A while back, I bought a set of four Victorian balloon back dining chairs to restore and sell at Artist Open Houses during the May Festival. I wanted to showcase the amount of work and skill that goes into traditional upholstery but also illustrate how traditional antique furniture can be made to look contemporary and stylish.
This is a shot of one of the chairs before it was stripped back and the stuffing I discovered in the seat. An eclectic mix of the original seaweed & coir stuffing and some more modern bits of what looked like a massacred nylon teddy!
Here are just a few of the layers that go in to building a traditional seat… The final picture shows the different stages of seat stitching.
…its quite tricky finding a way of taking a photo of four dining chairs with stitched seat pads that shows them in all their glory. Here are some of my attempts!
So here are two of the finished product, all dressed up in yellow Velvet with Houles double cord.
These beautifully made frames now have new, traditional seat pads that are built to last and contain sustainable materials, not teddies… You can buy these as a pair of bedroom chairs or as a set of four dining room chairs. There’s two on display at Aymer Arts Open House which is on 1 Aymer Road, Hove – no. 13 on the West Hove Trail. Open every weekend through May from 11 to 6pm.
A while ago I was approached by a lovely client who had inherited her Nan’s rocking chair. She was very fond of it but the cherry red velour and dark wood didn’t really fit into the style of her house.
The foam inside was old and crumbly so that was removed and then I set about stripping the dark varnish off the wood. Many sanding sheets later, I applied some traditional wood finishing techniques to the show wood. Now rather than dark brown – it’s a warm honey colour.
With completely new foam and cotton wool felt, it was then covered with a gorgeous turquoise blue, fine wool fabric from Ludvig Svennson. Just a beautiful colour.
What a transformation and incredibly comfortable to sit in!
Have a heart
Sometimes its good to have a little reminder of what was there before, particularly if it has fond memories. Just under the cushion is a hidden piece of cherry velvet.
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.
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..
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…
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.
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…
I decided to name my fledgling business – not after the season of daffodils, baby lambs and cherry blossom – but actually after the humble metal spring.
Springs are marvelously utilitarian in their look and feel and yet still manage to be beautiful. They create the foundations of a seat and contribute to it’s comfort and stability.
A brief history of the spring…
Before springs – you’d have just sat on fillings like hair, feathers or rags – with not a lot of give!
The Victorians introduced the double cone spring and by 1850, many seats, backs and arms were being built with these springs to provide comfort. These springs look very similar today and are still used in traditional upholstery. These are my favourite. Beautiful!
Double cone spring
The first half of the 20 century saw lots of development to the spring – mainly to increase speed of making mass produced furniture and reduce costs. For example you didn’t need to know how to position and lash springs when inserting a spring unit – just pop it in!
Tension springs are often seen in 50’s & 60’s furniture and were used a lot in Parker Knoll chairs. Serpentine springs are the sorts of springs used in a lot of modern furniture – you’ve probably got some inside your sofa!
So next time you drop into a comfy armchair – give a thought to the springs hard at work beneath your derriere!