If you’re like me, your nonstick skillet makes its way from storage to stovetop on a frequent basis—the efficient go-to for creamy scrambled eggs, crispy salmon skin, and fluffy pancakes on the regular. With all that use comes a sense of responsibility, because if my nonstick is showing signs of misuse, it’s hard to pass the blame—the culprit is very clearly: me. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about nonstick cookware over the years, it is that it’s among my most trusted helpers in the kitchen, but not without a little TLC.
Nonstick, like many other cookware materials, can be a little finicky to take care of. While there are clear rules for how to handle these pots and pans, it can become confusing to parse out which rules apply to nonstick, and which guidelines you may have heard in passing that actually apply to the care of a different material. Is nonstick the one that needs to be dried immediately, or is that copper? And is it best to clean it with kosher salt, or was that cast iron?
If you’ve noticed your nonstick cookware is starting to lose its… nonstickyness (can we get away with that one?), it’s likely that it hasn’t received the proper attention it requires. While other materials have a tendency to bounce back to full luster with some extra love (we’re looking at you, copper), nonstick pans made with a ceramic or polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) coating tend to be irretrievable once damaged.
I’ve certainly experienced the dreaded signs of misuse—peeling, flaking, warping, and a less-than-perfectly-slick surface—and I imagine that many of you have, too. Unfortunately, those often mean our pans are approaching retirement. Luckily, though, there are a number of simple tips that one can follow to keep that at bay for as long as possible, so our pans can keep sliding out omelettes to perfection, year after year after year.
How to Clean & Care for Stainless Steel Pans Like a Pro
How to Season (& Clean) Your Trusty Cast Iron Skillet
A good place to start? Always consider the strength of the flame you’re cooking over. First things first: Do not use over high heat, which is a surefire way to ruin your pan; cooking over low or medium heat will help maintain a smooth, stick-free surface. Plus, remember: ceramic non-stick, if that’s what you have, is a fast heat conductor (hi, Five Two Nonstick Skillet and Food52 x GreenPan Nonstick Skillet), retaining and distributing heat so nicely that an A+ sear won’t require the high heat it usually would.
Next up, be careful to use the right fat. Reach for oils with a high smoke point—like grapeseed, sesame, or avocado—over those with a low smoke point, like EVOO. This is because low smoke point oils burn more easily, which can decrease the pan’s nonstick properties. Also worth keeping at a distance? Cooking sprays of all kinds. When I asked Ashley Holmgren, GreenPan’s Head of Ecommerce, for their best nonstick maintenance tips, she was quick to explain that cooking spray will develop a residue that can shorten the lifespan of nonstick cookware.
Another helpful tip: Once you’ve got your oil of choice in hand, always preheat the pan, being careful to add oil—and distribute it evenly—while it’s still cool (it’ll help with both sticking and the integrity of your ingredients), and remember to employ rubber or wooden, and never metal, utensils (which can lead to scratching or even material deterioration).
15 Things You Should Never, Ever Put in the Dishwasher
Of course, proper cleaning and storage will also send you on your way to success. The first step: Always wait for the pan to cool before letting it come into contact with cold water. Submerging a hot pan in cold water or even running cool water over hot nonstick cookware is the quickest way to warp a pan.
Also, the faster you get to hand-washing, the easier it will be. I know it can be hard to skip the dishwasher, but if you’re committed to caring for your cookware, you’ll keep the nonstick in the sink—just not for too long. Under no circumstances should you use steel wool or other harsh, abrasive cleaning materials to wash your nonstick pan. Instead, use a gentle dishwashing liquid and a soft sponge or cleaning cloth. After your pan has been flawlessly cleaned and towel- or air-dried, place a pan protector, or a cloth or paper towel, over its surface if your storage space requires high stacking. This way, you'll ward off any scratches.
If you do ever find yourself in a sticky situation—maybe your pan is nearing the end of its lifespan (usually around five years, depending on how often it’s being used, and how carefully) and it’s been used over high heat one too many times—don’t despair, just follow these simple steps: Partly fill the pan with water, and add a ½ cup of white vinegar. Bring it to a quick boil over the stovetop, then remove and let cool, skimming away any residue that made its way to the top. Once cool, pour out the liquid and wash out with warm, soapy water—the burnt food should be easy to wipe away.
