DIY & Projects,  Home Improvement

Turning an Ugly Cat Tree into a Stylish One

I have been waiting to share with you one of my favorite projects I have worked on thus far – upgrading our cat tree!

It’s been a hot second since I’ve posted anything home improvement related, mostly due to me documenting The Great American Road Trip (which you should read about here!). However, that hasn’t slowed us down on working on the house and I have some great projects that I am excited to share soon.

Goals & Garbage - Reupholstered Cat Tree

When I first bought my house, I knew that I’d be downsizing. There were a few items that were hard to part with but it had to be done, like my glass-top dining room table, our coat hanger, and my booze cabinet. But, there were also items that I knew I had to keep and with no idea of where to put them.

One such item was our butt ugly cat tree. The cats love this thing, so I knew I couldn’t trash it.

To hide it, I originally thought about keeping it in the guest room but it unfortunately didn’t work in the space. The other issue with that there was the possibility of guests having allergies, which David pointed out.

Instead, we ended up having to put it front and center in our living room – where it has been glaring at me ever since. All 6 feet of its flimsy, brown fabric, covered in an inch of cat hair. And it honestly was embarrassing to have it’s nastiness right where guests could immediately see it.

I decided that once we had settled in from moving, that something had to be done. And now the time has come…

Goals & Garbage - Reupholstered Cat Tree

This project was heavily influenced by the wildly talented Brittany Merth. Check out her own awesome cat tree over on her blog:

I realize that this project won’t work exactly the same for everyone, as we all probably have different, ugly cat trees – but I hope that it can serve as an idea board or slight guideline to inspire others in making their own look cute.

Goals & Garbage - Reupholstered Cat Tree

Turning an Ugly Cat Tree into a Stylish One


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First, you are going to want to deconstruct your cat tree. And if it has fabric on it, tear that all off.

Now, I am going to try and break this up to make it less confusing. Below is what I did for my cat tree – and options on what you could do yourself!

Goals & Garbage - Reupholstered Cat Tree

Replace some of the dowels with tree branches.

First – I have to say, I think the tree branches are what makes this piece! It helps make the cat tree look more expensive, natural and is definitely unique.

I followed Brittany’s guide on shaving the branches. A paint scraper was a god send for this project and I probably couldn’t have done without it. I used the scraper to shave down the moldy and peeling bark off of the branches, to expose the dry wood underneath. If you don’t do this part, you risk the bark coming off at a later point and looking bad. It’d also be way harder to stain and seal.

Before scraping, I cut them down to the size I needed using my miter saw.

After they were sufficiently scraped, I used my electric sander to finish up the pieces so they had no sharp edges. Once finished, I used my cheesecloth to stain the branches in Minwax Natural. Then, after they dried, covered them in Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finish. I almost didn’t use the stain, but I am glad I did because I think it helped bring out the characteristics of the wood better.

Goals & Garbage - Reupholstered Cat Tree

Cover the remaining dowels in sisal rope.

This part was tricky!

I obviously didn’t want to keep the dowels covered in their ugly fabric. Since cats love to scratch, I decided the remaining dowels would look and function even better in sisal rope.

Keeping the rope on the dowel while spinning it round and round was kind of a hassle. I first thought to use just liquid nails, but since it dries so slow the rope kept falling off. I then tried super glue, which also caused the rope to fall off and get glue all over me. I finally found success in using both liquid nails and a hot glue gun.

Using liquid nails is important to ensure they cannot be pulled off if the cats really went to town scratching it, but the hot glue seemed to offer a much needed temporary stick as I spun the dowel around. Double reinforcement!

Because I ran out of sisal rope (whoops), I ended up spray painting two dowels brown as well and then only covered the bottom in rope. This gave them a nice, finished look as well!

Goals & Garbage - Reupholstered Cat Tree

Replace a landing with plywood.

By landing, I mean the place they can jump onto and stand or sit on.

I love the look of dark stained wood, so I chosee to replace one of the landings of their cat tree with a piece of plywood for this reason!

First, I cut the square of plywood I bought into an L shape, to allow for their mobility to jump through that part. I then sanded it all down, and stained it with the Minwax Dark Walnut. Once dry, I covered the piece in Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finish. You could do this for each landing of your own cat tree – or even build an entire cat tree this way!

I actually ended up using the square I cut out of the plywood to create another, smaller landing and attached it via one of the tree branches!

I then stapled their cat toy to it so it hung down from the landing, for easy access to play.

Goals & Garbage - Reupholstered Cat Tree

Staple your new fabric everywhere that’s left!

Lastly, I used my staple gun to cover the remaining areas in my new, gray fabric. Just measure, cut, and staple!

A definite upgrade from the carpet brown! And matches their hair better, which means it won’t look absolutely coated in cat hair all the time.

Goals & Garbage - Reupholstered Cat Tree

Now, put it back together. 

Most of this was easy because the cat tree already came with the proper screws and tools, and I just needed to reassemble it.

However, because I replaced some of the pieces (tree branches, new landings), I did need to make some adjustments.

To ensure that the landing stayed attached to the dowels and branches, I used 1 1/2 inch screws to tighten it into place. Drilling into the tree branches was HARD but it was possible.

I also chose to use more liquid nails as extra reinforcement. You may not want to do this if you ever plan on disassembling it though!

Goals & Garbage - Reupholstered Cat Tree

Congrats! You have a new and improved cat tree! I am so pleased with this project and think it looks significantly better than it’s former self. And, after a little warming up to it, my cats are in love with it too.


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