Updating an 80s Swivel Rocker

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We are all familiar with the 1980s era swivel rocker. Famously outfitted in pink velvet, they must have been at the height of popularity a few decades ago, because there are a lot of these chairs up for sale on Kijiji currently. Oh, they come in other colours; I’ve seen orange, silver and blue, but pink seems the most ubiquitous. If pink velvet isn’t your cup of tea, would you consider this a “take it to the curb” lost cause? My challenge with this project was to make this chair (of sentimental value) fit into a modern living space.

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Originally, this chair had a skirt, as most swivel rockers do. My first instinct when updating a skirted piece is to remove the skirt to see how it looks. My client is a young professional with sleek mid-century taste. The chair is traditional, so we must blend the two styles. Obviously, the skirt is there to hide the rocker mechanism, so removal makes the rocker visible. More on that later.

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When re-styling, the fabric and foam must be stripped away to better see the shape of the frame. This is the process I go through with any piece that I want to re-style. Getting a good look at the frame gives me plenty of inspiration. Along with the requests of the client – to update and modernize – the fabric is the main guide when choosing which details to highlight. Here, the fabric is a pretty, grey, damask pattern. Very feminine, yet not overpoweringly so.

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The arms were elongated to highlight the ski-slope shape. I think this looks very elegant, and suits the fabric.

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The back has become much more narrow, and the details much more refined. Very chic.

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The buttons add some pretty detailing, and serve the purpose of maintaining the rounded, concave back. They are simple, and allow the eye a place to rest, while not distracting from the lovely curves.

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As for the swivel base, well, this had me going back and forth with ideas. There are many options when updating a chair such as this. For example, the swivel base can be replaced with a different more “showy” version. It can also be replaced with beautiful turned legs. The base is held in place with four screws, so it’s easily removed if need be. However, my client has a special attachment to this chair, so to change it completely would defeat the purpose of having saved it.

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In the end, the simplest solution is usually the best solution. I painted the rocker mechanism in a stainless steel finish to cover the original brown.

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The end result makes me happy, without the skirt. It definitely could have a skirt…but to me, it’s unnecessary. I think this is a youthful look; a perfect balance of traditional and modern.

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On the backside, the arms were moved to meet up with the inside piping. This looks much more sophisticated than the original.

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Many of the fussy details were removed, including the border on the seat edge.

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The cushion was changed to a boxed-style, and form fitted to the exact shape of the chair.

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For me, a grand success! What do you think of the changes? Will you reconsider those curb-side swivels now?

8 thoughts

  1. I love this! So interesting to see how you got from A to B. It fits beautifully with our living room and I can’t get over how it still “feels” like my rocker – yet you’ve saved it from it’s damningly pink 1980s appearance.

  2. Hi, I am a new reader to your blog and I love it. I started reading it a while back after catching the idea of upholstering an old simple chair of mine. At the moment I’m just reading up to learn as much as possible before I start as I want it to be a success :) ..what is the absolute most basic tools one needs to redo any furniture (i.e variety of needles etc)?

    All your projects are so beautiful and tastefully done. Very inspirational! :)

    1. Thank you so much! I’m happy to hear from you, and to know I have at least one interested reader!

      The most important tools are an air stapler and a compressor. If you use an electric stapler or a hand stapler your hand will get tired very quickly. If you plan to get into it as a hobby, these are good tools to invest in, if you just want to do one chair, these tools can be rented.

      My most used tools include a staple remover and pliers, a 3″ curved needle and a 6″ curved needle, button twine, and a sewing machine.

      I hope this helps!

      Aimee

      1. Thank you, this was a great help :)

        My friend and I both read your blog so you have at least two very interested followers! :)

  3. chair is really beautiful, you are very talented. i have done a few pieces myself and was wondering about those swivel rockers and how hard it would be to change out to wood turned legs but have been scared to attempt that. so you have any other tutorials that include that

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