A Thrift Store Bentwood Rocker Gets a Retro Modern Update

Bentwood rocker from It Comes Full Circle

Do you remember bentwood rockers? We had one in our house when I was growing up and I loved rocking in it! They originated in the mid-1800’s when Thonet began creating them in rural Austria and they made quite a resurgence in the 1970’s, when a lot of reproduction bentwood rockers were made and sold.

Now, they are making another sort of resurgence. A lot of the reproduction bentwoods from the 70’s are making the rounds of thrift stores and Craigslist and getting themselves  “made over” with fun colors and fabrics.

Here’s my version!

I have been eyeing these chairs for a while now and saw a few makeovers that I really loved via Pinterest. This one was one of the first ones I noticed and loved.


It is by MZA Designs on Etsy – what a great green color and chevron fabric!

I had been hoping to find one to redo myself, and a few months ago I struck gold on a quick Goodwill shopping adventure. I spotted this chair and when I checked the price, I couldn’t resist!

chair before 1

It was only $14.91 so you better believe it came home with me. My family wasn’t quite sure what to make of my purchase, since the wood was in pretty rough shape and the upholstery was sort of a tan velour that had certainly seen better days. It looked like someone had tried to re-stain the wood and never finished because there was masking tape around parts of the upholstery that had partially deteriorated and left a sticky mess everywhere.

This was my first furniture makeover and I wasn’t really sure how things would turn out, so unfortunately I didn’t document the process with photos very well, but I will share how I redid my chair.

First, I took the sides of the chair apart from the seat and back by removing a few bolts and screws and making sure to put them in a safe place so I wouldn’t lose them. Then, I took the seat and back apart from the little oval middle connector piece so that I could remove their upholstery.

Taking the upholstery off of the seat and back were by far the hardest part of this project. I pried out staples for what seemed like forever and there was a ton of upholstery glue holding that dirty old velour fabric in place. I found that nail polish remover (the 100% acetone kind) worked really well to dissolve the glue so I could scrape all that old fabric away. Under the fabric was a very deteriorated foam pad and then a thin piece of wood to which everything was stapled.

I finally got all the old junk off and was left with the seat and back frames and the two wood pieces that I would eventually put new upholstery on.

I read a few tutorials and it seemed like spray painting the wood was the way to go. I was so wrong! Spray painting was so discouraging for me. I sanded all the wood down really well first using an orbital palm sander and a small multi-tool with a sanding attachment for the smaller crevices.

After sanding, I started painting with a spray primer, which seemed to work pretty well. When that was dry, I tried (Tried is the key word here!) spraying with a glossy white spray paint.

No matter how many coats I tried and how lightly I tried to coat, I just could not get the look I wanted with spray paint. I know there are some spray paint experts out there, and I certainly admire them, but I discovered through this project that I am a definitely a paintbrush kind of lady!

Once I gave up on the spray paint idea and decided to try a brush, I was so much happier with the process. I had to use a sanding sponge to hand sand the finish down a bit as my terrible spray painting job had left it bumpy and rough.

Once I got it all smoothed down again, I used regular interior paint – Valspar Ultra in “Du Jour” and a small ¾ inch artist brush to paint everything a nice satin white. There was a lot of surface area to cover so it took a few hours and a few coats to get everything looking good, but the difference in how it looked compared to the spray painted finish was amazing in a good way!

white paint

After the white paint dried, I painted two coats of a crystal clear gloss water-based polyurethane over the entire chair to give it a nice shine and add protection to the finish.

To redo the pads, I found this great vintage fabric on Etsy from The Selvedge Shop.


I paid more for the fabric than I did for the chair but it was totally worth it! I just love the bright colors and the fun, happy pattern. I also love the fact that this fabric was probably made around the same time as the chair.

The upholstery part was surprisingly pretty easy. I purchased some 2-inch thick upholstery foam from the craft store and traced the wood bases for the seat and back. Then I cut out the pieces of foam for each part an cut out a piece of fabric with the same shape but with about 4-5 extra inches around the edges so I’d have plenty of fabric to pull and staple to the back of the wood. When I cut the fabric, I made sure the pattern was facing in the direction I wanted it to go.  I also used a 1-inch thick batting to go between the foam and the fabric.

To put it together, I ironed my fabric piece and laid that down first, then the batting, then the foam, then the wood piece. I used a staple gun and started pulling the fabric really tight around the back of the wood and stapling everything down. This was a bit labor-intensive but really not difficult, I just had to make sure that I got everything together really tight.

This chair is going to be used for rocking our sweet baby that’s on the way, so to protect them from stains, I gave the fabric pads a good coat of Scotch Guard before putting them back in their frames.

Here’s what they looked like before I put them back in their frames.

chair pads finished

I got some help from my husband with putting the seat pad back into its frame because I had damaged the wood a bit when I took some of the old staples out, and it was not laying flat. He cut a wood piece to go from the front to the back of the seat frame so that the bottom of the seat would have something to attach to, hopefully keeping it flat. He added some screws and we glued it all together with Gorilla glue and some heavy boxes on top of it overnight and it worked great!

You can see the wood piece he fitted into the frame on the right, here.

seat frame

Putting the back cushion back in its frame was much easier – I just used tacky glue around the edges and the same process of putting some heavy boxes on top to hold everything together while the glue dried.

To cover the back of the chair, I used a piece of foam posterboard, traced the seat back opening, and covered the foam board with the fabric using an adhesive spray. This fit tightly into the back opening and did the job of covering up the back of the seat and the staples and fabric edges. I used Tacky Glue to attach it well to the back of the seat pad after the pad was already glued in to the frame.

After all the upholstery was back together, all that was left was to put the chair back together with the bolts and screws I had removed and Voila! We have a “new” old rocking chair!

Here are a few more photos of the chair in its new natural habitat.




chair after

I just love it!

Have you ever tackled a project like this? What was your first furniture redo?

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