Bethany’s Donkey Chair DIY!

Bethany’s Donkey Chair DIY!

Hey, friends! Bethany here! I just posted a pic on Instagram of the chair I reupholstered and I wanted to give a more in-depth description of the epic journey this chair and I went on together! Pack your saddlebag, cuz we’re going on a donkey chair adventure! (A summary of everything I used is at the end of this post because I love you.)

First, I visited Housing Works, this great chain of thrift shops in NYC that work to help end the crises of HIV/AIDS and homelessness! (Awesome people donate to these shops so they always have the coolest items in stock, and you know the money is going to an incredible cause!) I found a chair I loved and proceeded to carry it alllllllllllll the way back to my apartment. Alone. On foot. While wearing wedges. (Because interior decoration is a blood sport, my loves.) I also stopped at Beckenstein Fabric & Interiors. They have sale fabric in their basement and I found a bright royal blue that I loved! Home again, home again, jiggidy jig.

It’s all good. Wedges are the sneakers of the high heel world.

I used a fine-grit sandpaper to remove the old marks and stain from the wood, then refinished it using Minwax Wood Finish in “English Chestnut 233.” Then I used a flathead screwdriver to remove the old fabric off the chair and used the old fabric pieces to measure the new fabric. (I made the new fabric pieces larger than the old. It’s always nice to have a margin of error!) I kept the chair’s existing foam because it was still in good condition and wasn’t stained or powdery. There also wasn’t money hidden in there which I found profoundly disappointing.


Using a staple gun (I LOVE A STAPLE GUN!) with 1/4″ staples, I started reupholstering by folding 1/2″ of fabric under itself (to keep it from fraying) and stapling it to the center of one side. I’d then move to the opposite side, stretch the fabric enough that it wouldn’t pucker when someone sat down on it, and stapled it down. Frankly, a big part of reupholstery is just finessing the fabric by folding, stretching, smoothing, and stapling it in place. Make sure to pull it enough so it’s taut!

For corners of the chair that didn’t sit the way I wanted them too, I used fishing line to hand stitch gaps into place and hot glue to make sure fabric that was pulling away from the wood frame stuck to it.

Duct tape isn’t the only “fix-all.” Fishing line is a miracle-worker, too.

At this point, my knuckles were literally swollen from pulling on fabric, so I focused on adding a little bright detail to the wood. On the floral squares in the wood, I used Utrecht acrylic paint in “Phthalo Blue” and mixed it with white acrylic paint until I matched the bright blue of the fabric perfectly.


Between coats of blue, I started adding the nailhead trim. I used Decotacks upholstery nails in “Antique Brass/French Natural.” For this size project, I went through about 3 boxes. There’s no science to adding nailhead trim. You’re just lining up the nails and pounding them in! I’m terrible at this, so I go through more nails that normal due to nails bending, the tops popping off, etc. It’s a hot mess but I love how they look! Plus, they help hide staple imperfections 🙂

Now, it was DONKEY TIME! A couple of years ago, I’d fallen in love with this watercolor print from The Aestate, so I knew I wanted it on my chair to make the chair unique. I bought a tote bag and a set of pillow shams featuring the donkey, because I knew the tote would come on a sturdy fabric that would hold up nicely on the front of the chair. The larger sham donkey design would be featured on the back!

I cut around the donkeys, then ironed them onto fusible to make the fabric sturdier. Then I used a sharp fabric scissor to cut the donkeys out. I pinned the smaller donkey onto the fabric for the front of the chair and carefully sewed him on. I did the same for the back. (NOTE: The simpler the design, the better for your sanity. I chose a watercolor design that involved hair, which meant lots of little whisps to cut and sew. It added a ton of time. Don’t do this! Learn from my mistakes!)


Finally, it was time to staple the donkey-festooned fabric to the back of the chair. Again, fold, pull, staple, repeat. The worst part of the whole ordeal was adding the nailhead trim to the seat back. The rough edge/lip of the wood (where the upholstery staples would sit and the nailhead trim would cover them) was narrower than the width of the decorative nail heads, so they often poked out through the back fabric of the chair if I didn’t line them up right. This process took three cups of coffee and about seven episodes of Midsomer Murders. And my kitchen was a disaster.

“Kitchen Studio NYC” was briefly “Hot Mess Studio NYC.”

I had plenty of fabric and nails left over, so I also reupholstered an old stool to match the chair. This chair was a ton of work, but I’m so in love with the final product that it was well worth it. Plus, it was definitely cheaper than trying to buy a similar chair online, and it’s one-of-a-kind!

If you try this out or do your own reupholstery design, I’d love to see how it turns out! Tweet me @RadioBethany and show me your gorgeous furniture renovations!



Thrift store chair
Sturdy upholstery fabric (2-3yds)
Fine-grit sandpaper (180 grit)
Wood stain: Minwax Wood Finish in “English Chestnut”
Utrecht blue acrylic paint in “Phthalo Blue”
A couple of small paint brushes
Staple gun
1/4″ staples
Decorative nailhead trim (3-4 boxes)
Flathead screwdriver
Needle nose pliers (to help with nailhead trim placement)
Hot glue gun and glue
Donkey tote bag
Donkey pillow sham
Fabric scissors
Sewing machine
Sewing needle
Fishing line


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