The chair and the table. The table is the same colour as the chair; the lighting makes it look different here. The Romanian home-woven carpet is probably about 100 years old - typical Bucovina motifs

The finished chair and table. The table is the same colour as the chair; the lighting makes it look different here. The Romanian home-woven carpet is probably about 100 years old – typical Bucovina motifs

And now for something completely different (hoping my project does rather better than John Cleese!). Relaxing with feet up is something I like to do in the evening in my dotage, having generally been up and active from around 5.30am (I’ve always been a ‘morning person’). A La-Z-Boy wing recliner chair was what I aspired to. The recommended retail price of around £1,000, or even sale offers of around £750, was more than I was prepared to pay and anyway I do not like the current ‘boxy’ cubic designs.

Then I saw an old, rather shabby, ‘curvy’ example which was more to my liking and managed to buy it for £25, thinking I could have it re-upholstered. Think again: quotes to re-upholster were around £750!

The chair as bought. Note the large grease stain on the head rest and wear patches on the arms

The chair as bought. Note the large grease stain on the head rest and wear patches on the arms

While trying to come round to the idea of re-upholstering it myself – a major job – I saw something which surprised me; someone painting an upholstered chair (‘up-cycling’ is the ‘in’ term I learned). It was on the BBC2 tv series ‘The Great Interior Design Challenge’ and, much as I dislike the tendency of programme producers to turn everything into X-factor type competitions so rarely watch them, I caught a bit of this and saw enough interesting, low-cost ideas to follow the series. The amateur designer in question had never painted upholstery before, she said, but it seemed to work.

Make your own chalk paint? No thanks – even for a cook

Onto internet to research, I found that the paint in question was ‘chalk paint’ and most of the blogs/sites turned up were about how to make chalk paint; fortunately, the search also turned up Annie Sloan, an Oxford lady who invented ‘chalk paint’ about 20 years ago and had turned it into a successful business. There were quite a few YouTube video clips giving instructions (but I prefer written words; maybe there are others who do too), even a clip showing Annie herself painting an upholstered chair.

What is more, there was a distributor of her paint in nearby Leeds – My Vibrant Home in the Grand Arcade ( A trip there and a chat convinced me to have a go and I left with 1 litre of Annie Sloan’s ‘French Linen’ and a tin of her ‘Soft wax’ – well under £30. I suppose for a very large project – a lot of furniture or even walls etc – making your own might result in a worthwhile saving but the hassle was too much for me.

An interesting comment from the Leeds shopkeeper when I said that I’d probably blog about my project, though I usually blogged about cooking, or poetry/writing, or photography: she said many of her clients followed these hobbies too.

The chair

Stage pictures at the end

Stage 1: Wet the chair, just water, all over. A hand spray is suggested but I didn’t have one so used a sponge. The back/head rest of the La-Z-Boy just lifts out of the base so I split it to make painting easier.

Stage 2: Paint the chair with chalk paint, working the paint well into the fabric with a brush, especially the areas on the arms where the fabric had worn through (I used a large old brush so didn’t mind destroying it by working the paint in). Let it dry overnight.

Stage 3: I ‘sanded’ the well worn areas with 600 grit glass paper to make them as smooth as possible without going through the paint, then painted it all again with a large, flat brush. Let it dry again overnight.

Stage 4: Very lightly rub down all the paint with 1200 grit glass paper (on the fabric the paint had a ‘gritty’ surface – this is not so on a firm surface like wood or plastic – see the up-cycled table below). This is to remove the ‘gritty’ feel, not to remove the brush marks which give an interesting texture.

Stage 4: This stage was needed only because the chair had a large grease stain where the head rests. Evidently the one thing chalk paint does not like is grease/oil. I had hoped the second paint coat would cover it but it still showed through. One part PVA adhesive was mixed with five parts water and painted on just the head cushion to seal over the grease. Had I known the second coat would not cover the grease stain I would have applied the acrylic adhesive ‘primer’ after the first coat, so stages 5/6 would probably not have been needed.  Let dry overnight.

Stage 5: Paint the head cushion with another coat of chalk paint. Let it dry overnight.

Stage 6: Rub down the head cushion again

Stage 7: Apply Annie Sloan ‘Soft wax’ to the whole chair. On the cushioned surfaces it was difficult to apply with a cloth so I used a paint brush. It was still rather difficult to apply to the flexible surfaces so I warmed the wax a little in the warming oven (about 50degC); it then went on more easily. Rubbed immediately with a soft cloth, then buffed with a clean soft cloth.

I think it looks great – from a short distance it could be a leather chair. I’m not sure how durable it will be, especially the deep cushion parts, but I’m sitting in it to type this and it feels good.

Project 2: ‘coffee’ table

Having a little chalk paint left I decided to give a rather ugly low table – acquired for £5, for utility not beauty – the up-cycling treatment. The surfaces were imitation wood grain plastic veneer, probably on chip board. Two coats of chalk paint on the outside surfaces transformed it. I painted the inside with flame red conventional silk ’emulsion’ paint left over from decorating a wall. I roughly brush painted this, intending it to be a base coat for a second rollered coat. However, I liked the ‘mottled’ effect so much (and my wife concurred) that I left it like that. I’ve not yet decided whether to leave the chalk paint with its natural matt surface or give it a coat of wax. Either way it looks a lot more than £5 now!

Chalk paint – conclusion

This is the easiest paint to use I’ve ever come across. No preparation is needed as it sticks to anything. The only thing to upset it is grease or oil marks, which bleed through. But a primer coat with watered-down PVA adhesive solves that. I reckon that to put a coat of chalk paint on something takes no more than half the time needed with conventional paints, probably quite a bit less. What is more, washing brushes is a doddle – the paint just comes out under the tap (I’ve never been able to get brushes completely clean before, even with water-based paints).

I think I’ll be back to the Leeds shop pretty soon.

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Annie Sloan’s website: