Tuesday Transformation: Haunted from the Past

Many of our re-upholstery pieces contain just a little bit of the element of surprise - meaning, we don’t always know exactly how much work a piece needs until we can see its insides. This week’s Tuesday Transformation was a chair that showed off pretty easily most of the repairs that were needed, but we still found something very unexpected once we started pulling nails and removing fabric.

Here’s one photo from early on in the process:

At the point of this photo being taken, the repairs were somewhat underway. If you look closely to the leg on the left, you can see an odd block of wood between the front frame and the cabriole leg. Before this was added, the leg was fully broken off from the rest of the frame. We were able to line up the removed left leg to mirror the right, and add the block to fill in the missing area of the frame.

Below is a close-up of how we began the repair to re-attach the front leg. We also added large corner blocks to ensure that the frame would remain stable for years to come.

As you can see, this was just the start of the process. The frame and leg have been fully stabilized at this point, but there was still a lot of aesthetic work to be done.

The next step was to strip away all of the fabric that was near the frame. This includes removing any nail heads or staples that had been used to attach it. It’s hard to imagine just how many of them there are on a frame as old as this one, but there’s one just about every inch - or even less - everywhere that the fabric meets wood. This number can actually double, or more, if the chair has been re-upholstered or re-covered before.

Interestingly, this chair had been re-covered before. The difference between the two being that re-upholstery involves more effort and detail, typically removing everything down to the bare wood frame; on the other hand, re-covering is a much simpler process, often involving shortcuts. This chair had many nail heads left from the last time the fabric had been changed. Even more interesting, it had some areas where the fabric had not been removed at all.

The arm panels actually had two layers of fabric on them, as it was very common in the 50’s and 60’s to re-cover a chair without removing all of the previous fabric. It was an incredibly eerie surprise when we exposed the original fabric buried underneath, to the new fabric that our customer had chosen to re-upholster the chair with, and found that they were mysteriously similar!

Here’s what we found underneath…

…and here’s an after closeup, complete with new fabric, so similar to the original that it was uncanny.

Getting to this photo still required some more work, however. After we stripped off the fabric, there was still the matter of refinishing the frame. Below are some progress pictures showing how we added wood filler to shape the repair on the cabriole leg; filling, chiseling, sanding, and blending it down to match the original carvings. We sanded and stained the frame to match the original tone of the wood, and then used Glaze Couture in Zinc to highlight the carvings and bring in just a touch of metallic, to coordinate with the feminine frame and fabric.

Here are some after pictures of this customer’s chair, set up on display in its temporary home in our Vermilion shop.

Truly, re-upholstering a chair can have plenty of surprises to what you may find inside - even ones that are a little mysterious. You never know if there will be old fabric underneath or not, but we’ve never before seen a chair with hidden fabric underneath that actually matched the new fabric this closely.

In the meantime, we had another set of chairs being worked on alongside this one, which we pulled apart to find yet another surprise. This one was a little bit less uncanny and entertaining, because all that we found was that these chairs were literally held together by their layers of fabric. At the moment, these chairs still need a little more work. For now, here’s a picture of where we started - but check back to see our progress pictures and the completed work!