Wednesday, January 27, 2010

GIFSL* 46: Staple-gun upholstery (with a WOW factor)

If you work in a NSW government school, there's nothing more certain than that you've seen, and sat, in one of these standard-issue low lounge chairs.  They're in staffrooms, hopefully a few in the library, in the common room and so on.

Depending on the age of your school, they may have been supplied to the school when beige, 'sunshine' yellow or a somewhat bilious green was considered just right (the one above, and its beige or yellow cousins at my school are shading thirty years old).  More recent colours are muted greens, blues and ochre-pinks.

The vinyl is, let's face it, practical.  But over time they get marked, and maybe the vinyl has splits here or there.

I was up at Katoomba High late last year, speaking at a conference (about sprucing your library, surprise surprise!) (it went well and I had fun - happy to be a presenter at other TL conferences/inservices...) and saw some of these chairs which had been spruced by the library staff there.

Katoomba High (not us, but our inspiration)

The idea took hold.  While the muted green and blue chairs in our mezzanine reading lounge don't need recovering, I knew of four grotty beige vinyl chairs I could take for the library from where they were languishing elsewhere in the school, too unappealing for anyone to be interested.  As well as hiding the grot, cloth is nicer to sit on.  And we were going to be able to set up another reading lounge, this time upstairs in the fiction section; I didn't seem likely to be able to get more comfy chairs for it in the near future, so needed to be ingenious instead.

Off to Ikea for some furnishing-weight 150cm wide fabric...

This is from a range called Saralisa.  The fabric I chose is the second bottom one (multicolour/orange):

Yup, as seen in sneak peek #1.  Images here from the Ikea Australia website.

A couple of useful hints and tips: I deliberately chose a pattern that didn't need matching.  Much easier.  Colours: these went with the blue wall, green carpet and newer blue chairs, and are dark enough to not show the dirt in five minutes.  We may spray them with a fabric protector such as Scotchgard, but realistically, if we don't, it takes just over a metre of fabric (this fabric is $9.99/m) to do a chair, so about $12 later we can recover them in a year or two anyway, if they need it.

More than practicality, though, this is a mad, wonderful, funky fabric, and the transformation is remarkable. 

Don't you think so? The kids do. And pretty much everyone else who's seen them - WOW! is a common reaction. We recovered several chairs before the end of last term, and a sort-out elsewhere in the school (or previously untapped chair-whispering skills on my part) brought us four more bright yellow ones just as term ended.

What do you need?  A bit over a metre of 150cm wide decent-weight fabric per chair.  A staple gun or trigger tacker, sharp scissors for cutting fabric (paper/cardboard blunts scissors, so your usual library scissors may struggle).  A cordless drill/screwdriver for getting the screws out and back in.  Some of that wide tough book repair tape, if your chairs have any splits needing repair.

Another tip: pay attention to which screws come from where, so you put them back in the same place, as they aren't necessarily interchangeable.  Maybe do one seat at a time.

I'm not going to give detailed instructions: basically, you're unscrewing the two cushions from the metal frame, covering two rectangles (we went right over the top of the vinyl), aiming to turn under/staple down any raw edges, then reassembling the chair.  It isn't grand upholstery, but it's do-able and has fabulous results.  As you can see! 

We didn't refinish the dark brown metal framework of the chairs in any way - just the revamp was enough to make the chairs special.

Before term ended, one faculty had already recovered their yellow vinyl lounge chairs in another Saralisa fabric (we have green carpet, they have green vinyl...:

...and during the holidays, another faculty went from yellow chairs to these (they have blue carpet):

...which also uses Ikea fabric, from a range called Inger.  I wouldn't be surprised if more around the school got this treatment - at about $12 a chair, with equipment to hand in schools, what's not to like? Although I think I've sabotaged any possibility of acquiring any more chairs from within the school, now people have seen what's possible.

The blue/black/white Inger chairs are in the Visual Arts faculty, which also now has a word wall, after seeing our library word walls.  They went with the wonderful vocabulary of colour names.

It's lovely to have the library inspiring renovation elsewhere in the school again (chairs, word walls... and other areas have been painted after seeing what we've done inside and out).  I have great colleagues, and we all work hard for our kids.

Many many many thanks to the Katoomba High school library staff for inspiring this Good Idea!



PS these chairs are for a new (changed) area in the library - I'll show you soon...

PPS. Snaffle every chair you can from around your school BEFORE renovating, because it's harder to get 'em after everyone else sees what's possible...!!

PPPS. We'd love to read your comments....

*GIFSL = Good ideas for school libraries


Shane Symonds said...

Ruth : Once again, a great idea. I, too, have some chairs like this (though in the venerable Education Queensland design) which basically need doing. Yes, the vinyl has gone. They are purple but structurally sound so...I might take another look. Will keep you posted.

Thanks again for the posts and thoughts. Shane

KimY said...

Wow! What a transformation and an inspiration!!! Recycling at it's best too. I'm going on a chair hunt....

Anonymous said...

Hey Ruth,
Congratulations, those chairs look fabulous. I look forward to seeing the whole refurbished library. Good advice about snaffling the chairs before the makeover.

Jenny P

Judith said...

Nice work Ruth. I know from recent experience what utterly exhausting work library renovations are. Congratulations, the students will love it and love you even more for doing it for them. You are an inspiration!

medg said...

WOW!!! So simple, so easy, so effective. Thanks for sharing

Therin of Andor said...


My "reading chair" is one of these - and it has an ugly split in the upholstery.

Now, do I do it before or after they take my old library away in a few weeks?

Anonymous said...

Good on you Ruth, you are always inspiring me to be more pro active in our Library and I love looking at your wonderful creations.
Amanda N (Exeter PS)

Fiona said...

Cool! Ruth, I think you are subversively taking over the school...first the chairs...

Anonymous said...

What fabulous colours - I did mine with removable slip covers ... and they keep removing!
I intend to attack spotlight looking for fab fabrics to cover the lovely green walls - already put down some rugs to dot around the lovely green carpet (intersut with blue when a patch needed doing).
Thinking of sendin your link to my Principal. Omething has to brighten up my swiss sauna style building.
Great work Ruth, love the blog.

KimY said...

Thanks to your is our attempt at a little make-over...

Kim :)