Freshening up an antique chair. (2 home made recipes for wood + fabric)

This gorgeous old chair had seen better days. The wood was so dry and some of the finish was crumbling off. The fabric was stiff and crunchy. I asked around for some tips as to what I could do to clean it up a bit without changing the way it looked, and while there was plenty of awesome suggestions for the wood, It was suggested that there was no way to fix old rotten fabric and that I would have to have it reupholstered. So, since I figured that I had nothing to lose, why not give it a shot anyways.

This chair was given to me by Don George, whom I call my bonus Dad, and it was given to him by his mother. There was a matching rocker that I remember seeing in her house, and apparently she also had the matching table at one point. ( I would have loved to see that) These items were passed down to her by family, and so we aren’t exactly sure on age, but a few friends suggested late 1800’s, to early 1900’s. Possibly English-made. I’ve been looking online for something similar but haven’t found anything so far. (so if you know, I’d love for you to share with me)

I had many suggestions to just reupholster since the fabric on the seat no longer matched the fabric on the back, but I really just wanted to freshen the chair up a bit, without changing the way it looked. I love old furniture, and I like that you can tell that this piece was well used and well-loved. I like that it tells a bit of its story, and so I decided to try some home-made remedies for this instead of changing the chair, and not only were they much cheaper than the alternative but they really worked great for what I was looking to do for this chair and it still looks the way it did, just not as dry and dirty.

For the fabric;

I started by vacuuming the fabric. Since this is old and somewhat fragile velvet I used the soft attachment on the hose.

For a gentle cleaning solution, I used:

  • One spray bottle with warm water
  • One spray bottle with 1 part fabric softener (I used Ultra Downy Free & Gentle) 3 parts water
  • One spray bottle with 3 parts water, a bit of vinegar, a few sprays of resolve & a small splash of dish soap or laundry soap.

MRH Has a great selection of spray bottles.

I started by dampening the entire seat cushion, since the back was still soft, I didn’t do anything to it, other than vacuum and wipe. Once the fabric was damp, I wiped it with a damp rag and then I used diluted fabric softener and coated the entire cushion and let it dry. Once it was dry, I did it again and massaged it into the fabric with my hands. It was much better but still a bit crunchy so I decided to go one step further and used my go-to carpet refreshing spray. It’s a bit more than half of a bottle of water with the remaining parts being 1 part vinegar, (the vinegar is a natural softening agent and will also help to take out any unpleasant smells) a splash of dish soap or laundry detergent and a splash of resolve laundry cleaner. I sprayed the whole cushion down and with a hot scrub brush I gently ran the scrubber from one end to the other and along the sides. (I didn’t scrub the fabric because I didn’t want it to fall apart or be damaged, but I just ran the scrubber along to fabric to move it around and have the solution penetrate it.) I did this over a few times and it took the stiffness right away. The whole cushion is much softer now.

as you can see, the original colour of the seat had really faded.

Freshening up old crunchy fabric

For the wood;

Many people suggested Murphey’s soap oil but I really wanted to try something right away, so I decided to concoct a wax oil at home instead.

What I used:

  • A dry, clean, lint free rag
  • Handmade wood freshening wax

Before I used the wax, I wanted to be sure the surface of the wood was clean so I wiped all of the wood down with a hot damp rag and waited for it to dry. Once it was dry I applied the paste to the entire chair, working it into the extra dry spots. It should sink right in, but if there’s any left on the surface the next day you can buff it off. I ended up doing another coat the next day as there was nothing left on the surface and the chair still looked a little dry.

How I made the oil:

In an old pan on the stove, mix 1 part beeswax to 2 part oil. (While I read that the most effective oils are linseed, walnut and tung oil, I used a mix of jojoba and coconut oil because it’s what I had here on hand.) For a faster alternative, you can put the ingredients in a microwaveable safe container and melt them that way as well. If I’m using the microwave, I go in 30 second intervals. I use the beeswax pastilles because they melt faster than a solid block does. (There’s a full post on just how to make the was *HERE*)

The coconut oil will melt at a much faster rate than the beeswax, so after every 30 seconds, I take it out and stir it, and put it back in until it’s all melted and combined.

Give it one last stir and pour into the container of your choosing. I used these awesome tins from Mountain Rose Herbs.

Leave it to set.

Check out the full DIY post on how to make the wax HERE.

The beeswax is a hardening agent, so if the paste is softer than you’d like, you can melt it back down and add in more beeswax, or If the solution cures too hard for your liking, melt it back down and add in more oil to soften it up. You can pour the solution into an old jar or tin. Apply with a dry, lint free rag.

Restoring wood naturally

wood before. screaming for hydration.

Restoring wood naturally

wood after one application of oil/wax paste. This was the first paste that I made, I didn’t want it as hard as what it was so this has more oils in it than beeswax, I applied this first so it would penetrate deep into the wood and once it was dried then I added a coat of the firmer wax to make it a bit more shiny.

Restoring wood naturally

after 2 applications of wax/oil

Some other suggestions that I was given for the wood: 

To reinforce the loose bits

The chair’s arm had come loose, it was still being held together with a piece of doweling but it wasn’t tight and it wouldn’t stay popped in place, so I used some wood glue and twine as rope to hold it together. There was no way I was getting a clamp around this piece so that’s why I used the rope instead. The chair must be a bit warped because as I would pop the arm in, the leg bracket would come loose, so I had my hubby hold the whole thing together as I glued and tied the rope as tight as I could. It’s holding together well now.

Reinforcing an antique chair

So, as you can see, the whole thing is looking a lot better than it was.

Freshening up an antique chair

Freshening up an antique chair

I wasn’t sure where I wanted to put this chair in our house. It was a toss-up of at my desk, as my current chair is not comfortable at all, or next to the fireplace in the living room. Right now it’s sitting in the living room but I’m not sure if that’s where it’ll stay.

Freshening up an antique chair

Freshening up an antique chairFreshening up an antique chair

I really do love the look of this chair and I’m so pleased that I was able to just clean it up a little bit while keeping its integrity intact. ❤

Thanks so much for stopping by the blog today. What are you working on this week? Whatever it is, I hope it’s bringing you joy.

Some of the links here are affiliates. Meaning if you make a purchase through one of my links, then I earn a small commission. This is of no extra cost to you. Thanks so much for supporting the blog! ❤


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