French Plus Bohemian: A Chair Story in the Traditional Upholstery Manner

There once was a very sad Louis style chair. Very beige, very neutral, very brown wood. It was French in style, and vintage, so it had something going for it, but all else was a complete bore, so it’s not even worth showing. It needed color on the outside! On the inside, it was even worse: crusty, crumbling old foam over webbing, which would never do, professionally speaking. So, off came all of its materials, all the way down to the bones, to be built back up the traditional, European, way, with springs and natural materials (no foam).

French Chair Stripped and Milk-Painted   HTS

I painted it with natural milk paint in a cornflower blue hue–meant to be imperfect looking. Sealed with tung oil and lightly distressed for a casual look, the transformation had begun. Next came webbing and hand-tied springs, anchored with tacks. Although I usually tie my springs eight ways, most of these are tied six ways, because eight ways seemed like overkill on such a small seat. I daresay they’re tight and will last just as many years.

wood wool or excelsior

This is excelsior, or wood wool. Using traditional upholstery methods, it gets laid into bridles to be covered with burlap and hand-stitched into a first stuffing. The stitching compacts the wood wool in a roll around the top to support the second stuffing of hair.

excelsior first stuffing hand stitched edge roll
On top of this, lots of fluffy horsehair gets bridled in to form the second stuffing. I then cover that with muslin and a layer or two of cotton before I put on the fabric. In this case, the fabric is a wonderful designer velvet that is printed with a large variety of patterns in amazing colors. Just the effect I was looking for.

Bohemian Style Vintage Upholstered Louis French Chair

City Girl Arts upholstered boho french chair

With an oversized black and white houndstooth chenille in the picture frame back, and double welting made of plum purple velvet, the completed look far surpasses the original in excitement. The inside, done with traditional methods and materials, far surpasses the original in comfort, quality, and durability. This beauty is going to make a fabulous statement wherever it ends up. Check out my Etsy shop, or Chairish, to find it.

I design and make chairs to sell, or for clients based on their own desires. I have an inventory of vintage seating pieces longing for their big breaks–contact me directly to design and make a chair for you that has something to say!

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Artisanal Upholstery: Gilded Antique French Settee and Chair in the Traditional Manner

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I had these antique pieces in their run-down state for a couple of years. When I acquired them, I knew they were the kind of thing that would not settle for ordinary. When they came to me, they looked like this:DSC_1069

You really couldn’t sit on the settee because the springs were falling out of the bottom, but the seller had stripped the old fabric off and put this muslin on, I think to make them more attractive. She needn’t have done that; it was pretty easy to see their potential no matter what. The gilding on these pieces was untouchable–shiny in many places, worn, dull in spots, greenish in others, glazed in some crevices, missing in some areas–and tells a story that no one will ever hear. They are very old, and obviously hand-carved, in mahogany. They needed a special fabric, and when I saw the Designers Guild Mattiazzo, there was no question about their future.

I don’t use foam when I upholster antique pieces. I have invested in learning and practicing the traditional ways of upholstering that include hand-tied coil springs, excelsior foundation, burlap, stitching the integrated sculpted edge roll for structure, and stuffing with horsehair and cotton. It’s labor intensive and expensive, but beautiful and long-lasting. When I’m done, it feels like I have created a piece of art, not just furniture. I call it “artisanal upholstery”.

Come into my studio! Here are a few process shots to show just how intricately constructed the guts are in these pieces:

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Fitting the muslin cover to hold in the bridled horsehair. After that, several layers of cotton go on, under the finish fabric cover. You can see how many previous layers of upholstery had been applied by the number of tack holes left behind!

 

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Wood wool (excelsior), gathered up and bridled into an approximate foundation shape on top of the burlap covered hand-tied coil springs.
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Wood wool (excelsior), covered with burlap and tacked down, ready to stitch into shape.
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Wood wool under the burlap, stitched with linen twine into an edge roll. The stitches go through the wood wool and keep the stuffing rigid all around, so the seat won’t sag.
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Lots of hairy horsehair to make a comfy seat when compressed under the cover.
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As with the chair, the settee got eight-way hand-tied coil springs.
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On the inside backs, there’s fluffy horsehair under the lovely designer fabric, covered to keep it pristine while the seat gets built. The seat front is not going to sag on my watch! All those stitches keep it firm for the second stuffing of horsehair.

And, voila! Many steps later, we have the finished product!

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French Antique Gilded Settee in Designers Guild Mattiazzo
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The back of this unique settee is wrapped in a lush cobalt blue velvet with double welt all around. Makes for a cohesive look.
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French antique gilded chair, covered in lush cobalt velvet, with double welt.

