Inherited antiques can be fussy, shabby, gloomy and out of sync with your upbeat family. But when there's plenty of wear -- and good period design -- in Aunt Hester's Morris chair, find a funky fabric and DIY or hire an upholsterer to turn it into a prized possession again. Bring in a bit of jungle, an exotic textile, or a sepia-toned version of Aunt Hester herself to liven up your living room.
Hide Saves the Queen
The Queen Anne set in the dining room is so dull it practically puts you in a coma -- but the wood is beautiful and you're not ready for a glass-and-steel modern slab and see-through chairs. So dress up the antique dining room chairs in some new threads and bring them into the 21st century. Alternate brown-and-white fake zebra and cherry-red embroidered Chinese silk on the chair cushions. Cover the hardwood floor with a contemporary carpet of abstract red and white swirls. Add a red ceramic bowl full of green apples and a pair of carved brown-and-cream giraffe-patterned candlesticks on the table. Suddenly, you'll find that nobody's falling asleep in the soup.
Magic Carpet Chair
Boho your worn-out wing chair with textiles gathered on remarkable travels in your misspent youth. Those colorful tribal weavings from West Africa, the Andean lama designs, Cuna Indian molas from Panama, heavy silk Indian sari cloth -- all of them pieced together on frame and cushions turn your reading nook into a travelogue. Cover the inside wings and arm panels in one fabric and the tall, inside seat back in another. When the chair has a detached seat cushion, layer it with a different pattern on each side and each edge, and upholster the base, or chair skirt, underneath it in a separate print. Continue the eclectic madness on the chair back or add a note of sobriety with a rich faded velvet -- lilac, emerald-green or pewter -- and set sail in your hodgepodge chair with a good book.
Grain Sack Sofa
Grain sack can be really elegant; it is finely woven enough to cover a sofa in a formal living room. Original grain sack cloth, hand-woven from unbleached linen or hemp, is difficult to find unless you happen across a stash at a flea market or locate a supplier online. Vintage cloth is fairly expensive, but a good fabric store will have bolts of machine-made cloth for reasonable prices. Choose a lighter, finer weave for a living room sofa, and a slightly coarser, darker burlap for the squashy sofa in the family room. Authentic sacks were striped in patterns to identify the farmers who owned them, and reproduction grain sacking still comes with distinctive red, gray or blue stripes. Many patterns feature product or farm names stamped in the same color as the stripes. You'll need extra fabric if you're matching stripes on the sofa frame and cushions. Consider saving the logo markings for throw pillows, where matching isn't a problem.
The Louis XV armchair with the cat-scratched cushions deserves a little more respect. Make it a powerful piece of memorabilia with the help of modern printing and your vintage family albums. Hunt for arresting photographs of ancestors you'd like to remember, and have the photos scanned and reprinted on fabric a little larger than the section of chair to be reupholstered. Center Great-randma's between-the-wars boating party on the seat. Cover the front of the chair back with a panel of Grandmother's wedding photograph, complete with cascade of orange blossoms and white roses. Put a black-and-white version of your own fancy-dress, 7-year-old piano recital on the back chair panel. Have all the photographs tinted the same -- silver-toned or sepia. The Rococo wood chair acts as a frame for the even more priceless images displayed on it.