Vintage Diner Chairs Project

For anyone following along, it should come as no surprise that the general look we are going for in our new kitchen is "1950s Diner".  We had the idea of buying or building a diner booth for the eating area, but new booths are pretty expensive and I wasn't prepared to build our own, quite yet.  Over the summer, we purchased a great 1950s dinette table from one of my favorite little shops, The Melamine Cup, in Jaffery, NH.  We had other chairs for the table, but what I really wanted were chrome diner chairs, the kind with bright, sparkly vinyl that can be found in many diners across the country.  The problem is that new ones were quite expensive, and I rarely found any during my frequent visits to the local antique shops.

My luck changed when visiting the Goodwill in Hudson, NH.  This particular Goodwill has a by-the-pound section where, with any luck and plenty of patience, you can often find a treasure or two in the massive piles of junk.  On this visit, I immediately spotted two chairs in the furniture section. The upholstery was modern and nothing special, but I knew I was looking at a pair of vintage dinette chairs.  There was no price, but I figured they couldn't be more than $20 a piece which I was absolutely willing to pay.  When I went to check out, the guy told me the price.  25 cents!  1 quarter for each chair!  I couldn't believe it.  For less than a candy bar, I was the owner of two vintage diner chairs.


One of the two diner chairs, found at Goodwill.


As soon as I got home, I ripped off the white fabric on the outside to see what the chairs looked like underneath.  I was hoping that the original upholstery was still there, in perfect condition and that the previous owner had just covered them up because they just didn't like the original.  Unfortunately, they were in pretty rough shape underneath.  The backs of the chairs were in okay condition, but the original vinyl seats had split pretty bad. Still, it was neat to see what they once looked like and the chairs themselves were pretty solid.  Fortunately I had a plan, and a few yards of shiny, sparkle vinyl.  


The original 1950s upholstery


I started by taking the entire chair apart. The original frame was in okay shape, but had some rust spots. So, using some steel wool and Simichrome Polish I managed to get the chair frames shined up.


For the backs of the chairs, I cut out little diamond shaped windows from a large piece of mint green vinyl, then sewed in red vinyl behind the windows using contrasting red stitching.  I then stretched the fabric around the chair back and stapled it in place. I also stapled a piece of the mint vinyl to the chair seat.  To finish the back of the chair, I cut another piece of the green fabric and fastened it using chrome colored upholstery tacks.

Close-up of chair back stitching

Close-up of chair back stitching

Fabric stapled on the chair back.

Close-up of the back, with the metal upholstery tacks

All finished and sparkling in the sunshine

To match the chairs, I recovered my vintage Cosco stool in red, sparkly vinyl.  This time, I reversed the colors on the back, so it had green diamond, with green stitching.


I'm going to continue to hunt for additional chairs to complete the set, but for now, I'm really happy with the two I have.  They work perfectly with our vintage table and look great in the eating area.