for it. And I’ve always done everything on a shoestring because I’ve worked hard for every penny I’ve earned and understand its value. When I met Dick, his can-do personality was so refreshing. I’d met my match and the love of my life, and nothing could stand in our way.

When we hosted our first wedding – for Charlotte and Richard – we bought bargain chairs from Emmaus They were great quality, but their seat pads – tatty and filled with straw – let them down. I elevated recovering them to a ‘priority job’. I found an art deco velvet chenille collection called ‘New York’ which was exactly what I was after. I ordered it in every colourway, and set about renovating the chairs. Once you get going, it’s so satisfying and much easier than it sounds.

You will need:
Chalk paint and brushes
Furniture wax
Steel wool (optional)
Seat foam
Fabric – upholstery quality
A staple gun (with 8mm staples)

Step 1: Take a seat
Pick up the chair you wish to upcycle and lay it on its side. If the seat comes out, you’ll want to remove it now – a few knocks underneath it should do the trick. If your seat isn’t removable, cover it with some masking tape and plastic sheeting before we start painting.

Step 2: Paint away
Preparation is key. Usually this will involve sanding and priming your surfaces ; however, if you buy chalk paint, it may be a simple clean and one coat ! Chalk furniture paint is super versatile and will give your upcycled chair a lovely smooth finish, even on untreated wood. And the best thing is, you can’t really go wrong – if you don’t like the colour, you can easily paint over it.
(Top tip: Sometimes I like to sand back the second colour a bit and reveal some of the old paint underneath.)

Step 3: Wax on, wax off
Once the paint is on and dry, your chair transformation is well underway. You’ll want to ensure the paint is sealed by adding a layer of wax to it. I like to use clear wax to give
it that fresh look but darker ones may be better if you’re looking for a shabby chic effect. Don’t hold back as you brush the wax on – a nice even coat will work wonders for
the next step. And remember to wipe away any excess.

Step 4: Grab some steel wool
For a subtle aged effect, rub the freshly waxed chair with some steel wool. You can also use sandpaper but I prefer the softer effect of the steel wool and wax. Using the wool, rub
off as much or as little of the paint as you like. Take your time until you’ve got your desired effect.
(Top tip: Once you’ve got it looking how you want, add another layer of wax to seal the paint and achieve a perfect finish.)

Step 5: Reupholster your chair
If you want to refresh your seat covers, start by removing the pins from the back of the seat. Then, with a bit of force, the old material should come away. At this stage, check to see if the existing foam needs replacing or repairing.
(Top tip: I usually add a little bit of Dacron to the middle of the seat for extra body to plump it up.)

Step 6: Material and staple gun at the ready
Next, lay your new material over the seat. If you have a pattern or design, make sure it’s positioned properly and the right way up. Then, carefully flip your seat over. Using a
staple gun, add one staple to each side of the seat. Flipping the seat back over, you can then check your placement and that the fabric is not creased, before adding the rest of the
staples. Then, starting with the corners, staple the edge of the material all the way around.

Step 7: Finishing touches
Now for the final steps. Trim away any excess from the underside of your seat and check it’s all looking neat and smooth. Carefully fit the seat back into the chair. If your seat pad is not removable it’s the same process as above, but on the corners, you cut a line (so four in total, one for each leg) to the leg and neatly fold the material underneath and staple into place. Most seats will have the staples attached underneath but if you have one that requires staples on the side, and therefore showing, that’s where you glue or tack in beading and braiding over the top to hide them.

Living The Château Dream by Dick and Angel Strawbridge will be published on 28 October by Seven Dials, price £20*. The new series of Escape to the Chateau begins tonight on Channel 4, and then via catch-up on All 4.