Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Tale of Two Chairs

They were the best of chairs, they were the worst of chairs, it was the winter of dispair (mostly that of my legs, which suffered greatly at the hands of the lumpy stuffing)....and now it is the spring of hope, and it's time for them to resuscitate from their ashes.

Please forgive me for butchering the beginning of Dickens' classic novel like that, but I just couldn't resist.  This is not the tale of two cities, but it is the tale of two armchairs that were saved from an uncertain future many years ago.  We found them, faded and beat up, but still usable, in the corner of a local thrift store.  They cost us under 30 euros. The Professor says it was even less, but it was so long ago, back in the days of the peseta, that I really can't remember.  Still, I recall thinking it was a great deal, and that at least they partially solved the total lack of seating that plagued our new home.

To put it bluntly, we had just bought a house, we had no place to sit, we were pretty much broke, and we needed to fill up the empty space somehow, or be condemned to sit on the cold wooden floor until we could scrape together enough pesetas to buy some decent chairs.

At that time, the nearest Ikea was around 450 km away, so thrift-store furniture it was.

Our old chairs have served us long and well, stoically suffering through three kids jumping on them, serving as scratching posts for the various cats we've had over the years, and swallowing up socks and other sundry items, as all good armchairs should.  But even the most robust furniture will only last for so long.  In the end, they were lumpy and the springs had, well, sprung.  They were even more faded than before, and they had a few tears on the sides.  I tried to disguise their decrepitude by strategically placing them next to other furniture in order to hide the tears, and I piled them with cushions, in an attempt to cover the unsightly lumps and protruding springs, but the result was disappointingly unsatisfactory.  Besides, they were still uncomfortable as all hell.

What to do?

I was on the verge of throwing them out and going on a shopping spree for some brand-new chairs, but Catgirl had a fit when she heard of my, according to her, "diabolical plan".  She's always had a soft spot for these chairs, and for years she's been saying that when she leaves home, she wants to take at least one along with her.

She also used to say she was going to move to Paris when she turned sixteen, but the last time I checked she was still holed up in her room sending texts on her phone, so we'll see...

Anyway, I gave in.  The chairs could stay.  However, something had to be done.  But having them professionally reupholstered would cost around seven hundred euros each, which, with the plan to cover the patio already sucking up most of our available funds, was pretty much out of the question.

Then I saw that our city was offering a furniture restoration class.

So, for a reasonable fee, a little elbow grease, and the price of materials, I could save these chairs from certain death.  Catgirl was thrilled, and although at first she wanted me to redo them in green again, she promplty changed her mind and suggested I do them in black, presumably to go along with the vampire thing she's got going in that catastrophic cave she calls a bedroom.

I signed up and contacted the instructor to see if this would be a reasonable project for a total beginner.  She said I would probably be able to complete one of the chairs during the course, and that once I knew how to do it, I could finish the other at home.  She also suggested that I remove the old upholstery before the first class to speed things up.  So I started ripping apart the chair with gusto.  Catgirl couldn't bear to watch, but SAM helped me to remove all the tacks.  She had a field day.  And what kid wouldn't?  After all, it's not every day that your parents actually want you to tear up the furniture.  Several days later, after many hours of work, and discovering that there's much more to a chair than meets the eye (namely straw, cotton batting, burlap, metal springs, and lots and lots of tacks), we got it down to this:

Here I am, looking ever so professional in my white lab coat.  It makes this almost look like a science, doesn't it?
My teacher estimated that the chairs might be around sixty or seventy years old, so it's really a wonder that they held up so well for so long.  Even the velvet wasn't in such terrible shape, aside from the fading.

After restoring the wood, we decided to go with elastic webbing and foam padding, instead of the more traditional hand-tied springs, mostly to simplify the project and save time.  If I were restoring them for historical accuracy, I'd go the other route, but since these chairs that will be taking a beating from my kids and my cats, I figure they'll need to be re-done again in a few years, so why put in all the extra work, when it's easier, faster and cheaper to do it this way.

Thank heaven for electric staple guns!

I decided to stick with velvet for the outside, mostly because I just love the feel of it, and because I really didn't like the synthetic chenilles that were recommended to me at nearly every fabric store I went to.  In fact, most of the salespeople whipped out the chenilles even when I directly asked for velvet.  Maybe they thought I didn't have a clue, or maybe they didn't have a clue, or maybe it's because most people don't upholster in velvet anymore, but there's a definite chenille-pushing tendency going on over here these days. Is Spain some sort of chenille mafia haven or something?   But no matter how how hard they tried, I would not be budged.  Ugh, I dislike polyester chenille almost as much as that microfiber suede stuff that's invaded the furniture market in the last few years.

No, I had to have some real velvet, even though it's not the most practical thing in the world.

I finally did find some high-quality English cotton velvet that I just loved, very similar to what was on the chair to begin with, but at seventy euros a meter, and taking into account that I needed at least ten meters for the two chairs, it was just a little out of my price range.  So, I ended up chosing a slightly lighter weight fabric, still velvet, still suitable for upholstery, but that probably won't last as long as the more expensive stuff.  Okay, so it won't last seventy years this time around, but I'll probably get tired of it long before that, so the trade-off is okay with me.  It's a two-toned velvet, that looks golden or burgundy, depending on the light, but very hard to capture in a photo.  There's just no way to get a picture of it where it doesn't look brown, but it's really not.  In any case, it's lovely, but you'll just have to trust me on this one.  Everyone who's seen it so far has really liked it, and the unusual tone really catches people's eye.  What's more, the woman in the fabric store said that someone bought the very same fabric to make a mantle for the Virgin Mary.

How could I resist having my behind cradled by the very stuff that cloaks the Virgin?

And that's how far I've gotten.  It's looking good, and if things keep going at this rate, I should be starting on chair number two very soon.

But don't think it's all work and no play.  There's also the very important matter of snack time.  The class is three and half hours long, so halfway through we take a coffee break.  But this is no ordinary coffee break.  This is a Spanish coffee break, which inevitably involves food.  What doesn't involve food in Spain?  I'd almost say it was an "aperitivo", except no alcohol is involved...although there's always a bottle of wine lying around for anyone who wants to warm up a little.  There are around fifteen of us in this class, and we take turns to bring the food for each class.  We are only supposed to bring one thing each time, but in the end there are always at least two things, one sweet and one savory (usually a potato omelette), and by the time we're done, we're all so stuffed we can hardly even move.  After, we pretend to work a bit more...then we go home and eat lunch.

Good thing this class is only once a week, otherwise my butt might end up too big for my chair.

So, do you have any furniture tales of your own?  What's your favorite piece?


  1. Wow looks good and lots of fun too!!

  2. Hmmm, I too have a chair whose springs have sprung, but the fabric is still fine on this one.....gotten me thinking. Just have to figure out where to get the supplies, but in fact, I probably know that too.....hmmmmm.

    1. Go for it! But I have to warn you that if your chair is an armchair, it's going to be a big job. Ditch the springs, and use foam, which makes it a lot easier. One thing is true, it is a highly satisfying sort of project, especially knowing you've done it yourself. If you do decide to do it, I'd love to see photos. :)

  3. I don't have any furniture stories to tell but I do have a loathing for chenille that surpasses yours. I can't STAND the feel of chenille against my skin; just touching it sends shivers up and down my spine. Heck, just THINKING about it right now brought a grimace to my face! I had a friend once who couldn't stand the feel of corrugated cardboard, so I'm not the only one with a touch aversion. Anybody else have something they just can't stand to touch??

    1. It's kind of like when someone runs their fingernails down a chalkboard, isn't it? :D

  4. what a great opportunity to learn and save the chairs. i can't wait to see the finished results. my favorite furniture is my dining room set because of all the meals we've had there. and it bears scars from all three of my kids including a tiny many with a crown carved into it. hahahaha!

  5. Replies
    1. I love furniture with memories...that dining set must be really special. We have a small cabinet has a sun carved into it, and I was thinking of restoring it...but maybe I should leave it since it's a memento of a very young Catgirl's artistic abilities. ;D

  6. En mi casa (Lima) es gracioso que siempre que digo "mi casa" se trate de Lima, en fin ese es otro tema. En Lima tenemos dos sofás así de ese estilo, con flores talladas en la parte de arriba y las patas de león (creo que así se les llama)y una silla a juego. Realmente allá la mano de obra es barata y cada cierto tiempo mi mamá la manda a retapizar. Tenemos el mismo juego toda la vida.
    Yo una vez pensé en traerme mi juego de cama (para mi gordi) que es también del mismo estilo muy de niña princesita :D, pero me saldría un ojo, un riñón y seguro que las manos, traérmelo.

    En fin que acá yo no tengo nada de valor digno a reparar, los pocos muebles que tengo, son de Ikea, de usar y luego pues.. tirar.

    Tus sillas tienen muchísimo potencial. Y me ha parecido fantástico que te metieras al curso, eso sí tu nuevo tapizado no es muy diferente al anterior, sólo otro color, yo le hubiera dado un toque mas moderno :P

    Me ha encantado tu post de hoy. Lo comparto.

    Oyeeee, hace mucho que no se de ti, a ver si un día me llamas, menos martes y jueves que ando loca puedes hacerlo cualquier tarde.


    1. Gracias por compartir mi todo un honor! Aquí re-tapizar es carísimo, así que no lo podía hacer de otra manera. Tienes razón, es muy parecido la tapicería nueva, pero mi casa ya tiene suficientes colores y cosas como para meterle algún dibujo a la tela. Eso sí, voy a hacer un cojín para el asiento, y no sé si eso cuenta como mas moderno o no, pero un poco diferente sí. Jo, yo por las tardes es cuando mas liada estoy, es cuando tengo todas las clases...

    2. Qué más clases tienes? Bueno, cuando tu puedas, pero sería una linda sorpresa.

    3. Fitness y bailes que no paro. :D

  7. I want to do this, and I don't even have chairs that need me. But you're so lovely in your lab coat that I have hopes of looking like you if I find the right chair to re-upholster. What you're doing, right down to discovering the bones of the chair, is so cool. I also like, semi-relatedly, the way you write about CatGirl. Heehee.

    In short: I want your chairs and to be you and to have you for my mommy.

    1. Jocelyn, you crack me up! Sorry, you can't have my chairs, otherwise we'd have nowhere to sit, but you're welcome to come over and sit in them. You can even come and help me to upholster the second chair if you want, and you can also help drink the wine. ;)

  8. Magnificent post! I´m so glad you saved these fantastic chairs. (Can you give me, oh well, be like that). It´s great you found so many creative solutions to problems of cost and ...chenille. You just can´t begin to compare these two masterpieces or mistresspieces to Ikea, much as I like a lot of their stuff. P.S. Don´t let Catgirl anywhere NEAR them!

    1. Thanks. Oh, these are totally the opposite of anything Ikea, although I do have, and like, a lot of their stuff too. If you want something like this, check out the thrift stores, you'd be amazed at what you can find, but only if you want to put some work into it. And Catgirl won't get her hands on these least not for a looong time.