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.

#tbt Story: When the Wrong Chair is Shipped from Thailand

Beyonce actually has some great advice for travelers shipping things home. Similar to “If you like it, put a ring on it,” I’d say “If you like it, put your name on it.” That’s what we should have done with these chairs:

Chinese Chairs

They were spotted as we rounded a corner in Baan Tawai, Thailand, a crafts and furniture-making village south of Chiang Mai. I was driving, and driving on the “wrong side of the road” for an American so it took all my mental resources to not crash into anything. So my husband was the spotter. And he spotted these chairs in a showroom open to the street. “STOP!” he yells. “SCREECH!” I almost went. But no, I was already driving really slow because you have to drive super slow in those skinny gravelly road lanes. We glided into the nearest parking spot (also skinny gravelly spot) and ran to claim the Chinese chairs – the very Chinese chairs that were on our short list of “things to find.” We had been driving out of Baan Tawai for the last time before heading to the Chiang Mai airport. The chairs would cost a heckuva lot more back in the States, so we were happy to score a great look cheap-cheap-cheap.

The chairs would have made a marriage made in design heaven with our dining room table. Our table is a six-seater with only four chairs. We thought two of these Chinese chairs (repro not antique) would be perfect at the ends of the dining table, finally making six seats.

Chinese Chair Found in Baan Tawai Thailand

The patina and color on the chairs was perfect.

But. It was not to be.

We didn’t put our name on them.

Some weeks later, crates were delivered to our house  near Chicago. Thankfully all other furniture was correct. But the chairs from this little shop on the edge of a dusty lane – so close that the road dust settled on the chairs , you can see it in the photos – well, the chairs were not the chairs we saw.

I don’t even have “before” photos of the chairs. I think my husband deleted them, they were so ugly, he probably thought “why keep these photos?” They were yellow honey color. They had grape vines engraved on the backrest. Grape vines on a Chinese style chair? They had plastic-covered pastel flowery cushions that were horrifically sticky. Seriously, so sticky that when I sat on a chair in shorts, the cushion was still stuck to the back of my legs when I stood up. And it hurt when I peeled the cushion off.

It’s maybe eight years later now. Our dining room table still has only four chairs.

I did salvage the Chinese chairs and will show in the next post a corner of our home with the made-over Chinese chairs.

Falling Down the Pinterest Rabbit Hole

So yesterday I re-posted this door as part of a post about Moroccan zellij pattern tiles:

Vogue Living Inspiration Photo

If you’ve followed along here for awhile, this is not the first time you’ve seen this photo. I shared it as far back as three years ago when we first started planning how to decorate an apartment in South India. This is “the” inspiration photo for our master bedroom there. It’s from a 2008 or 2009 issue of Australian Vogue Living.

Only a few hours after I hit “publish” on yesterday’s post, I trip over this pin on Pinterest. Which I’ve pinned before, but apparently forgot.

Indian Inlaid Doors on Pinterest

Hmmm. Something there look familiar?

These doors were once available on eBay Australia?! Turns out, they are not zellij tile even though they look like it from a distance. Or if you have bad eyes as I do. They are mother of pearl. As you can see in this close-up photo around the handles:

Mother of Pearl Doors

Maybe only by falling down the Pinterest rabbit hole of pictures can you get so close to a visual figment of your imagination that you’ve obsessed about for years.

Through a Pinterest link to Remodelista, I discover that Sibella Court featured the above image with the handles in her book, Nomad: A Global Approach to Interior Style. As the original image appeared in Australian Vogue Living, I wonder if she was involved in the styling. According to Anne Sage of The City Sage blog, this was a styled shoot for product, not a scene in someone’s house.

This could be called “research.”

Or it could be called “too much time on Pinterest.”


About a Certain Zellij Pattern

There’s a Moroccan zellij pattern that I get drawn to over and over. Whenever it pops up on a website or Pinterest, little pattern antennae in my brain start quivering around happily. Why? Who knows. Is there a test that will tell you something about yourself if you like one pattern more than another? Like the visual pattern equivalent of Myers-Briggs? If there isn’t such a test, maybe I should create one? The Zellij Test.

Zellij (also spelled zellige) is a type of tile pattern in Morocco and it comes in lots of geometric patterns. Some circular. Some starry looking. Some striped. Some are squares and rectangles. If you’ve seen photos of colorful geometric ceramic tile patterns in Morocco, you’ve seen zellij. It takes both a patient artist and a precise mathematical genius to create these patterns.

The pattern I most appreciate for some mysterious reason is this one, with the squares and eight-point stars:

Moroccan Zellij Pattern

Those are often-photographed ceramic tiles in Fez, Morocco.