As you can see, there’s nothing complicated about caring for your nonstick cookware and keeping it in great condition—all it takes is some mindful cooking, cleaning, and storing. And although your trusty skillet won’t last a lifetime, with proper care, its best years are sure to yield so many treats. Worth the effort? We think so.
In the event you’re looking for the very best ways to clean all of your cookware, you’re in luck. We’ve compiled guides on cleaning and maintaining the most popular materials you’ll find in the kitchen (your pots and pans will thank you):
Copper is a bit more delicate than many other cookware materials, requiring a lighter touch (no harsh scrubbing!) and a polishing from time to time to restore its original shine.
Stainless steel is ideal for a successful sear or sauté, but can get easily dinged and spotted with signs of meals past. Many of the tricks to keep them looking new have to do with what goes in them, and when.
Most of us know that cast iron isn’t to be cleaned with soap and water, but did you know that you actually can give it a more conventional deep clean once in a while? For real!
How do you keep your nonstick cookware in tip-top shape? Tell us in the comments below!
This article was updated in November 2020 with even more nonstick care tips.
From Our Shop
Five Two Essential Skillets $89–$139
Food52 x GreenPan Nonstick Cookware Collection $59–$299 $59–$299
ZWILLING Madura Plus Nonstick Pan $50–$149 $50–$119
If you’re lucky enough to have inherited a set of silver flatware or invested in some ornate candlesticks, you know that its shine can begin to dull and tarnish in as little as a few months. This is actually because household silver (used for jewelry, platters, tea sets, etc.) is a composite of pure silver, which is very soft, and other, stronger metals like copper to create a long-lasting final product.
Tarnish on sterling silver can appear in the form of a yellow-gray or almost black film on the surface of an item, but unlike rust which eats away at metal, tarnish is easily dealt with. Sterling silver, like many other metals, just requires a bit of upkeep to maintain a mirror-like shine.
Lucky us, when we put out the call, you answered. Based on suggestions from our community, we tried six different methods—some store-bought, some DIY—all on one lucky spoon. Read through our findings below to find out which methods didn’t exactly stack up, and which was the clear winner.
Least Effective: Toothpaste
Two readers, QueenSashy and Klrcon, suggested using toothpaste to clean silver—but Boulangere said that it's "abrasive and will scratch the silver, especially if it's not silver plate." Well, it didn’t do all that much.
Definitely the least abrasive cleaner out of this lot, a whitening toothpaste only lightened the tarnish rather than removing it altogether—which, depending on your needs, might be enough.
Smell is great and it's not a very annoying thing to get on your fingers because it just rinses off.
Cost is minimal (and/or you probably already have it on hand).
Most Aggressive: Hubcap Cleaner
The man who sold me a set of silver-plate utensils (not mad at him, because technically I didn't ask) recommended hubcap cleaner as the best way to get them squeaky clean.
Far and away the most aggressive of the cleaners we tested, hubcap cleaner left the most silvery, shiny section—but stripped away all the good tarnish and even left a strange splotch.
Dug up on a back shelf at Home Depot, this wasn't the easiest bottle to source in New York.
Something about rubbing hubcap cleaner on a utensil you wish to eat off of later just feels...wrong.
Great in a Pinch: Lemon Juice & Baking Soda
"Oxidation on silver can be cleaned off with lemon juice and baking soda," Rebecca Harvey shared. Easy enough to just reach in the fridge and pantry for these supplies, we set to work.
Relatively abrasive, especially for an all-natural cleaner, this combination removed almost all of the tarnish (even some of the good kind) and left a slightly dulled sheen.
Made by mixing up two common pantry items, this one is something you'll always have on hand—and very easy to come by if you don't.
The fizzing effect was great fun.
User Claire Smith recommended jewelry cleaner, and others got specific: "I think Wright's silver polish is the best," said Molly Fuller (who was seconded by Boulangere). Chocolate Be raised the bar with her recommendation: "Each and every time you polish silver with anything but Tiffany silver polish (which is very expensive and I don't know if it is still even available) you will be taking some silver off your piece."
Both highly effective and gentle, this silver cleaner removed the brown tinge of tarnish without getting rid of any of the good stuff.
Obtaining it was easy in New York City, where you can just swing by the Tiffany's store even if you're wearing sneakers, but wouldn't be as simple to come by in other markets.
