Years ago I saw an artsy painted couch in the dressing room of a retail store. From a distance, I could tell it was painted and was immediately curious about both the process and the finished result. When I touched the couch, it was hard as a rock. When I sat on it, it was stiff and made a crinkly sound—as if I were sitting on plastic. As cute as it was, I realized that it wasn’t something I’d want in my own home, and from a comfort standpoint, the couch was ruined.
That little experience has lived in the back of my mind ever since, and every time I come across an upholstery painting tutorial online, I cringe a little and feel like the article is trying to “catfish” me.
So you might be wondering what changed my mind.
I was 100% sure that these tutorials suggesting to paint uphostery with wall paint were bogus. I mean, it would probably end up looking good, but would it be functional? That’s kinda important, right? After I read a few more extensive tutorials (this being the best one) about combining fabric medium with latex paint, I decided it was worth a try!
Before we begin, it’s important to note that the couch I chose to paint was damaged. Jeremy acquired it when we had our vintage store and he worked in the space above. It had some major staining that we tried all our tricks to remove unsuccessfully. When he was preparing to move to his new studio, he was planning to donate this, and I told him I wanted to try painting upholstery, so we kept it just for this project.
This is not a tutorial that I would recommend for a brand new couch. Reupholstering would obviously be the first choice for a lot of furniture, but since this is a small bench (i.e., not large enough to be a functional living room couch) with damaged caning (another super expensive thing to fix professionally), and it lives in the sunroom of his studio (not super high traffic), we had nothing to lose. So, we went for it!
2. Supplies needed: flat latex paint (I bought one quart and had some leftover), fabric/textile medium and paint brushes (you can see here that I started out with a foam brush, but I quickly switched—see below).
3. Mix fabric medium and latex paint. You’ll need 1 part fabric medium and 2 parts paint. Don’t freak out if it looks crazy at first (see above); it takes a bit to mix in!
4. When the paint and medium are completely combined, you are ready to paint.
5. If you have a fear of painting the fabric, go ahead and mess it up real good like I did. Commit yourself! 😉
6. You can see here that with thin coats of paint the fabric’s texture is completely maintained.
7-8. You’re probably curious about how long this process took me: Only about 3 1/2 hours, with a break for drying in between (for a couple hours with a fan facing the couch). I completed this, start to finish, in just one afternoon. First, go over the entire couch quickly. If you have a lot of tufts, like I did, save them for last. Then go over the piece once more, checking for missed spots. Then let your first coat dry for several hours. Mine dried enough for coat two in about 2-3 hours. Thin coats dry faster. It’s also important for the coats to be fairly thin because that will ultimately make your coach more comfortable and less stiff.
9. Halfway through the first coat, I switched to this 1 1/2″ paint brush instead of the foam brushes. The foam brushes were okay, but this was much better for getting into the creases and tufting.
10. After the second coat it’s time to do the edging. I used a double-folded piece of paper (cardstock or very thin cardboard would be perfect!) because I will basically do anything to avoid taping things off if I can. This worked great! I only had one or two mess-ups on the wood, and I immediately wiped them off with a wet paper towel. This was the most tedious part of the project, but it only took about 30-45 minutes.
After checking the piece over for missed spots, I let it dry overnight. (Insert nerves here!)
It feels like a couch painted with matte fabric paint (not the sticky stuff). It is not stiff, crinkly, or cracking, but it no longer has the same texture as fabric. It’s like it has a rubbery film over the top. For that reason I wouldn’t do this for a main couch that you sit on every day to watch television. However, for a cute side chair or a decorative bench like this, it’s totally fine! It’s not that it’s uncomfortable to sit on; I just wouldn’t lie on it to take a nap, if you know what I mean.
My conclusion: It’s not a miracle, and I wouldn’t do it on EVERY piece of furniture, but it’s also awesome, and I will most definitely be doing it again for my own home!
Save some of the extra paint mixture in a Tupperware for touch-ups!
Credits // Author and Photography: Elsie Larson. Photos edited with Stella from The Signature Collection.