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How To Give A Chair A Punch Of Personality


At the Kit Kemp Design Studio, we believe chairs are where you can be your most creative. There are so many ways to give a chair a new lease of life. A newly reupholstered chair can transform a room, whether it is by adding studding details, using colourful fabrics or creating texture with deep buttoning. Here are our top tips to make your chair the star of the room…

First, you need to think about what the chair will be used for. Is it a dining chair that needs to provide comfortable upright seating, or a chair more suited to reclining or relaxing? Its purpose will inform the type of upholstery you need. Linen can look classic and relaxed in a living room, but not if you have small children or dogs sitting on it. A more durable option would be a woven textile or wool. Leather or felt can be an elegantly refined solution for a bar stool or chair in a kitchen.

In Brumus Bar at Haymarket Hotel, we have used Holland & Sherry’s boiled wool as the main fabric on the bar stools because it is extremely durable.

A fun detail we like to use is inside out stitching in a contrasting colour to pipe the chair. This not only prevents the fabric from fraying, but also adds an interesting detail to the chair.

Chair seats take a lot of wear, so it is important to find fabrics that have been tested to see how durable the material is, the Martindale test is the industry standard. The higher the rub count, the more durable. 35,000 rubs means the fabric is hardwearing and this is what we usually look for when upholstering chairs in our restaurants. Anything below 20,000 rubs is usually best for lighter domestic use. Think about how the fabric will look as it wears – a fabric with a pile such as velvet, corduroy or embellished fabrics will change over time if it is repeatedly used.

If you fall in love with an interesting fabric that is decorative but not very durable, try to use it on the back of the chair. Combine a robust fabric on the seat but cover the back of the chair with your favourite fabric to add interest.

At the studio, we have a huge selection of colourful felts and wools which we are always cutting up for new applique designs to stitch onto our chairs.

We use a subtle combination of boiled wools as a base cloth and then add contrasting felts in fun designs that relate to other fabrics in the room.

We also add pockets to the sides of chairs, it’s the perfect place to keep the daily newspaper or a pair of reading glasses.

Colour blocking is also a smart way to go. A tub chair upholstered in four panels of different coloured plain wools looks fantastic. Pairing strong hues, such as a blue with a red can look so striking.

Contrast piping or studding can be effective and define the shape of the chair. We like to use brightly coloured wools by Abraham Moons which will stand the test of time.

If you’re using a fabric with a repeat, make sure you buy enough fabric so the pattern appears correct when applied to the chair. As a general rule, allow for the fabric to be an extra 50cm wider than the chair. If you’re upholstering a set of chairs, you may want them to be identical in terms of how the pattern is used.

Another simple yet effective way of giving a chair a new lease of life is by wrapping a contrasting tape around the top third. On this desk chair, we used this fun burnt orange trim saying ‘Reserved Seat Coupon’ which adds lovely playful detail.

Adding a little flair and having a lot of fun with your upholstery can make all the difference. We hope these tips will help you bring a tired looking armchair back to life.

Please tag us on Instagram @kitkempdesignthreads to show us your liveliest chair at home! We love hearing from you!

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