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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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…
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
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.
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!
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.
One of the things I like about working on an old chair is stripping it back to the frame – it is a pretty dusty job but you are literally peeling back the years and you never quite know what you are going to discover… Some chairs just keep getting covered with new fabric so you get to see a potted history of textiles. With others – you can see the varying methods and materials that previous upholsterers have used.
A few months back, I read a really interesting article about someone who had stripped back a chaise lounge only to find that it had been originally stuffed using beautiful old Victorian clothes, like shirts and sleeping bonnets! Some of the garments even had labels in so she was able to trace some of the family history. I would love to share this with you, but sadly it doesn’t exist in the virtual world.
I recently reupholstered a lovely Victorian tub chair for a friend and although there was nothing as romantic as Victorian bonnets inside, there had been some imaginative use of cereal packets used as the inside of the arm facing!
The before photos
1980’s upholstery and recycled breakfast
The old innards and back to the frame
The after photos
Nice new firm back and a freshly sprung seat
The finished chair… No shreddies included!
Ready to strike gold…
I am of course still waiting to upholster a chair that contains a wad of cash or diamonds buried in the seat for safe keeping! So far I have only found a £1 coin and a Lego mini figure. I maybe waiting some time…
When we were at a friend’s house a while back, I spied a lovely Victorian balloon back dining chair that was looking rather worse for wear. The leather was very worn and split and the seat was dipping – so I offered my services to rescue it from ‘sagsville’.
According to our friend, Anthony, the chair was likely to have been last reupholstered by a someone who worked alongside his father at the MG factory in Oxford in the 1950’s.
All the trimmings
They used red leather from the trimmings workshop, and judging from the colour, its probably the same leather that would have been used on the interior of the 1950’s MG Magnette saloon – see below. I know this because Anthony told me and he is quite the MG expert…
New for 2014…
I have now re-upholstered the seat. Although it doesn’t have that sports car feel about it any more – it looks rather lovely and is much more comfortable!
Keeping hold of the past
But, so we don’t lose an important part of this chair’s history, I have saved a sample of the MG trimming leather and slipped it under the webbing with a print out of this blog entry. A little piece of history for the next upholsterer to find…!