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Chair Story

I hadn’t intended to revamp this high back chair in my upholstery class but the pair of mid-century beauties I coveted could not be secured affordably so I turned to plan B, a chair that has languished in my storage locker for a year. My original intention was to do something totally “outside” like the wingbacks below (photo by  Eric Roth from Glamour, Making it Modern).

But I wasn’t sure I’d actually keep the chair so I wanted it to appeal to as wide a group as possible in case I ended up selling it on Craigslist, hence my choice of the neutral, gray poly-blend that looks and feels like linen but is “bullet proof” according to the fabric store clerk ($105 for 6 yards at European Fabrics in Hamilton). I stayed away from pattern, which would have added another level of difficulty to my first big job.

I’ve heard it said that upholstery can be boiled down to a single word . . . staples. First, you spend hours and hours taking staples out, then you spend hours and hours putting them back in. And that’s pretty much it in a nutshell. Yes, there’s usually a bit of sewing involved but really it’s all down to the stapling. It took me two full, three-hour classes to remove the bulk of the staples from my high back which, by the way, is a suddenly-hot profile according to several recent trend columns.

With the chair stripped, I then sanded and sprayed the legs and frame with black lacquer. One bonus with my chair was that the undercarriage was in perfect shape, the springs were intact and tight and the base layer of coir was smooth and firm so I left well enough alone and started building from there.

My goal was to modernize a piece that felt a bit “old lady.” I wanted a tight seat and back — who doesn’t? — with no piping for a clean, contemporary look. Again I was lucky in that the foam of the original loose seat cushion was in great shape so I was able to salvage it with a bit of trimming to fit my newly padded arms. I used the original seat cover as a pattern to make the fitted seat and that’s when I met the “runaway Juki.”

Juki is an all-powerful, Japanese-made, industrial sewing machine that could easily sew right through your finger. You control the speed with the amount of pressure you apply to the foot peddle but faster and fastest were the only speeds I got acquainted with. Consequently, instructor Robby did most of my sewing while explaining a few tricks I was never really able to apply. Thus, a sewing class is the next thing on my “how to” list.

What I enjoyed about the class is that it totally demystified how an upholstered chair is constructed. First you do the arms, then the seat, then the inside back, outside arms, outside back. I learned how to force the fabric down and between the frame structures and how to carefully cut the fabric in order to get around the various joins and supports.

In the end, the only ragged edge is the one around the base of the frame and that gets covered up with a single row of double piping, fastened with a couple of staples and long bead of hot glue.

Because my chair is so plain I’ve dressed it up, either with a bolster cushion or a colourful Indian scarf. I’ll wait until I get into my new apartment at the end of the month to see which treatment triumphs.

I’ve got a couple of great styleNorth posts in the works including a nearly completed client project but I suspect packing and moving is going to keep me preoccupied for the next few weeks.

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Monday, December 12, 2011 by Chris
This post was written by - who has written 849 posts on styleNorth.

10 Comments For This Post

  1. Kathy Says:

    Wow, very nice. If you do end up putting it on Craigslist. Let us know !

  2. Karen J Says:

    It looks great! Very inspirational.
    Thanks Chris, I’ve added RE:Style Studio to my 2012 to do list.

    Good luck with your move.

  3. Sandra Says:

    Great job Chris ! Did I miss a post with new apartment news ?

  4. Lois Says:

    Hello CHRIS, so much goes into upholstery and many think it too expensive to have done…Lois of your end project speaks for itself

  5. Cathy Says:

    I like the clean lines of your chair, it could go anywhere. Another great job done. You are a talented man.

  6. Tina at Spot On Organizing Says:

    So brave of you to tackle such a task. I admit I liked the statement the orange made (I’m extremly partial to orange!) but love the end result. Nice job.

  7. Sundeep @ Designwali Says:

    wow…great job.

  8. Marilyn Says:

    Absolutely fabulous! You’ve outdone youself. I like the cushion on it for now but perhaps after your move the scarf will take centre place. Give yourself a pat on the back.

  9. Liza Says:

    The chair looks great, Chris, and it’s very interesting to hear the inside scoop on upholstery. I always thought that it involved some kind of witchcraft.

    Good luck on your move; I’ll be looking forward to seeing your new place, and what you do with it!

  10. Marlo Says:

    The chair looks great!

    I like it with both the scarf and the pillow; I would try to find a pillow that coordinates with the scarf and use both – very cozy and inviting.

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