DIY Chinese Chair Makeover with Leopard Print Suede & Paperclay

For a recent Throwback Thursday post, I shared a story about the time the wrong chairs were shipped to us from Thailand. Why would we go furniture shopping in Thailand and risk such things? Because we love style from Asia: Thai, Burmese, Chinese, Japanese. They have it all there in a village called Baan Tawai. A woman working in a very upscale mall in Bangkok actually told us about Baan Tawai. We must have looked shocked at the prices of antiques in her store, because she told us: “Go to Baan Tawai. Looks like this but new. Cheap-cheap-cheap.” So to Baan Tawai we went. (And from now on forevermore, whenever we talk about something cheap, we have to say three times, “cheap-cheap-cheap.)

These are crates of furniture from Thailand that arrived in our garage eight years ago:

When we opened them, we were thrilled with nearly everything, except two Chinese style chairs we expected weren’t there. The chairs we received had interesting features:

  • Grapevine carvings on the backrest
  • Thick sticky yellowed plastic cushions

If you sat on the cushions with bare legs on a hot day, the plastic made you sweat and the cushions would stick to you when you stood up. Nice!

You might ask, why not ship them back? Each chair was fifty bucks. Not worth the cost to ship them around the planet again. And because I could do a makeover, we didn’t want to quarrel about a refund. It was our mistake to not give the shipping consolidator a better description of our purchase. Lesson learned! Mark your purchases and give pictures to the shipper.

STEP 1:  Spray paint the chairs black

Pretty self explanatory! Good thing, because there are no photos of the spray painting. Which also means there are no “before” pics. This was so long ago, it was before this blog and the obsessive photographing of everything that happens when you blog.

STEP 2: Recover the cushions

Remove the sticky plastic from the cushions and recover them with leopard patterned suede. Yeah!!! While you might not think of “leopard” and “Chinese chair” in the same sentence any more than you’d think “grapevine” and “Chinese chair,” I’m likin’ the leopard. So does Chaai the Crafty Cat and because he supervises every DIY here, he has lots of experience to know these things.

Leopard Print Suede Cushion on a Chinese Chair

STEP 3: First attempt to hide grapevines

Recovering the cushions was a big improvement. But the grapevine carvings still had to go. The backs of the chairs are curved, so I struggled with how to fix this area.

Curved Back of Chinese Chair

The first attempt to fix it, when I started writing this post way back in September 2011 (!!!), was to “upholster” the carved area with orange tiger striped suede.

I thought the leopard and tiger combo would make a cool “Chinese safari” effect. And for sure, I’d strike design fame and fortune with this innovative style mash-up!

Instead it looked just like what it was — tiger striped rectangles taped on the back of a chair, trying desperately to hide something. I could only imagine what HGTV Design Star judges would say about this tiger print band-aid:

Chinese Safari Style Fail

Then during an insomnia-fueled brainstorm — because the most creative problem-solving happens for me at 2 a.m. — it hit. Sculpey! Why not fill the carvings with Sculpey? Then sand it smooth? I probably saw something Sculpey’d on Pinterest a few hours before that. That’s how this subconscious problem-solving works, you know.

So I sought out the Sculpey, and then found it must be oven-dried. Hmmm. I don’t know much about Sculpey but one thing I do know:  These chairs aren’t going in the oven.

Thankfully nearby there was this stuff called Paperclay with magic words on the package: air dry. Really? I gave it a try …


STEP 4.  Paperclay smooshing

I smoooooshed Paperclay into all the nooks and crannies of the grapevines:

Paperclay Fill In

I Googled Paperclay and found you can sand it and sculpt it after it dries. So I didn’t worry about making it perfectly smooth yet. Just smoooooosh it in there.

Let it dry overnight. I couldn’t get back to the chairs for a week. That’s fine. The Paperclay was dry. I sanded with a block. I don’t know the grit, but it was a coarser sanding block.

Sanding made a mess. If you sand this stuff, be forewarned.

Sanding Mess

After sanding the Paperclay, there was still a lot of unevenness. See:

Filling In with Paperclay

While Googling, I found Paperclay can shrink and crack a bit while drying. No worries. You just smooooooooosh some fresh wet Paperclay in any cracks or uneven areas, and let that dry. It will stick to the first layer of Paperclay. Then sand it again:

Second Sanding Round with Paperclay

Paperclay Filling in Furniture

You can see after this second round of smooshing and sanding, the finish is more even.

STEP 5. Paint the chairs black again

I’m not 100% happy with the finish. Ideally the “Paperclayed” area should be so smooth, it looks like nothing was ever carved in the wood. I don’t know if I’ll achieve that perfectionistic ideal. Now that we have a decent orbital sander with a vacuum, I might do another round of filling and sanding.

Also the Paperclay absorbs more paint than the finished wood around it. It probably needs to be sealed so you don’t get this weird two-tone effect:

DIY Difficulty

So what did I do to fix it? This:

Naga Throw on Chinese Chair

STEP 6. Throw textiles over the backs

Isn’t it easier to hide a mess than to fix it? Of course! Yes as a child I was the kid who, when mom told us to clean our room, I shoved my toys under the bed and called it clean. Some things never change. So, I draped some throws over the chairs:

  • A throw from Nagaland, found at The Loaded Trunk (she still has a few!)
  • A woven and beaded skirt from a tribe that lives in Laos and Vietnam, found at Arastan which was a store in Bangalore, India

Global Style in Our House

Chinese Chairs

The rug is silk (so luxurious for your feet!) that my husband got at auction many years ago. Back in the ’90s before we even met. The curtains behind the chairs are damask print curtains from Target. The things hanging on the walls are carved wooden combs found in India, and I DIY’d cute little museum style display shelves for them.

