Thrift Store Chair Makeover – Part 1: Stain and Seal

When I lived in New York City, I worked as an interior designer for nearly a decade. I'm still passionate about creating beautiful spaces, but I grew frustrated with the wasteful nature of the design industry. With clients these days expecting faster turnarounds, and more bang for their buck, the "fast furniture" industry is booming. Sure it's fun and convenient, but how sustainable are all those cheaply made goods? Lately I've been embracing "slow design". I'm not in a hurry to create the perfect space, and am willing to wait for the right piece to show up. Shopping from thrift stores is a great way to find quality furniture with character. If you don't like something as is, you can give it new life with a makeover! 

We found a set of 4 wood dining chairs from Loveseat Vintage, my favorite furniture store here in San Diego. They had great lines, but were finished in a dull brown paint and a dingy, old-fashioned fabric. But with a brand-new finish, and fresh upholstery, these chairs are gonna look fantastic! Here's what we did:

Step 1: Sanding
This is the hardest, messiest part of the job. Adam sanded the chairs using a hand-sander in the wood workshop. It's important to get all the nooks and crannies so you have a fresh, smooth surface for refinishing. This is what the chairs looked like to start. They had been painted in a dull brown color, and the finish hid all the beautiful graining in the wood. 


After sanding, you can really see how the texture of the wood pops out. It looks like these chairs were made of mahogany! 


Step 2: Eco-friendly staining
Now comes the fun part - staining the wood using all-natural, eco-friendly ingredients! We had a fun time trying out different stains using ingredients like tea, coffee, vinegar, and steel wool. You can find more detailed instructions on that here. Teas can give the stain more of a golden, amber look while coffee makes it rich and dark. The steel wool creates an aging effects that adds grey tones to the stain. 


In the end, we kept it nice and easy using Folger's instant coffee and water as a stain. Just mix it up in a mason jar and paint on with a brush - it's that easy! You can add more coffee for a richer color, but it's a good idea to start light and add more coats for a deeper effect. 

Step 3: Sealing with beeswax
The final step is to seal your furniture. A sealer will protect your wood from drying out, and gives it a rich, lustrous sheen. We made a simple furniture polish using roughly 90% beeswax to 10% olive oil. Beeswax is a natural byproduct of honey production, and is a great sustainable resource that supports bees and beekeepers.

You can buy beeswax in blocks like this, and start by cutting off a small chunk roughly the size of a 2 inch cube. You'll need a double boiler to melt the beeswax. Be careful as the wax will get very hot, and takes a long time to cool down. When the wax has cooled to a manageable temperature, add the olive oil, stirring in little by little until you reach the desired consistency. You can find more instructions on melting beeswax here


Beeswax application - The key is to rub it in while the mixture is still warm, but not too hot. Use firm, circular motions and be sure to get all the nooks and crannies. Add a few coats for best results. 

Voila! This thrift store find is looking brand new. The coffee stain gives it a deep rich color, and the beeswax really brings out the wood grain. Check out Part 2 to see how I reupholstered the chairs to make this makeover complete!


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