Vintage High Chair Makeover
Anyone out there who just doesn't love any of the high chair options out there? They're either too busy, too plastic-y, too many cracks and crevices for food to get into, or too expensive? Or maybe you are looking for a cute option for your baby to sit in and eat their smash cake for their 1st birthday. I wanted a high chair that added to my kitchen's aesthetic, rather than being an eye sore - plus with needing two, I really didn't want TWO eye sores in my kitchen!
Years ago, our friends had moved into a historic house and as part of the move-in process, they had to go through like 5 sheds on their property and figure out what to do with everything. It was mostly junk, but there were a few treasures hidden in there, like this old high chair! I was so thrilled when they said we could have it for $20 - I could envision it painted and a sweet little babe sitting in it. That was 5 years ago, and here we are... it is finally painted and has a cute (and messy) babe sitting in it!
Well when we ended up bringing home twins, I knew I needed to find another high chair, and it
would probably be impossible to find the same one, so I started looking for something similar (in all my spare time - sense the sarcasm there?) Since I wasn't making any trips to the flea market or the thrift store, etc. in the early baby days, I did the second best thing which was search for "wooden high chair" on the Facebook Marketplace and set up notifications for any new listings. (If you haven't done that and are keeping your eye out for something specific, it's amazing! Message me, and I will show you how to do it - we did it for formula, baby gear, clothes, furniture, etc.) Anyway, a cute vintage high chair popped up one day, and the lady said she would take $40 AND deliver it - UM, YES PLEASE! That sealed the deal.
You know how DIY projects are - you have the best intentions, and then life happens. So the high chairs sat for a while... we used some other high chair things in the mean time, but my goal was to get at least one done by my niece's 1st birthday. I may have put some finishing paint touches on the day before, but by golly - I got it done!
Below is a step-by-step guide on how I did it. (**warning: it was definitely more of an undertaking than I expected, but I'll share what I'd do differently next time to make it a lot easier**)
1) Pick your Paint
I spent way too much time researching safe paints for a baby to eat off. I found a really great and safe option from Green Building Supply. It's zero VOC and non-toxic which made me feel comfortable having my girls eat off of it. The company was also SUPER helpful - I called and talked to a guy for 20 minutes explaining my needs, and he pointed me to this paint and gave me instructions on how to use it. Sand, paint, paint, and optional sealer.
**I pretty much always use chalk paint, so I don't have to sand, so I was in for quite a rude awakening when I had to sand both high chairs down to the bare wood. Looking back, I probably could have just used chalk paint with the AFM SafeCoat Sealer and saved myself a TON of time and headache while still using the non-toxic sealer that would be safe for the girls to eat off of.
Green Building Supply has a really cool color wizard where you can compare colors, but it's a little overwhelming. I ended up going with Feather Stone which is a soft white (I thought it was a little darker when I chose it, but it ended up working great!)
2) Prep Your Project
Since the high chairs were old, they were a little wobbly and some of the rungs were loose, so I used wood glue in the joints to make it stronger (be sure to use a clamp or bungee cords and leave it overnight to make sure it's dry before moving onto the next step).
Side note: It's also a good idea to sand around the areas that you take a part while they are apart since it's easier to get into the cracks and crevices that way.
This is also the part where you can remove hardware if it needs to be fixed or replaced as well as clean it (remove any dirt/stickiness/cobwebs) with a wet cloth. I removed the tray and the foot rest and painted them separately to make sure I could get an even coat. I removed the hardware on one high chair to paint, but left it on the other - it's whatever works best for you.
If I had to pick a least favorite part - this would be it. One of my high chairs had a sticky varnish coating that caused corning on my sandpaper which basically made my sandpaper last a hot minute before it was worthless. So I went through sandpaper like hotcakes, and it still didn't really work. I ended up actually having to strip it using Citristrip. I had never stripped anything before, so I just followed the instructions on the bottle which worked fairly well. Side note: make sure to scrape off before 24 hours or it will be a nightmare - does it sound like I may have done that? Because I did. So OPTIONAL STEP 4) strip.
Back to sanding - I used an electric sander and 80 grit sandpaper to start with. I used 120 grit sandpaper in some areas where the varnish wasn't as thick and I didn't need it to be as strong. Be sure to sand it down to where you can feel the wood, and make sure there isn't any shine left. If you start to see corning (little brown spots where your varnish has balled up like in the picture to the right) on your sandpaper or on the wood, try hand sanding and see if that helps. Sometimes the heat from the electric sander causes the corning, but if you still see it I would stop and use a stripper to strip the varnish first.
Once I had done the large areas with the electric sander, I moved to hand sanding the smaller areas, like the spindles and around the legs and arms.
5) prep for painting
There were a few cracks and weird nail holes in my high chairs, so I used wood filler to fill the holes. I let it dry and sanded it down smooth, and repeated if necessary.
Then I hosed down the high chairs to remove any dust or residue and let them dry in the sun.
This is also where you could use primer if you'd like - primarily if there were stains or grease or something you couldn't get out of the wood that you were worried might show through the paint. I didn't need to do this - yay! (again, you could save yourself all this trouble if you just used chalk paint!)
Once the chairs are dry and dust-free, set out a tarp, old towel, etc. and get to painting! I used a brush similar to these ones. I did one coat of the ECOS Interior/Exterior Paint on the top side, let it dry (a couple hours or overnight), flipped it over and did one coat on the bottom side. Once that was dry, I flipped it back over and did another coat on the top and then again the bottom. So I ended up doing two coats on the whole thing.
7) Final touches
I like a distressed look, so I used the 120 grit sandpaper to sand the edges and make it look old/worn. Then I took a 600 grit sandpaper and did a once over on the whole high chair to smooth it out and make it more durable.
Finally, I put all the pieces together, and viola! The final product x2!
Here is the BEFORE AND AFTER! My favorite part!