One woman, her Northumbrian roots and the destiny of a sofa…

So I have this friend called Linda. She is very, very lovely. You’ve probably already worked out that she comes from Northumberland, in fact from a little place called Alnwick. She’s lived down south for years now, but she still goes back ‘home’ a few times a year to visit family and friends, and the ruggedness of The Borders still have a strong hold on her heart.

She even has a Border Terrier called Hinny… Awww.

So Linda has got a good eye for a 2nd hand bargain and a few years back she found this lovely old 1930’s sofa on eBay. Only after she’d won the bid did she realise it was actually being sold from a little antiques shop in her home town of Alnwick. What are the chances of that! After a long journey, the sofa arrived.  It was very heavy because it was actually a sofabed…

 
Over the years – the seat’s got lumper and the only one sitting on it was the dog! Despite this and perhaps because of its origins, Linda was keen to hang on to the old gal. I have often admired this sofa and recently got to work on bringing it back to life…

It was made in the late 1930’s under the wartime and post war Utility furniture scheme. Times were tight but I think this spring unit could have done with a few more springs….

I forgot to take photos of the nice new webs and lovely lashed springs – sorry about that (I was engrossed in a particularly good play on Radio 4). But believe me – they’re under there and now there’s 18 rather than just 12…!

Anyway, after perking up the wood with a nitrostain and building up the seat and back with rubberised hair, it was time to apply the lovely luxurious new velvet.  I’m glad to say that having dismantled a rather complicated 70 year old sofa bed mechanism in order to upholster the panels, I was most relieved that it all fitted back together again. Phew!

Now all we need to do is convince Hinny that the sofa is no longer her bed. Although she does go rather marvellously. Hard to resist that face….

“Please…?”

Sit back and dream of summer…

Making connections

Last May, at the one of the Brighton Artist Open Houses, I met Lizzie Hillier from Sussex based textile design company called Woven Oak. I loved their fabrics and was keen to see if we could bring our skills together to create a beautiful chair.

A good find

Then a few months ago, I found this rather special 1930’s reclining chair at Shabitat in Brighton. Its upholstery was in serious need of some attention but its shape and woodwork were lovely. The chair also reclines, so while sitting you can slide the seat forward and the back tilts. Perfect for an afternoon nap!

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Floor sweepings and tigers

Stripping it back revealed the original fabric (swirly brown and carpet-like) and ye olde upholstery practice of sweeping the floor and emptying the contents of the dustpan into the chair stuffing! Mmmmm lovely. However, I quite like the plywood from the back with all its old stamps. Easy tiger…


 
 The seat was a hand stitched sprung cushion that would have been beautifully made in its day but was falling apart! No wonder the seat was so lumpy.


With a newly sprung seat and sustainable materials to rebuild its upholstery, the chair was all ready for its final cover…

This is Woven Oak’s ‘Bloom’ fabric – such a beautiful print that really suited the age and style of the chair. Fabric and chair together have created rather a lovely place to sit back and dream of summer days…


If you’d like to know more about the wonderful process of creating a design using linocuts, you can read Katie Treggiden’s design blog where she interviews Lizzie from Woven Oak.

All dressed up with somewhere to go

This chair was sold to a lovely person at No. 44 Florence Road, Brighton part of the 2016 Artists Open Houses.

It’s rude to stare but…

I’ve oooh’d and ahhh’d over Mark Hearld‘s fabric designs for a while now – they are just beautiful. So when a client asked me to help her find a chair and said she wanted to use Mark Hearld’s Harvest Hare fabric, I was very excited!!

This is the chair we found… A really lovely shaped tub chair wearing rather tattered 1970’s William Morris fabric. I’m sure we had curtains a lot like this when I was growing up…

This was a recover rather than a total upholstery rebuild, so I added some lovely cotton wool felt for extra padding. The seat has been repaired from the underneath too.

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Behold

After much pattern matching, here she is, in all her corn-coloured glory..

  

Staring at hares

Our workshop is based at the Phoenix Brighton and have three huge windows through which passersby from the street often have a good look at our current projects. While I’ve been working on this chair, lots of people have stopped to peer in at the harvest hares! One chap even stopped to take a photo – cheeky!

Something special

Every now and then you get to work on a chair that is a bit special… I’m with my daughter on this one, she said: “I love the birds and the hares – I wish we could keep it.”  This is going to be a bedroom chair – what a lovely thing to wake up to every morning.. It would simply be rude not to stare.

If you’d like to learn more about Mark Hearld’s work and some of the other artists who are part of St Jude’s, you can visit their website.

