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.

Traditionally Upholstered French Dining Chairs: More Horsehair and Burlap!

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French painted and traditionally upholstered vintage dining chairs

I have discovered that I love making upholstered furniture. Not, by the way, with foam stuffing. Using traditional methods of upholstering furniture is like sculpting with stitches. You are not at the mercy of the materials, but the materials are at the mercy of your hands. Horsehair, cotton, and coiled springs–a great combination for truly stylish, refined furniture with longevity. Kind of like putting yourself out of business!

These began on a Craigslist whim, as most of my purchases do. I loved the curve between the front legs on these antique mahogany chairs. I knew the frames would look amazing in black, topped with some velvet. And pink. Pink was required. They were so sad and neutral. See:

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As found, these are the Craigslist chairs. Vintage carved mahogany, with loose joints, nicks and dents.

Since my new favorite thing to do now is upholstering, I knew that six of these babies would provide me with adequate practice to get it right, and they did. After ripping out the old guts, including the old zig-zag “springs”, sanding, and repairing every lose joint, I painted them black and put a satin topcoat on them. That was the easy part! To upholster, I did them in phases, perfecting my technique: webbing, springs, burlap, horsehair, muslin, cotton, velvet. And the seat backs: fabric, stuffing, support, stuffing, fabric. I’m really having a hard time preferring any other way to spend my time!

Some highlights of the process:

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Eight-way hand tied coil springs–takes a few hours, but so worth it in the end! Gives the chairs longevity and a very nice crown on the seat.
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Plenty of horsehair bridled in and fluffed–it compresses and becomes very comfy.
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Nice sculpted seat-the edge roll inside protects the fabric from the wood edge and keeps the horsehair contained on the frame. The muslin gets stretched and pulled to get the shape of the seat. The holes are where the regulator is stuck in and rotated to get rid of lumps and pull unruly horsehair into submission.
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In this photo, I haven’t cut the fabric around the seat and back yet…but you can see how nicely they are shaped! And they feel firm, yet resilient.

The pink floral seat backs got tightly woven burlap to keep their shape, and layers of cotton. This floral fabric has a very linear weave, so it was important to keep the weave straight, and tight as a drum.

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Two of the French girls. The set of six went to a buyer in Kentucky shortly after I listed them.

Yards and yards of double welting made from the velvet brought the whole look together. I was actually sad when they were done. But they made someone in Kentucky very happy!

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Everyone should keep some chairs on their table, don’t you think?!

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There are some nice furniture pieces in my Etsy shop, as well. Check them out here.

 

Art, Furniture and Chocolate: A Vintage French Cabinet Becomes a Delicious Decorative Statement

I have a passion for applying paint. Any paint to anything. Canvases, furniture, accessories, walls, whatever. I would actually rather be applying paint to canvases all the time, but since there is no market for undiscovered wanna-be artists, I have to express my artistic soul on furniture. People buy furniture, it seems, much more frequently than original art, because we can’t hide our stuff in art, right?!

So when this dated French hutch presented itself, with its expanses of blank, I knew what I had to do.

French Cabinet As Found. BORING!
French Cabinet As Found. BORING!

Coat it in chocolate, because it’s French (couverture). And put some gilding on the trim because shiny gold is nice. And then put some abstract art on the new wood (bye-bye glass) panels because, well, I wanted to. Like those artisanal chocolates you see from expensive shops:

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So now we have this! A beautiful, functional, delicious-looking piece of artistic furniture.

French Chocolate Cabinet with Abstract Painted Panels

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French Chocolate Cabinet Inside

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Much yummier than before, don’t you think? And oh, so much more useful when you can hide your stuff in it!

Check this out in my Etsy shop.
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Vintage French Serving Cart: Ooh La La!

This is the piece that turned me around to appreciate French style furniture. I looked upon this vintage serving cart as more of a challenge, really, than something I wanted to paint. It was a decent price at a thrift store, and the old finish was really gummy and grimy. The bones, however, were solid, and the curves were speaking to me. This is how it started:

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I wanted something sharp and artistic, with appealing, contrasting colors. I actually picked out these two hues separately, for two other projects, and when I held the paint chips in my hand together, I pictured the French cart in my mind. So this is what I did:

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The two knobs on the “top drawer” had to go because it wasn’t really a drawer. I could see other people come along and try to yank on the knobs to open the non-existent drawer, just like I did. How annoying.

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The back and sides got a curvy, moroccan sort of pattern, with small gold dots for accent.

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Since this cart was so fun to paint, I have collected a few more nice French style vintage furniture pieces that need makeovers!

Are you fond of French furniture? Bright colors? I’m happy to read your comments, and I generally respond by email. Thanks for reading!
You can find me with my fun stuff on facebook, and on Etsy!

Fortuitous Find: the French Baroque Sofa

I have gotten so much braver since beginning my furniture business. I have begun considering purchases that I would not have before. In fact, I would have thought myself crazy for even considering this recent purchase I am going to tell you about.

For some reason, French furniture never appealed to me until recently. All those curves and plump parts looked a little too girly for me. Then, I came across a French serving cart in a thrift store that was a great price, but needed a makeover. I was not at all sure that I could get into it, but I decided to have fun with it, and it came out great. I’ll show you that in another post.

So, after that, I found a gorgeous French bombe-style dresser that needs a redo but I haven’t gotten to yet. I’m savoring it for a color scheme that I can’t decide on. And then one day, I was out yard sale shopping and came across a jaw-dropping piece:

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Okay, yes, it needed work. But it was amazing. It used to be gilded and shiny! Parts of it still were! It was old! Shiny! Old! It had burlap on it! Old burlap! Foreign writing! Hay hanging out! How much cooler could it get?? I took photos and chatted with the seller. Turns out she found it in Tennessee and brought it back to sell in the big city. She took the fabric off because it was horrible, which was a good move. It was very sturdy, and heavy. I drooled, imagined, stroked it, and left.

I had been on my way to rearrange my pieces at the vintage market, so I showed the photo to the manager there. She affirmed my attraction to the amazing sofa. I thought about it all afternoon. I had hoped that it wouldn’t be there when I got back because I really wasn’t at all sure of what to do with it. But I had to have it. I didn’t know if I would attempt to reupholster it, have it done professionally, or re-sell it. But I had to have it. Obviously, it was still there, and meant for me!

I made a deal with the seller, brought it home, and Mr. City Girl nearly had a cow. He thought I had gone completely nuts. But that’s why he has the 9 to 5, right? I took it over to the market, and most of the vendors I asked there had an opinion. Interestingly, it was split down gender lines: Men who thought it was cool: Zero. Women who thought it was cool: All. Validated.

I’m no forensic scientist, but there were some clues as to its history. A friend had the Arabic writing translated. It said, “Made in Syria” along with the name of the company, which no longer exists, and their phone number. It was obviously old, with old school furniture upholstery methods, like hay for padding. So it may be pre-1943, since France occupied Syria from 1920 until 1943, and may have had some influence over the styles in that country at that time.

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Since I didn’t have any room for the huge piece at my house and workshop, I put a price on it for the market. I really didn’t expect to sell it, nor did I really want to, but I thought I could think about it for a while safely. Within four hours of opening that day, a couple fell head over heels just like I did, and couldn’t leave it there. I was happy to have them take it home and do something wonderful with it. At least I had it for a little while!

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