 

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Designers Guild Mattiazzo is applied to the back after sagless burlap and a layer of cotton. Double welt all around completes the look.

Here they are together, comparing notes on how far each one has come over the last 100 or more years. We’ll never know where they started, but they aren’t planning to quit anytime soon!

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Antique French Carved Mahogany Gilded Settee and Chair. I can see them in an art gallery or sprinkled in with some modern pieces in a collector’s home.

These are for sale. Check them out in my Etsy shop. You can also contact me directly.

Peacock Green Milkpainted Antique Dresser with Agate and Brass Pulls

Just for fun, while I dragged my heels finishing up some tedious touches on one project, I did a (supposedly) quick project. I had previously stumbled upon, and brought home, the perfect dresser for some milk paint, which I have been yearning to use for some time. This one was in great structural condition, so all it needed were cosmetic improvements. Here it is:

Dull, brown dresser with potential.
Dull, brown antique dresser with potential.

I always sand and prep every piece carefully. I didn’t want any chipping with this one, so I also added the bonding agent. I’m convinced that this material is just watered down polyurethane, but I’m not a chemist and they don’t list the ingredients on the bottle.

I used Peacock, from The Real Milk Paint Company. I enjoy the lights, darks, and striated colors of milk paint mixed from pigments and powders. When I have an actual antique (not just vintage) piece, it’s my paint of preference.

It took many coats because I mistakenly sanded through the finish down to raw wood around the original pulls, which had cut large circular patterns in the wood that I knew would show when I used different pulls. When you don’t sand evenly with milk paint, it soaks in differently and becomes very obvious. Drat. At one point, I had to cover the whole thing with flat polyurethane to get an acceptable even finish with several more coats.

When the piece looked done, I coated the whole thing with tung oil. This brings out more color in the paint, and enriches it. The drawers were sanded and sealed inside, and the great steel casters were rubbed with a little gold wax. Then I put on the jewelry: green and yellow agate pulls from Anthropologie. Those are what this piece is about, anyway.

Anthropologie Agate Pulls
Anthropologie Agate Pulls
Peacock Green Milkpainted Antique Dresser
Peacock Green Milkpainted Antique Dresser

See the striations? That’s what I like about Milk Paint.

Looking like a chameleon--changing in different lighting!
Looking like a chameleon–changing in different lighting!

A few spots did chip, so I ended up sanding those back a bit and reapplying the paint and the oil. It’s a very relaxed, very livable look with a pop of glam in the fascinating brass mounted agate pulls.

Available in my Etsy shop.

American Empire Conversion: Tumble-Down Dresser to Smart Buffet

As I have mentioned before, these old Empire dressers are ubiquitous. And, age does not mean value every time. Since this one was in such terrible condition inside, it wasn’t worth rebuilding and trying to restore. It was, however, worth sharpening my skills and creativity to make something new out of it. A buffet came to mind: keep the top drawers and make a new open space out of the bottom.

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The bottom drawer sides, the actual supports for the drawers on the runners, were so worn down that each drawer had to be lifted into the frame to close it, causing chipping to the face veneer. The drawer sides would all need to be replaced (dovetails and all), which was not going to happen. The drawer supports (I call them runners) had all been poorly replaced sometime in the past, as you can see from the back (which was also missing).

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There were no dividers between the drawers anymore, so the soft old wood dust was raining down on whatever was stored in the drawer below every time they were opened or closed. The drawer bottoms were falling out from shrinkage and expansion over the years.

So, I gutted the insides. A few whacks with the hammer and the drawer runners came right out. No regrets.

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The newly freed open space got a lining of new wood, filled and sanded.

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I remembered some hardware I bought at a picker’s paradise in Pennsylvania called Shupp’s Grove. They were very old, stamped metal shield pulls. These pulls, and the stiff, upright nature of the piece’s side columns, inspired a military/nautical style paint treatment, using navy, white and gold. Like so:

ATTENTION!
ATTENTION!
(Despite the photo angle, those stripes are actually perfectly centered)

Navy and White Empire Buffet 3

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So fun to do, and far more appealing than the old brown ubiquitous dresser. Check it out in my shop: city girl arts on Etsy.

Let me know what you think on the post on my facebook page, or in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

Henredon Campaign Dresser and Nightstands: Sapphire Blue Vintage Gems

I picked up these gems more than two years ago, and squirreled them away until I had a vision, and the tools, workspace and ability to carry out that vision. I’ve been painting furniture for more than half my life (not necessarily for pay), but, as we see elsewhere in society, technology has been evolving super fast even in the furniture painting realm, over the last few years. And, actually, campaign pieces have become very desirable now in the vintage furniture world as well. Which is to say that I might have been a little ahead of my time when I picked these up. This happens from time to time; I discovered gray many years ago, and it really now has taken over beige and brown as a neutral. But I digress.