To round out this global style corner, I’m on the hunt for a small side table to put between the chairs. I can see a little Syrian/Moroccan/Indian inlay table here, something with some pattern on it.

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DIY Chalkboard Menu + Don’t Forget the Plastic Rooster

It was spotted at Hobby Lobby – a red chippy paint chalkboard menu. I have no need and no place for a chalkboard menu every day. But it could be a good occasional decoration for a dinner party or holiday meal. So I wanted to “DIY it” on the cheap. Here’s the finished DIY chalkboard menu:

DIY Chalkboard Menu

Breaking the menu down into its parts, it’s very easy to put together yourself. Here’s the supplies (some I already had):


All supplies passed inspection by Chaai the Crafty Cat. From the bottom-up, the menu is built with:

  • A wood base
  • Candlestick
  • Small wood dowel
  • Two picture frames glued together back-to-back
  • Chalkboard painted inserts in picture frames
  • Plastic animal

Before I continue, you’re going to see some lack of continuity in the photos here. Because I tend to break things:


Yeah, two candlesticks fell over and broke! After that I decided not to try again with this candlestick style, and got a different one instead. The base of the new candlestick was too wide for the wood base you’ll see below, so that’s why a wood base is not in the final photo/finished project.

So here’s the first steps:


  1. I used two pieces of square beveled wood that are in craft store woodworking aisles for 79 cents. These two pieces were glued together. (Is the clamp overkill? Probably. But it was nearby, might as well use it! Made me feel like a super serious DIYer.)
  2. I chose a heavy resin candlestick because the menu should be bottom-heavy so it doesn’t tip over. I put wood filler in the top of the candleholder to make more surface for glue. Then I glued the candlestick upside down on the wood base.
  3. The frames did not have glass, so I cut heavy chipboard to make the chalkboard.
  4. Then the chipboard was painted with chalkboard spray paint. If you use two frames as I did, put the chipboard back into the frames before you glue the frames together. Sounds obvious, but I almost didn’t!
  5. Choose very lightweight picture frames so the menu doesn’t get top-heavy and tip over. Two $1 picture frames from Michael’s were glued together to make the menu two-sided. The frames were not exactly the same size (hey do you expect quality control for a buck?!), and this left obvious seams along the sides. I added some wood filler to blend the size difference.
  6. Next I glued the finished picture frame assembly to the candleholder.

See how using the candleholder upside down gives more surface for gluing the frames. This gives more stability because there will be pressure while writing and cleaning the chalkboards:


The frames came with tiny wood dowels. I wanted to cut a dowel to hold chalk in place. But looking at the options around here … there was a chainsaw … and there were  Xacto knives. Nothing in between that’s just right! It’s like the Cinderella story of tools around here. So I hacked at a dowel with a kitchen knife. After that chop job and sanding, I glued the dowel to the candleholder, leaving space to hold chalk:


Then I glued a lightweight plastic rooster to the top of the frame. Because the Hobby Lobby menu had a rooster there. So I guess I was stuck on the idea that a rooster must be there. It’s better than other plastic animal options at craft stores: tiger, dragon, pterodactyl … those are not exactly charming. Our menu shouldn’t include animals that would eat us. But hey if pterodactyl is your style, go for it. A rhinestone skull? Go for it! I should have been more unique! There was a turkey at Michaels – perfect for a Thanksgiving menu.

Now this whole assembly looks so weird, right? Like a Franken-menu:


What if I stopped here, and said “wow, isn’t this great looking!” You’d tell me honestly what you think, wouldn’t you?

We’ll fix this so it looks good. This was very simple to do with paint. I painted two coats of Annie Sloan Emperor’s Silk chalk paint. Then I dry-brushed brown and ochre colors of acrylic paint to make distressed highlights here ‘n there.

Antique Effect with Dry-Brushed Paint

Painted Plastic Rooster

Candlestick Painted with Antique Effect

Finally, to protect the chalk paint, I buffed the red painted areas with Annie Sloan clear soft wax. Obviously you don’t want to put wax on the chalkboard paint.

And here you have it, a chalkboard menu!

DIY Country Chalkboard Menu

Isn’t this something to crow about?

Shared at:

DIY ShowOff | My Paper CrazePinkWhen | Share It Sunday | SNAP!Thistlewood Farms

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Spoonflower Holiday Gift Wrap Order Deadlines

If you’re interested in our India block print gift wrap, deadlines to order are in the next few days! Spoonflower custom prints the paper when you order. See their holiday ordering deadlines here.

And a huge thank you to everyone who has ordered already! It’s so nice to know you like them.

Here’s a few more photos of some of the papers:

Christmas Gift Wrapping Paper

Holiday Gift Wrap

These temple bell papers are available in teal and purple shown, and also red and dark green:

Block Print Bell Holiday Wrapping Paper

You can find all the designs and order here.

The papers even got the Chaai the Crafty Cat Seal of Approval, which is the highest honor you can get in this house:

Chaai Seal of Approval

I’m already dreaming up some fabrics to create with my collection of old wooden printing blocks. I have some really cool border print blocks – they’d make great wide-legged linen pants for the summer! Or tunics. Pillows too. This reminds me of when we were in the catalog business (we sold gifts and home accessories) and Christmas for us was in July. We were thinking about Valentine’s Day during Thanksgiving, and Mother’s day during Valentine’s Day. Always on to the next thing. Crazy!

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