Widdicomb Dining Chairs: Traditionally Upholstered Bohemian Delights

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Here’s a very satisfying “before and after.” These chairs arrived in my workroom in a well-loved condition. The consignment shop where I found them had slit the webbing to remove the nasty, crumbling, petrified foam that was sprinkling out everywhere. Since they were such a fine quality, there were no repairs to be made, but they needed to be sanded and painted because of 70 years of (surprisingly little) wear: dings, nicks, scratches. The before:

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Although these had foam over the webbing, I replaced it with coil springs and horsehair because such nice chairs deserved the finer traditional upholstery treatment. Here’s the progression:

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Painted, webbed, with coil springs tied eight ways: should last another 50 years!
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Burlap + edge roll + lots of fluffy horsehair bridled in!
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Scrim applied over horsehair: compressed and comfy.

I chose a fine velvet from GPJ Baker called Barcelona in the Indigo colorway. It has a large repeat, which allowed me to use a different part of the fabric on each of the chairs. The fabric is vivid and bohemian in nature, with parts of it quite irridescent. I always find the finer fabrics to be lovely to work with, and this one was no exception. It went on beautifully over the scrim, or calico, (as they say in the U.K.) layer.

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Done! The four of these, with their bohemian fabric, make a lovely statement.

These turned out so well, and happened to sell right away, so I’m going to be looking out for more to transform!

 

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 self-welt all around. Makes for a cohesive look.
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French antique gilded chair, covered in lush cobalt velvet, with double self-welting.

 

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Designers Guild Mattiazzo is applied to the back after sagless burlap and a layer of cotton. Double self-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.