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This is how the set looked. Hard to believe that brown/black look was lovely in anyone’s bedroom. But hey, remember the 1970’s? My sister and I had a lovely orange/red/yellow shag area rug in between our rainbow comfortered twin beds. This set, as is, would have gone just fine with that, except that the oak veneer was chipping in too many places. Whomever owned this thought so little of it they shipped it off to the thrift store, where I spied it.

Don’t forget, we are talking about Henredon here. Lasting, classic, quality, albeit in need of cosmetic repair. Did they know, when they made this set, that the design would be coming back around? Campaign furniture in the 1970’s was made not for portability and stackability, as it had originally been designed for war campaigns, but to evoke the feeling of luxurious travel, as it was also formerly used, with porters taking the pieces by the recessed side handles and loading them onto trains bound for destinations where everyone wore white in the hot sun and fanned themselves with palm fronds. Interesting to imagine. But again, I digress. Vintage campaign style furniture today is just plain hot.

The color? Blue. It had to be blue. Navy? Royal? A little of both? Yes. Satiny? No. Shiny? Yes. A gazillion coats later, in a fairly non off-gassing water-based clear coat, the sapphire blue shines almost as brightly as the gleaming brass hardware–all 14 3-piece pulls, 12 L-brackets, 12 sabots (feet), and 72 tiny escutcheon pinheads: delacquered, cleaned, polished, buffed, and relacquered (Mr. City Girl was a little concerned about my brain cells). A bench buffer became a necessity.

Henredon Campaign Dresser and Nightstands

Now that it is done, does this bedroom set evoke an era of luxurious travel? An era of military campaigns? I don’t know, but I feel that it has never looked better.

Henredon Campaign Dresser2

Henredon Campaign Nightstands

Thanks for reading. If you have comments, I’d love to read them on my City Girl Arts facebook page. It’s public, and you don’t have to be on facebook or friend me to visit me there (But if you click “like”, then my posts will be in your feed). Just click the link, and you’ll also find out where to purchase these charmers, or any of my other pieces. At the moment, they are available in my shop: City Girl Arts on Etsy. Ooops, not anymore :)–they went to live in a nice condo with a politician in Miami Beach.

 

South Beach Inspired: The Blue and White Dresser

Okay, so I may not know when to say when. I probably held on way too long to the pink and orange color combination that I loved so much. No one else did. 😦 Actually, I should say that it was favored many times on Etsy, and got many nice comments on the original post and on facebook, but remained unpurchased. That is the telltale sign. I finally got it.

I thought this would be a great color combination. No one else did.
I thought this would be a great color combination. No one else did.

So, after a trip to Miami, I was inspired by the sun-bleached colors and the architecture of the South Beach area to repaint this pink piece blue and white. Now it’s a soothing, glossy, sea blue and white piece with the great original knobs.

How do you like me now?!
How do you like me now?!

South Beach Dresser3

South Beach Dresser2

This piece is available in my Etsy shop.
The painting is by me.
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Tur-key to Tur-quoise: Antique Oak Dining Table

My husband comes up with most of these titles. He’s quite punny.

This table was part of a package deal. A buffet I spotted on Craigslist that had me salivating came with this non-matching beat-up table. I always think it’s odd when sellers refuse to separate pieces (and risk losing a sale), even though the buyer might have no intention of keeping them together. I tend to wonder if the seller intends to visit his pieces someday to make sure they are still keeping each other company.

I agreed to this arrangement because the table had lots of curvy legs that I thought might look good in a wild color. First thing I had to do was remove the 1/8 inch thick layer of gloppy ambered polyurethane that had accumulated over the years on the tabletop. Here’s the before, under the shroud of shame (paint stripper cover):

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Since I didn’t have the leaves, the sliders were useless, so I removed them. This made the table a little lighter and easier to manipulate. When I put the two halves back together, they dowel into each other and lock with a lever.

Milk paint was the perfect treatment for this piece. The legs were not oak, and had a finish on them that might resist, so they were rubbed with deglosser. The newly stripped top was very dry, so I smeared tung oil on some of the edges and spots that I hoped would then resist and chip. For once, milk paint did what I told it to do. The legs chipped a little and the paint resisted soaking into the oiled spots! This is, to me, the perfect level of natural looking wear.

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Before Hemp Oil Finish
Before Tung Oil
After Hemp Oil Finish
After Tung Oil

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The finishing touch was tung oil, which actually gives the top some water resistance. More than that, though, it mellows the color and deepens it, darkening the wear spots as well. Makes it look like it’s always been this color, and certainly not a turkey anymore.

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