Spray feature made it easy to coat a piece quickly, and would have been really nice if you were cleaning a lot at once.
At $20 a bottle, it was the cheapest item in the Tiffany's store, but pricey comparatively. Wright's Silver Cream.
With a strength comparable to the Tiffany's cleaner, Wright's was very effective right from the bottle—though it did require a little more time to get a high shine.
Sponge applicator doesn't make total sense when you're cleaning forks rather than earrings, but did the great work of keeping it mostly off your hands.
One of the lower-priced off-the-shelf cleaners, Wright's is easy to obtain at any drug store or pharmacy and consistently low in cost.
Best Overall: Aluminum Foil, Baking Soda & Hot Water
Klrcon insisted that "for silverware the easiest method is the aluminum foil and baking soda trick," which is something we heard from a number of users. "You just dump it in the sink and let it soak and it does a darn good job of getting even heavily oxidized tarnish off if you leave it long enough... Then you just give it a good rinse."
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Others suggested variations on this solution, ranging from Pegeen's tip "to fill an aluminum pan (or one lined with aluminum foil) with hot water, add salt and baking soda, and stir to dissolve. When you add the silver pieces, a chemical reaction occurs, removing tarnish." to our creative director Alexis' version, which called for just baking soda, stirred into hot water in a pan lined with aluminum foil.
A short soak in this solution loosened the dark tarnish so that it rubbed right off, but left just the right amount of lighter coloring that we love.
Being mostly water based, it was the least gunky solution to deal with.
As the baking soda and foil reacted with the silver, the whole bath gave off a slightly strange, dirty scent.
Though it required a bit of set-up—lining a dish with foil, then dumping in baking soda and hot water—we could see how this would be the easiest way to polish a mess of silverware by far.
While true silver polishes, such as both Tiffany's and Wright's, cleaned the spoon very much to our liking (meaning thoroughly but without excessive abrasion), nothing compared in ease, effectiveness, and lack of mess than the combination of baking soda, hot water, and aluminum foil. It's all-natural, effective because of a chemical reaction (which we geekily love), and seemed impossible to mess up. We also loved how simple it would be for cleaning a whole pile of silver.
If you happen to live near a Tiffany's and don't mind forking over for a bottle, or have a tub of Wright's on hand for cleaning earrings, they wouldn't be bad in a pinch. Our tube of toothpaste didn't seem very effective, but the real concern would be that every tube is different so the potency would be hard to moniter. Both lemon juice + baking soda and hubcap cleaner were so powerful we'd be scared to try them on good silver—and the latter was just a little gross to consider for untensils.
Here's How to Do It:
Line a casserole dish or shallow vessel with aluminum foil (or obtain an aluminum dish).
Sprinkle in a generous amount of baking soda.
Add the silver pieces, being sure that each piece touches the foil.
Pour hot water on top, wait until it cools, and then remove each piece and rub clean with a rag.
First photo by Bobbi Lin; all others by Alpha Smoot.
This article has been updated in December 2020 to provide even more (!) silver-cleaning tips.
My favorite childhood holiday memories are filled with large gatherings, laughter, and many, many overlapping voices. This holiday season, to fill that void, I've decided to be even more deliberate about how I celebrate, decorate, and preserve traditions.
Holiday traditions in my family have always centered around my Gullah heritage. Preserving our Gullah Geechee culture—rich in West African influences on everything from cuisine, farming, and fishing traditions to beliefs and practices—has always been a key component of our heritage, with customs passed down through generations of family.
As a Lowcountry native, for me one of those values is a strong connection with land and nature. When I was growing up, my grandfather had a hog farm, and today, my father grows vegetables on the same family land, which has supported our family in so many ways, providing nourishment and enjoyment. This connection with the land, along with the temperate winters we enjoy in South Carolina, meant outdoor celebrations were the norm. They were also often necessary due to the size of my large family. I couldn’t imagine things any other way.
Today, the Gullah Geechee people largely live in Georgia and South Carolina, the Sea Islands of the American South, but our presence here dates back to the 18th century, when the land across these states was transformed into rice fields by our ancestors, who came from the Rice Coast in Africa. These farmers brought over their cultivation and irrigation experience, making rice farming a viable, valuable industry in America. After emancipation, these African farmers, and especially the women, were able to continue to grow and cultivate the rice for their families.
