Upholstering your old chairs doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg, nor does it have to be dull and boring. The humble chair back has often been the area of neglect, where we simply cover up with the same old fabric as the rest of the chair. Functional—yes, but oh so boring!
With these great ideas, you can create functional art out of your chairs, enjoy a journey of discovery, and have a load of fun along the way. Let’s get started!
12 Alternative Designs for Chair Backs
1. Create a Textured Landscape
Using the same fabric as your upholstery, you can have custom laser-cut designs made that you can add as layers of blossoms or other fun elements. Simply glue these into place with fabric glue or add a staple or two if you happen to be on a support beam of the chair.
The laser cutting will seal the edges of the fabric, making it fray resistant, but you can also use a no-fray glue to seal the “raw” edges of the fabric, so there is no need to sew. We love the idea of layered blossoms from Helen Amy Murray.
2. Boldly Contrast Front to Back
If you don’t feel up to the laser-cut patterns, why not contrast colors by selecting a single dominant color to oppose and complement the printed fronts of the chairs? Alternatively, save your patterns for the back and sides, leaving a peaceful plain covering for the inside of the chair.
3. Combine Stripes and Florals
Stripes and florals aren’t mutually exclusive. Where your chair seat is covered in stripes, you can match the tones and colors with a slightly larger scale floral design on the back, or you can swap around and have floral on the seat and stripes on the chair back.
4. Scale Up
When designers create their new range of fabrics, they often have similar patterns at different scales. We love this idea by designer Tricia Guild to combine small-scale dots with a much larger-scaled dot fabric for the back of the chair.
5. Combine Upholstery and Multimedia
If you have a flair for the dramatic and a bit of skill with a paintbrush, you can use upholstery fabric as inspiration for an artwork that can be painted on a plain fabric on the front or back of the chair. Ideas like this portrait work by Irina Neacşu Studio are inspirational.
6. Add Something Special
The chair back is an opportunity to hide something unique in plain sight. Like peekaboo hairstyles, you can also have a hidden element that pops when people walk behind your chairs. We love this “lace-up” rustic look that is so utterly “French village” that you may be forgiven for thinking you are walking through the villages around the linen fields of Normandy.
7. Bring the Chair to Life
Chairs have their own personality, and you can easily build that personality with a bit of humanesque upholstery work. Repurpose a favorite garment, such as your son’s graduation blazer, to make a unique chair back that will stand out in his study or student room. It’s a great way to ensure those garments we collect in life aren’t forgotten.
8. Tie It All Together
Most men collect an astonishing amount of neckties in their life. And there are certainly amazing tie ideas that flood the market. Why not use these ties to create a special element for the chair back or chair front? Ties can be sewn together to create a special look that is both stylish and unique.
9. Specialized Prints for the Back
If you don’t quite feel up to making that special element yourself, you can also opt to have a favorite artwork printed on fabric, then have it professionally mounted to the chair back for that unique and vibrant look that will have heads turning in your home. Interior Designer Cachel Rupp’s mural chair back is exquisite.
10. Go Alternative
If you want, you can also change up an existing upholstery project with small pom pom balls or larger felt balls that you can mount to the back of your chair, creating a riot of color and design.
If colored poms aren’t your style, you can use any soft toys or soft cut-outs to create a collage on the back of the chairs in your home. Adding stuffed animal toys to the back of the chairs in your kids’ rooms will be an instant hit with the little ones.
11. Rug up the Chair Back
If you have a matching rug and no place to put it, why not use the rug as an upholstery material for your chair back? Plush rugs can also be used, with the added benefit that the chair back will stay cleaner for longer, so the rug will remain in good condition. Patterned or picture rugs are also a great choice for chair backs.
12. Slipcovers With Details
The design elements such as gimp, edging, and tassels can all be combined to create a brilliant cover that you can add to your chair, focusing attention with fun rewards for the viewer to discover, like pom pom tassels or fringes at the back of the chair.
What to Consider When Thinking of an Alternative Chair Back
By now, you are probably rearing to get at your furniture to get creative and make unique chair backs that will wow your friends and family when they visit. Before you rush out and raid the local haberdashery store, there are a few things to consider:
- Choose Pretty But Functional
Whatever you decide to put at the back of your chairs, it must be functional. Chairs need to be vacuumed regularly, so stapling on some paper flowers isn’t going to end well. However, if you opt for laser-cut polyester flowers, you have a winner.
- Consider Your Family and Pets
If you have a two-year-old who runs all over, pulling at everything, you should avoid heavily tasseled furniture as these will not survive long. Likewise, that pom pom trim you want to layer along the back of your chair will become a source of amusement for your cat and also won’t last long.
Choose trimmings that are appropriate to your home and your lifestyle. Having a chair that looks like a giant pink flamingo, feathers and all, is visually pretty, but not for long if you have kids and pets all over. However, you can easily choose a pink flamingo fabric to combine with some painted mural chair backs, which will be durable and resilient.
- Focus on What Is Seen
Mostly, chair backs tend to face a wall, so you don’t have to decorate those chair backs or spend a fortune on reupholstering those chairs. Instead, you can choose one or two chair backs that are seen, such as those that have their backs to an entrance or window, and focus your time and budget on developing those focal points.
- It Doesn’t All Have to Look the Same
When you have more than one chair back to dolly up, you don’t have to treat them the same. In fact, giving each chair its own unique character is ideal for a room with more than one chair back in view, such as a dining room.
The Final Backing
If you are ready to embark on the journey of creative chair backings, you will need a partner to help you create amazing designs and make your home truly unique. I’ve always found the consultants at Kovi Fabrics really helpful and uber-creative. Browse the online catalog of prints, picture fabrics, and plain upholstery ideas to inspire you.