Here it’s on the lower half of a wall in a post about Moroccan zellij tiles on Sandra Espinet’s blog about well-traveled style:

Moroccan Zellij Tile via Sandra Espinet Blog

Here’s a very similar pattern in the Phulkari Embroidered Mini Shift Dress from Free People:

Free People Phulkari Embroidered Mini Shift Dress

That dress is great inspiration for colors to use with this zellij pattern too.

A similar pattern with squares instead of the eight-point star is in the background of this image from Marie Claire:

Marie Claire

If you like this zellij pattern too, you can paint it on things yourself! It’s available in the Star Diamonds Moroccan stencil from Royal Design Studio:

Star Diamonds Stencil

It’s available in two sizes and I own both, as I purchased them a few years ago for a wall in the master bedroom of our apartment in Chennai, India. This is the inspiration photo (from Vogue Living in Australia) and while I will take this inspiration and make it unique, I love it down to the tall columns flanking a low bed. Every time I see chippy painted wood columns with cement capitals in India, I see them in a scene like this in our apartment there:

Vogue Living Inspiration Photo

If this has piqued your interest in zellij, here’s a good article from Ceramics Today about zellij tile in Morocco.

Dupatta Curtains

True to my global style, I can’t get curtains from Bed, Bath & Beyond at the shopping center outside our neighborhood. No, that’s too close! Do you know what’s perfect for curtains? Dupattas. Dupattas, if you’re not familiar with them, are like long wide scarves or lightweight shawls. They’re worn by women in India as part of clothing, usually with churidars which are like long tunics. Here’s a dupatta from Jaypore, made from silk and handwoven and hand block printed:

Silk Dupatta from Jaypore

Couldn’t you see this as a fun curtain? It could be in a boho style room, or a curtain for a girl’s bedroom.

Dupattas are shorter than saris. Dupattas can be around 80-90 inches while saris are often 6 feet or more in length. While you can cut a sari to curtain length, a single dupatta is usually already a perfect length to hang as a curtain. Just back the dupatta with a cotton fabric to block sunshine from degrading the dupatta fabric and any color dyes, and you have curtains! While you’re sewing a cotton backing onto it, you can add a pocket for a rod at the top, or install grommets for a rod, or hang with rings. It’s very easy to convert a dupatta to a curtain.

I’ve been on the hunt for a long time for the perfect dupatta to make cafe curtains for our master bedroom. And I found it at Jaypore:

Dupatta Curtains

Yes the dupatta is a bit sheer, but as I said above, you will want to add a lining to protect it from the sun. This will soon be cut and sewn into curtains, and of course the DIY post will be coming soon!

Meanwhile, there’s a large selection of beautiful dupatta on Jaypore right now so I’ll share a few more to get your creative curtain visions going. Because I was inspired to get many more dupatta but chose only one. So please, someone, buy the rest so there’s no temptation. :)

At a generous 100 inches in length, this would make a subtle patterned curtain for a tall window or tall ceiling. It’s a Maheshwari cotton silk dupatta, handwoven by master craftsmen and block printed by hand using Khari technique (I think these might all be one-of-a-kind so while they’re available today as I link to them, no promises about availability tomorrow!):

Dupatta from Jaypore

A modern leaf pattern on organic silk, this would make a bold graphic statement when paired with mid century modern furnishings:

Modern Leaf Pattern Dupatta from Jaypore

I see this silk dupatta textile hanging in a sunny bohemian breakfast nook:

Jaypore Dupatta

This cotton-silk dupatta is so unique – I challenge you to find something like this in any curtain department:

Black White Red Dupatta from Jaypore

How about add a little dash of India style to a beachy decor vibe? It’s possible with a blue dupatta like this. The lightweight silk would fly on the breeze of open windows in the summer:

Jaypore Blue Hand Woven Dupatta

Finally, florals hand-painted on silk, from India but perfect on windows overlooking an English cottage garden:

Silk Dupatta with Hand-Painted Florals from Jaypore

I hope this shows you just a taste of the range of colors and patterns on dupatta textiles. You can also find vintage and new dupatta on eBay and Etsy, as well as online stores that sell Indian clothing.