Photo by Chantilly Lace Photography
Today, the Gullah diet is still based heavily on rice, and no holiday meal is ever complete without it. In most parts of the South, collard greens and cornbread is a staple of a holiday meal, but in the Lowcountry, I grew up eating collard greens with rice. The best holidays were always when Dad grew his own collard greens on our family land and reserved the best batch for us, following the first frost.
With rice as a key ingredient, holiday dishes that regularly make an appearance are oyster perloo, red rice with sausage, and sautéed shrimp and rice. Other dishes showcase foods from the coastal area, including fresh fish and shellfish, game, and grits. Black longshoremen have a long history, from well before the Civil War, when Black men were allowed to take jobs on the docks and wharves. My own family has a history of being longshoremen and working on the water, and fishing and crabbing are still how many of our people feed and support their families—and create memories over the water.
Growing up, I watched my family cook Lowcountry favorites, with all the smells, sights, and sounds that made the holidays so special. There is nothing quite like sweet potato bread pudding at Thanksgiving. Or hummingbird cake and homemade biscuits for Christmas. I have so many memories of meals being prepared in my grandmother's and great-aunt's kitchens, where I would try to sneak a peek into the kitchen, even though the golden rule was to stay out of the room while the women were cooking. And making trips to my Aunt Shug’s home in Berkeley County, South Carolina, and getting her special okra soup and sweet potato pie that she always had available for her favorite great-nieces and nephews to devour.
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With kids of my own now, I’ve taken on the role, previously assumed by my elders, of passing on some of these traditions, like showcasing our cultural experiences as a part of my holiday decorations. I love adding elements of sweetgrass baskets, for instance—an ancient craft with direct roots in traditional basketmaking in Africa—to my home decor, whether that means displaying heirloom pieces or finding representations in stationery or art collections, even in the Christmas wreaths I have this year.
Handmade crafts and art have always been an important aspect of Gullah culture. They don’t just perform the role of preserving Gullah history; they’re also an accessible place for those outside the community to engage with the culture. I choose to collect Gullah art, books, and stationery as a way to preserve my heritage and to have heirlooms to pass on to my kids as they make their own traditions into adulthood.
I love bringing the color indigo into my holiday decor, mixing it with different patterns: orange or pink for Thanksgiving or plaids for Christmas. Indigo was a significant cash crop on the Sea Islands and remains a staple for decor in the region, all of which traces its roots to the Gullah community. Indigo is also important to me personally because my father, just like many other Gullah men and women, joined the Navy. Military service has a rich legacy in the Gullah community, starting all the way from Congressman Robert Smalls until today, with Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs being a staple at South Carolina State University. I have fond memories of watching my father and his fellow cousins who joined the Navy connecting over leaving the Lowcountry, but always coming back home for the holidays, their families, and the food.
Photo by Chantilly Lace Photography
The holidays may look very different this year, but that doesn't mean we can't “gather” with friends and family. When I was growing up, the backdrop was always our family property, with food grown on our farms, and most importantly with our elders and the next generations present to find ways to keep the traditions alive. This year, technology will play the medium, but we will still find ways to keep traditions alive. At my own home, we will be rewatching the holiday special of Gullah Gullah Island, my favorite childhood show. And like every year before it, there will be good food, even if it means just dropping it off on the porches of family or begging some of my aunts to share their secret chicken bog or crab and grits recipes to make together—even as we stay apart.
What is a family holiday tradition you hold dear? Tell us in the comments below.
12 Ideas to Stretch Out Holiday Season. Because We Need It.
This Year’s Biggest Christmas Decor Trend Is Hiding in the Produce Section
In a year that’s been marred by its share of gloom, one of the things I found myself looking forward to (even more than usual) were the Color of the Year announcements from the design world. That’s not to say that I rush to stock up on every paint select each year—in fact, sometimes they can be a bit baffling (we all remember Pantone’s Ultra Violet from 2018, right?). But there’s much to love about them: the fresh perspective they bring, the anticipatory excitement they drum up for the new year, and the reboot they herald.
The need to make our lives at home as rich as possible is more evident than ever, and the 2021 Colors of the Year do their bit for our relaxing, happy, energizing, cluttered, chaotic, calming, well-loved spaces. Based off of these shades alone, I predict a brighter and happier 2021. Let’s dive in, shall we? Read More > >
When I studied abroad in London some years ago, I made it my mission to seek out the very best Christmas market—and trust me, there were a lot to choose from. I found that Londoners really treasure the quintessentially warm-and-fuzzy holiday, something I knew I could get behind as a student far away from home. Even before I could celebrate a Thanksgiving abroad (with fellow American roommates, of course) I had already checked off five Christmas markets.
I started with the largest, the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland—truly an extravaganza in itself, it consists of several different markets, restaurants, rides, and ice shows. Without a doubt, the most magical part was the live music that rang throughout the park amid thrilling screams from carnival riders. Winter at Southbank Centre (my favorite!) introduced me to a more classic market with wooden chalets, a thick wintery forest of evergreens, and a German-style beer lodge. Across the way, Christmas by the River overlooked the stunning Tower Bridge and had something that I learned was a staple at every market—decadent food and warm (mostly boozy) drinks.
Since many markets are on hiatus this year, visiting timeless favorites may not be an option. If you, too, find yourself yearning for mulled wine and a night under a twinkle-lit sky (no, not a Hallmark movie, but real-life Britain), try transforming your home into your favorite part of the holiday market with these at-home tips.
12 Ideas to Stretch Out Holiday Season. Because We Need It.
This Year’s Biggest Christmas Decor Trend Is Hiding in the Produce Section
1. Whip Up Some Classic Beverages
Since Christmas markets originate from Germany, brisk outdoor biergartens often serve up seasonal beer and spicy mulled drinks. For the grape version of this spiced drink, grab a bottle of Cabernet and concoct a mulled wine for yourself—or Glühwein as it’s called at German markets. I’ve made it several times already this year, and this one in particular transports me back to those shimmery chalet stands. I had this drink at every market I visited, so brewing up a homemade version can trick you into being back. For those who want to indulge their sweet tooth, try another market hallmark—hot chocolate. This one gets an extra seasonal kick with the addition of cardamom.
2. Curate a Holiday Playlist
If Hyde Park Winter Wonderland had its very own karaoke bar, so can you. And while your home market excludes the exciting chatter of crowds, you can still incorporate the sweet sounds of a Christmas market. Whether you start slow with Michael Bublé or go full-throttle with a Mariah Carey Christmas, curate your own playlist to turn up the yuletide spirit. Have your lyrics ready to join in cheery singing—but you may want to warn your neighbors first…
3. Turn Your Bar Cart Into a Chalet
Chalets (the wooden stands that house the individual shops) are what make Christmas markets so whimsical, and while crafting a traditionally German chalet may not be accessible, you can use what you have around the house. Turn your bar cart into one of those charming stands, by draping it in twinkle lights, candles, and a mini tree. Since chalets house food, drink, and holiday knick knacks, you can keep your ciders and beers on it, turn it into an ornament craft station to DIY those you'd normally buy on site, or pile it high with themed treats.
From Our Shop
Mulling Spices $24
Holiday Cookie Cutters, Set of 4 $50
4. Upgrade Your Christmas Tree and Lights
Along with most markets, Winter at the Southbank Centre has dozens and dozens of Christmas trees lining a pathway to a biergarten, so a lone tree just won't cut it for your stay-at-home market. In addition to adorning your living room’s main Christmas tree with twinkle lights and ornaments, sprinkle table-top trees and miniature fake firs around your home. Even more festive? A tree that is a light itself.
5. Bake Festive Market Treats
Looking for a holiday refresh? Shake up your classic cookie routine and add Christmas market staples to your menu, from doughy pretzels to roasted nuts and Dutch pancakes. While some treats may be tricky to make at home, mince pie is a traditional British dessert you’ve got to try, since I never failed to find these spiced mini pastries at every market I visited.
6. Capture the Scents of the Season
Even though you can’t replicate the smell of All. The. Food. wafting from dozens of chalets, you can still get your living room smelling festive and bright. Scatter your favorite holiday candles about your living room to give the room a warm glow and complete the Christmas market transformation.
Wait, Poinsettias Aren’t Just for Christmas?
Yes, Virtual Holiday Gatherings *Can* Be Fun. Here’s How.
Where is your favorite holiday market, and how are you bringing it inside this year? Tell us below!
I have big-time Nancy Meyers aspirations for my home. There’s just something about all the interiors featured in her films (think: Something’s Gotta Give, The Intern, Father of the Bride, et al)—they feel collected and lived-in and cozy, while still boasting a thoughtful, design-forward aesthetic. Architectural Digest even wrote an article on the psychology behind the Nancy Meyers dream home, so clearly I’m not the only one here.
But I digress—I got on this topic for a reason, and that reason is kitchen lamps. According to my research (consisting of many purely indulgent, non-scientific viewings of The Holiday and It’s Complicated) rule #247 when it comes to achieving that Nancy Meyers vibe comes in the form of ambient lighting—and lots of it. There’s nothing like a soft, slightly-yellowed glow to make your home—and any room in it—feel totally welcoming and warm. And in no place is it more difficult to achieve that vibe than in your kitchen, where harsh top lighting or single pendants over the island reign supreme.
The good news? There’s a very charming, very bite-sized solution to your ambiance problem, and it can be spotted in many recent projects from some of my favorite designers: petite table lamps. As it turns out, they’re just the Meyers-touch our kitchens need. In a room that typically only ever boasts overhead lighting, small-scale countertop lamps can be a great way to play around with scale and add charm. Not to mention, they’re an ideal way to upgrade the style of your space without spending a ton of money like you would have to with overhead fixtures.
Here then are a few lamps I’m considering snatching up for my own space—I’d like to think Nancy would approve.
1. Petoskey Table Lamp, $50
This first pick from Wayfair gets a lot of things right. I love how the unique ceramic base boasts handmade texture and touches, and the almost-grey, almost-green glaze would look great in practically any kitchen. And, clocking in at just 15 inches tall (including the shade), it’s versatile enough to be stashed on an open shelf or styled atop cookbooks.
Photo by Wayfair
2. Mushroom Lamp, $77
Etsy is always a treasure trove for on-the-brink design trends and accessories, and I pretty much cannot handle the cuteness of this little guy. I love its round base, its pleated shade (another up-and-coming trend, might I add), its neutral color palette and its miniature size (just around 11 inches, counting the oversized shade). Needless to say, this may be finding a home in my kitchen very soon.
Photo by Etsy
3. MIMA Lamp, $175
If your style tends to lean more modern, you’ll probably love this next pick. Clocking in at just four inches tall, the exposed bulb feels a little bit industrial, but the ceramic base warms up the shape just enough to make the piece extremely flexible style-wise. Plus, with its slew of sophisticated shades (that rust, sigh!), it’s a subtle pop of color for your space, too.
Photo by Food52
4. Uma Fluted Glass Lamp, $68
This gorgeous, glowy pick from Anthropologie (sitting at a perfectly petite 10 inches) is the ideal way to warm up a kitchen. Plus, thanks to the unique combination of amber glass and a gold finished base, it almost looks like a vintage find, so be prepared to field a ton of “Where did you find that” questions from guests.
Photo by Anthropologie
5. Mini Metal Cordless Lamp, $250
Made by Modern Lantern, this next style is a bit pricier, but well-worth the splurge if you want to get in on the kitchen lamp trend but your space doesn’t boast any available outlets. This tiny gilded pick (which is under 10 inches tall) comes with a rechargeable battery, granting you the flexibility to style it everywhere from the interior of a built-in to the top of your island with ease.
Photo by Modern Lantern
Overhead lighting, pendants, table lamps—or all three? Tell us in the comments.
From Our Shop
Danish Column Table Lamp $180
Modern Table Lamp $250–$400
You (Yes, You!) Can Reupholster a Chair at Home
Follow the Pattern is a brand new column from furniture maker and upholstery expert (and Home52's Resident Design Wiz), Nicole Crowder. Nicole is here to show us how to breathe new life into old furniture, reuse and repurpose materials, take chances with color and pattern—and develop a signature aesthetic. Today, she guides us through stripping a chair down to its bones and reupholstering it, right in your living room.
Have an heirloom chair that’s been sitting in your garage for years, and that you’ve been itching to reupholster? Find a mid-century armchair while vintage-shopping and want to swap out the fabric to suit your décor—but unsure where to start? With falling temperatures and shorter days forcing us (further) indoors, this could well be the perfect time to take on that upholstery project you’ve been shying away from.
