What is upholstery in furniture?
Upholstery case study
This is my kinda chair! Old, rock solid and comfy as heck. A definite ‘Sunday chair’ to lounge around in with a magazine and a cup of tea.
My customer, Suzy, came to me asking if I could return this chair to its former glory. Suzy had a lovely house and this tired-looking chair seemed at odds with its otherwise sophisticated surroundings.
The chair had been upholstered in the recent past and I think it somehow lost its way over the years. If you look at the seat, it looks too flat as if it previously had a cushion on it, however adding a cushion would then partially hide those lovely front scrolls. In addition to this head-scratcher, there was something odd about where the outside arms meet the seat and the multiple sections drawing the eye hither and thither (see below).
It’s so important to nail down these design issues before starting to reupholster as you can’t really do this on the hoof. Suzy wanted the chair to look as close to the original as possible so I suggested building up the seat to make it more domed and giving the outer arm more of a visual flow.
And now for the stripping. Suzy wanted to recover the existing stuffing and not go for full reupholstery which would involve stripping the chair down to the frame. This is always a bit of a scary prospect as you don’t want to upholster over a structural weakness you can’t see. I’ve found the most random stuffing inside chairs like old tights and blankets masquerading as upholstery materials! Such findings would definitely need to be replaced and then it becomes a Pandora’s Box of repair and replacement.
I start probing the essential structural components like springs which are the first to be applied to a chair’s frame and then covered up by everything else. I carefully removed the bottom cloth from underneath the chair and shone a torch into the base. The springs were strongly tied and the webbing was still sound. Then I started removing the top fabric to investigate further. Just look at that naked chair!
A good feel around and some careful lifting of the wool wadding showed everything was in great shape underneath. This chair’s interior has many years ahead of it.
I took the top layer of wool wadding off, as you can see it was too patchy and uneven to keep on. I then replaced it with a fresh layer of wool. And now to dome that seat. I added wool layers one by one until it started to look plump and even.
And now for the fabric
Suzy chose a beautiful fabric from Ian Mankin called Taymar Dark Navy which is a textured cotton and linen blended fabric, with a chunky textured weave. It was lovely to work with but frayed quite easily. It had a horizontal fleck as well as a diagonal pattern so it was important to get the visual flow right. I chose to place the diagonals on the seat and back going from the bottom left to the top right. Then the inner arms needed to mirror each other and then flow correctly into the outer arms and back. Position ten times and cut once!
The final touches
Upholstery doesn’t always finish with the fabric. As is often the case, the chair now looks amazing but the legs are left looking tired. I never take it upon myself to get sanding and varnishing without the customer’s consent. I’ve found that wood patinas can be a very personal aspect of the furniture, for example, the wooden arms of a chair might have decades of wear and marks from grandma’s rings or where grandad knocked his pipe. Imagine just sanding all this away!
For Suzy’s chair, I got into the grooves with a cleaning brush and then gently re-oiled the wood. Less is more in this case. Finally, I added a few antique brass studs to hold the fabric in place around the legs. The chair is now happily sitting pretty for a few more decades…
Bye for now,
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