 

Silk stockings and old bed springs

A while ago a lovely friend asked me if I could find her an old chair – she lives in a house built in the 1930’s and liked chairs with bentwood arms. Here’s what I found… a beautifully designed chair made by Suparest as a Utility piece of furniture sometime between 1941 – 1952.

 

Recently I began the job of returning it to its former glory. It still had the original fabric and utility ‘cheeses’ label, but the fabric was holey and the stuffing was very saggy. The varnish was very scratched and worn. Not surprising after about 70 years!

Utility Furniture

Severe restrictions on raw materials during World War II saw the introduction of a controlled production scheme in 1941. Initially, the utility mark applied to clothing and then extended to other commodities including furniture. The utility furniture range was aimed at newly weds setting up home or those whose houses had been bombed in the Blitz. It was well designed but plain and not surprisingly ‘utilitarian’ in style. Towards the end of the war, new and more attractive designs were introduced, but the scheme came to an end in 1952.

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Uncovering the past

This is what was inside… A cleverly designed spring unit that was hinged in the middle and sat on the frame as a kind of hammock. Attached to the spring unit was the original manufacturers label  – Crosby Spring Interiors in Lancashire. I did some research on the interweb and found they made mattress springs – apparently their company slogan was ‘Think of beds – Crosby Springs to mind!’

Make do & Mend

Another little surprise inside the chair was a rather forlorn 1940’s style stocking wrapped around the side of the spring unit. With a seam all the way up the back and little patches of salmon coloured thread where it’s holes had been darned – it rather epitomised the ‘make do and mend’ nature of war time Britain and the years that followed.
  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to the frame

Once stripped, the wood was rather a strange pink, so I had to use water stains and spirit dyes to get it to a good colour.

 

Beautiful once again

With some very lovely Bute wool Ramshead fabric and I think it’s looking pretty good again. It’s also really comfortable, almost as comfortable as my mattress…

  

Beauty and the beast

Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth

A few years ago some friends offered me a lovely old arm chair – it’s a 1930’s club chair that had been in Sarah’s family for years, she had been nursed on it as a baby and grown up with the chair in her family home. Here it is in the 1980’s with some William Morris fabric, a skirt and a very sweet dog. Oh and this is Sarah on her horse.

 

In more recent years, it spent some time in Sarah’s own living room with a new loose cover (made on the other side of the world but that’s another story). Really it needed reupholstering but this is a huge chair and it was going to be expensive! Knowing about my career change, Sarah gave it to me as a future project.

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It is a beast of a thing, but I love it! It took two of us to lift it and we could barely get in through the front door and into the hall. Here’s what it looked like under the loose cover and stripped back to the frame..

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Chair growth..

So, I took it in to college as it provided me with lots of things I needed to practice – an independent sprung edge, wings and massive sprung arms. Working on it for just one day a week and doing the whole thing using traditional upholstery methods and materials – it took a long, long, long time, particularly those darn sprung arms! Here’s are some photos of its development…

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No-one puts baby in a corner

Actually they do and then they put her on a pallet at The Cass Upholstery end of year show 2015.

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Home sweet home

Since I’ve had ‘the beast’ back home, I’ve added some stripey cushions and matching 1930’s footstool. This is my favourite armchair to curl up in with a book. With footstool in position, it also provides the perfect spot for 40 winks on a Sunday afternoon…

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The perfect upholstery workshop…

Been in bed with a nasty virus for the last few days and have been having rather feverish dreams of upholstery workshops. I’ve had a few years of working from home and I’m ready for a space of my own now. So here’s my list of requirements…

Somewhere spacious

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But not too big…

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And not too small...

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With plenty of light..

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And not too many stairs

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Somewhere to keep my materials

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And tools

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With mod cons

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Where I can bring the faithful hounds along

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And may be a nice view too..?

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Failing all that – somewhere cheap!

Cocktail o’clock

I do like the occasional cocktail –  Strawberry Margarita is my current favourite, with the Mojito a close second. Its my latest chair creation that has had me thinking about these drinks and the summer to come….

1950’s cocktail chair – before

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The insides…

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Finished article

I love the shape of the curved back – feels like you are being given a kind of chair hug. Typical of this era, it has lovely tapered legs which I’ve stripped and waxed. I’ve used two Vanessa Arbuthnott fabrics from her Swedish range as they go really well with the style of this chair. Her fabrics are also sustainable as she sources cotton and linen grown without the use of pesticides.

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Feet up

I’m hanging on to this one to sell at the Artists Open Houses in May. I’m thinking of sourcing some similar legs and making a stool to match. Cant beat sitting in glamorous comfort, with a feet up option!

Mojito recipe

Meanwhile, here’s a recipe for a Mojito from Jamie Oliver – although I have to apologise in advance for the mint spanking in the video… Well really.