DIY Chinese Style Treasure Chest Box

Yesterday I showed how the distinctive look of brass Chinese hardware brings a touch of the Far East to furniture. And I shared my once-secret source of how to get this hardware so you can buy it and use it yourself. I’ve done two DIY projects where I added Chinese hardware – one time to a small storage cabinet and another to a simple painted paper mache box:

Chinese Hardware Added to Painted Paper Mache Box

That is a “mushroom” style latch closure from Chinese Brass Hardware on eBay. Their selection changes and I don’t see that exact one right now, but there’s a similar one available in a round shape:

Mushroom Style Brass Chinese Hardware

If you order hardware for a project, watch the size descriptions on the eBay product listing. Some of this hardware is very large, designed for big 7 foot tall cabinets. And some pieces such as this one are smaller, about 3″ in diameter, and made for smaller chests or drawers. Make sure you order a size that fits your project. This shows the pieces you would get for hardware like this one:

Chinese Brass Hardware Pieces to Assemble

It’s very easy to assemble and the Chinese Brass Hardware store shows how to do it, step-by-step with pictures on each eBay product listing.

So, I made this box with a Chinese dragon stencil and the special Chinese hardware as part of a bunch of super fun DIY projects I’ve done for Paint and Pattern – a blogzine about the whole world of color and pattern out there:

Chinese Style Box with Stenciled Dragon

Literally, we are going around the world this year at Paint and Pattern, and each month we share inspiration and projects from different cultures and countries. April was Asia month and I knew it was a perfect excuse to play with Chinese hardware again! As you can see above, I photographed this box in front of a real Chinese cabinet – that’s our burlwood and black painted cabinet holding all our dinnerware. (And, the throw over the chair is from a tribe that lives in Laos and Vietnam – why not mix things up!)

Believe it or not, the box started as a plain brown paper mache box found at Michael’s craft store:

Supplies for Painted Chinese Box

And with the magic of paint and a really cool dragon stencil from Royal Design Studio, the box was gradually transformed into something that looks like it came from a Shanghai souvenir shop:

Gilded Chinese Dragon Stencil

To see tips and tricks for how to paint a gilded gold antique-looking box like this – doesn’t even have to be Chinese style, you can use these techniques for any design you want to paint on a box – hop on over to my post at Paint and Pattern!

How to Add Chinese Hardware to Furniture and DIYs


How to Add a Far East Touch with Chinese Hardware

If you’d like to add a flair of the Far East in your home, it’s actually really easy to do. There are a few distinctive details and one of them is hardware. Chinese hardware is often a burnished brushed brass color. Like a soft-looking metal. The brass can take many shapes, often with big dramatic backplates and dangling pulls. Let’s take a look …

(And, follow through to the end of the post where you will find my super-secret source for Chinese hardware which as of now, is no longer so super-secret.)

From PUREfourhundred:

Chinese Hardware PUREfourhundred

This shows simple Chinese hardware on a cabinet, photographed by me at Primitive in Chicago:

Chinese Hardware on Red Cabinet

Here’s another red cabinet with typical simple Chinese hardware. You’re going to see a lot of red cabinets and sideboards because it’s pretty common to use red lacquer on Chinese furniture. I like how this furniture from the Far East is combined with strong simple shapes from other cultures around the world. Originally from House Beautiful:

Red Chinese Cabinet with Global Accessories via House Beautiful

From Apartment f15, tribal Afghan and Turkish jewelry hanging from Chinese cabinet hardware for global flair:

Apartmentf15 Chinese Cabinet with Tribal Jewelry

For a change of color, here etched brass door pulls on a yellow Chinese cabinet. Maybe the internet is getting over-saturated with images because it’s getting harder and harder to trace images to originals through my tried and true methods. If you know the source of this one, let me know:

Etched Brass Chinese Door Pulls


So far, by analyzing these photos for visual patterns, you can see a big part of the look is the large decorative backplates, which can come in many shapes, and they can be etched with decorations or left plain.

This next one is a striking combo of very large backplate with two smaller door pulls. This super oversized look is my favorite. This cabinet was featured at Skona Hem:

Red Lacquer Chinese Cabinet via Skona Hem


From Golden Lotus Antiques, this is the coolest treatment of hardware. It’s like mesh combined with the traditional round backplate shape:

Black Lacquer Chinese Cabinet via Golden Lotus Antiques

Source for Chinese Hardware:

As promised, here is my once super-secret source for getting this hardware:  An eBay store called Chinese Brass Hardware. I share because I just like to share like that, and surely there’s enough of this hardware to go around!

Here’s a project I did where I used their hardware. I did a makeover on an old cabinet that was once Danish modern, and turned it into Chinese antique style. The post showing that process is here. I chose an oversized set of hardware, just because:

Danish Cabinet Makeover into Antique Chinese Style

In the next post, I’ll share another, smaller project made using hardware from that eBay store!

If you like this Chinese style, there’s a lot more of this on my Pinterest Chinese Style Board: