Vintage Bentwood Rocking Chair Makeover

I always remember the ones that get away.  The second hand items that I don’t have room in the car for, the beauties that need just too much work, the treasures that are priced just a bit too high for my liking.  I remember them and pine for them and continuously hunt for them so that our paths may cross again.  This bentwood rocker is one such conquest.  I’d come across one in my travels and I was smitten, but things just weren’t… right.  I don’t remember why I didn’t buy it.  Maybe it was too damaged. Maybe we were in a rush. Maybe it was priced too high. At any rate, I regretted it and the fever took over and I began obsessively hunting one down.  When I found this one on VarageSale I knew it was meant to be.  It was freezing cold and my mom was visiting but I dragged her out to Airdrie to pick up this sweet vintage Thonet style bentwood rocking chair.  It was priced at $25 because there was a hole in the caning of the seat.  I set my hands on it and gave it a wiggle.  Things were a bit loose.  “Hmmm, it sure needs some work,” I said, knowing that I would do what it takes to make it functional again.  “We’re moving and there’s no room in the new place for it.  I have new caning to fix the seat but I never got around to it.”  “Would you take $20?” I asked.  The deal was done and I carried the chair to the car, fingers freezing in the wind as I gripped it.

thonet bentwood rocker hole in cane

It sat in the front entry way for months and then, it moved to the dining room corner for another month as I pondered what I would do with it.  The wood needed sanding and paint or new stain.  The seat needed repair.  The structure needed strengthening. I started slowly picking up the pieces that would transform it.  Foam for the seat – $20. Plywood – $2. Fabric – $6. Stain – $8. Finally, the vision was clear and I could start work.

sweet accent

I began by sanding down the rough spots.  The original finish was scratched and peeling.  Some scars were too deep to sand out but I like that it still shows a bit of it’s age -it’s no baby after all.  Once it was sanded I went over it with a new coat of dark walnut stain.  I cut a seat out of plywood and upholstered it in a light spring green fabric.  There’s a good photo tutorial on how to retrofit a seat on a bentwood rocker here, and you should look at her photos because mine are much less precise. I fear there’s something wrong with my jigsaw ahem.

vintage rocking chair restoration

The new stain needed a coat of protective wax so I rubbed and buffed and applied a few more layers.  Then, after polling my facebook page, I decided to white wash the cane to give it a bright new look.  To do this, I mixed plain white latex paint about 60/40 with water to thin it out.  Then, with a rag, I gently washed the cane, adding layers until I liked the intensity.  I intentionally left some of the original cane showing through as I didn’t want a heavy opaque painted finish – I feared it would just flake off.

This makeover was absolutely a labour of love. It was a time consuming and hands on process but the end result was so worth it. I would never have stopped hunting if I hadn’t taken the plunge and made it over to suit our home.  One of the things I really like about VarageSale is that you can ‘watch’ items so if you come across something you’re interested in you can add it to your watch list.  If there is a lot of activity or if the price changes you’ll get a notification.  It helps with knowing when to jump in and buy at the right time – preventing an obsessive quest to find the one that got away.

vintage bentwood rocker makeover

Even though I put in a few hours on this project, the price point was still really good.  All total this chair cost about $60 and I’d be hard pressed to walk into a store and buy something new for under a hundred bucks.  Plus, how gorgeous are those curvy rocker legs?  Right?  No wonder I was so obsessed.



**this post is sponsored by VarageSale. All opinions remain my own. 



  1. I never would have thought of white washing the cane. I love how it looks, and love even more the fabric in the embroidery hoops on the wall. It looks awesome.

  2. It looks totally amazing! I’m curious about VarageSale. I see so many friends starting to join I need to check it out. The more of these posts I read, the more I realize I could probably manage a project like this, too. Scared, but I think I may try one I have a bunch of antique furniture just gathering dust.

  3. Hi, I have a bentwood rocker with fabric back and seat. The wood needs a spruce up. I’ve noticed that it appears to have had something (maybe carpet) under the rocker part at the bottom. It’s not there now! What do you suggest I replace it with? I think it might have been there in the first place to protect wooden floors?
    I would appreciate your input. Many thanks

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