I’ve been a furniture upholsterer for nearly eight years—with a signature style of mixing vibrant prints and contrasting colors—and during that time, I’ve had the pleasure of repurposing everything from accent chairs to benches, ottomans, even nine-foot sofas, many of which I’ve tackled in my 700-square-foot apartment. My motto with upholstery has always been: if the bones of the piece are in good shape, everything else is cosmetic, and therefore, can be changed.
One of the joys of my work is being able to demystify it for those who are new to upholstery—and it’s one of the many reasons I began teaching upholstery workshops. So, whether you are a seasoned DIYer or have never touched a staple gun, I want to offer both the guidance and the confidence to help you navigate your project smoothly. Remember: Almost everything you’ll need, you’ll likely have at home, or can purchase at your local hardware store.
One of my favorite chairs in general—but to reupholster specifically—is the classic Hans Wegner Shell Chair, designed in 1963. While the original is beautiful, I’ve worked on a lot of (more affordable) look-alikes, and have found it to be a wonderfully accessible style if you are new to upholstering, and want a smaller project to get your feet wet. The chair has what I like to call a “pop cushion seat,” meaning when you take the screws off, the cushion pops right off the frame and can be reupholstered independently. Genius!
My advice? Go one step further and mix up your textiles on the seat bottom and back to add contrast. Or reupholster the chair in a bright fabric and add a single welt cord around the trim in a different color. However you decide to style it, remember to have fun.
Photo by Nicole Crowder
Staples that are compatible with your staple gun
Screwdriver or Allen wrench (depending on the screws you need to to remove and replace)
Fabric(s) of your choice
Disassembled parts of the chair Photo by Nicole Crowder
Stapling fabric to the back of the seat Photo by Nicole Crowder
Using a screwdriver, remove the screws from your seat and back cushion. Put the screws aside for safekeeping, and lay out all the parts of your disassembled chair, as well as all of your tools.
Taking your seat bottom cushion, begin to strip the fabric off. You can take up the staples using your staple remover and then pluck them out using your pliers. When stripping the fabric, be careful to preserve the foam padding underneath. Repeat this step for your back cushion.
If the foam is worn down, crumbled or not salvageable, you’ll want to replace it by using a fresh piece of foam. Standard foam for a dining chair seat is 1”-1.5” thick, depending on how high you want to sit. When cutting new foam, use your cushion form to trace the shape and outline.
Roll out your chosen fabric on a clean surface, giving yourself enough space so that it lays completely flat. You can use the fabric that you removed as a pattern for cutting, or, you can measure for the new fabric that you will need. With your measuring tape, measure the length and the width of your seat cushion, making sure to measure across the widest and the highest points. I like to add an extra two inches so I have enough fabric to wrap around all sides of the seat.
Note: If you are working with a repeating print and want it to line up a certain way, be sure to measure so you have enough fabric to center your design the way you want.
Nicole with one finished seat. Photo by Nicole Crowder
The underside of a newly upholstered seat. Photo by Nicole Crowder
Lay your newly cut fabric on top of your seat cushion to make sure that it fully wraps around your seat. Flip the seat over and, while holding the fabric taut, place a staple through the fabric in the center, top, and bottom along the rim of the chair frame. (I typically staple about 1-1.5” away from the rim, because over time as you sit down, you are pulling fabric inward.)
Flip your chair seat over just to make sure your fabric is centered the way you want, and then back over to begin stapling your edges all the way around. You might have to create tiny pleats under the bottom of the chair if the seat has rounded edges. Pull your fabric so it is taut but not too tight.
Note: For more angular or squared corners, you’ll want to fold the corners the way you would the corners of a wrapped present or hospital corner: fold one flap down, and fold the other corner down over it and add a staple to hold in place.
Once your seat has been reupholstered (yay!), trim off any excess fabric just above the line where you stapled. At this time, you can add a dust cover, which is typically a thin black material that prevents dust from collecting, to the bottom of the seat as well to create a cleaner finish. I like to add a fabric with a little pop of color, almost like a Louboutin shoe. Repeat these steps for the back cushion of your chair.
Flip your seat over and using the screws that came with your box, screw the seat back on and reassemble the chair.
Take photos and pop a squat!
The finished chair! Photo by Nicole Crowder
Have you tried your hand at reupholstering before? Tell us how it went in the comments!
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