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.

 

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?!

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South Beach Dresser2

This piece is available in my Etsy shop.
The painting is by me.
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Empire Dresser: Meant to Be For Me (to paint)

The style is well-known. The chunky red mahogany curved massiveness of American Empire style. Always veneered, almost always chipped, sometimes irreparably. Many of them handmade, but so old and well used that they end up in the garage, thrift store or picker’s storage unit with broken or missing hardware, drawer runners or backs. Can’t even really sell the nicer ones because no one really wants that large-scale, mottled red book-matched veneer look anymore (I’ve tried). There are so many of them that they don’t really hold value unless they have an exceptional provenance or are in immaculate condition (as with most antiques).

The sad are the ones I find. I have three right now, so I know they are not rare. This dresser had so many issues that I watched the price go down, down, down over a number of weeks to the point where I picked it up. It was even sorrier in person. See?

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And this was after I had replaced missing and broken drawer runners so that the drawer boxes would even have something to sit on! After all the repairs were done, I used some dark grey milk paint mixed from black and light gray. I wanted some natural chippiness, so I didn’t use the bonding agent. The wood was so old and dry that paint would certainly bind nicely, but I also sanded most of the surfaces. And I got what I wanted from the milk paint. Perfect accompaniment to to the chipped and missing veneer: perfectly chippy paint.

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Some of the typical wood knobs were missing, so I replaced them all with some very old stamped steel bow tie shaped pulls that are about the same age as the dresser, late 1800’s. I had picked them up at a junker’s paradise called Shupp’s Grove in Pennsylvania during some travels last year. The pulls seemed to match the escutcheons the dresser already had, so they looked right at home. I cleaned them up and sprayed them with several different silver tones for interest.

Antique American Empire Dresser in Seal Grey Milk Paint

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The drawer boxes were sanded and stained and made like new, really. They fit now, and glide well.

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Can’t you see this in a modern entry hall or bedroom? A little industrial, a lot antique? Massive and moody? Meant to be.

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Copper Show Stoppers: Instant Impact

Wood and metal are such studies in contrast. Warm wood, cold metal. Wood gives, metal resists. Wood dampens sound, metal amplifies it. Most of the furniture pieces I do are made of wood, and my paint treatments do wonders for them. Sometimes, a painted wood piece lacks a little pizazz on its own, and metal comes to the rescue!

Take this piece–very functional, solid, neutral, and appealing.

Mid Century Bookcase, Bar or Buffet $275
Mid Century Bookcase, Bar or Buffet

But I wanted it to have more impact. And, I seemed to have some sheet copper lying around my garage. So what to do? Cut the copper to fit and install it in the too-neutral painted piece for instant impact. Wow.

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Here’s another example: a finely crafted antique fireplace mantel. Fashioned from heart pine boards a hundred years ago, this warm, wonderful wooden piece had ambered, as old pine does, and lost its lustre and detail.

Heart Pine Fireplace Mantel before

A new, lightly distressed, charcoal paint treatment brings out the egg and dart moulding, corner curves, and linear detailing, and makes it much more beautiful. But the impact truly arrives with a piece of raw copper inset into the opening.

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Oooooo. Now it’s not just a mantel, but a statement piece with instant warmth that doesn’t even need a fireplace. Opposites do attract!

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Charcoal Fireplace Mantel 2

Marbleized floorcloth by me.
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Little Black Dress(er): Worn With Pearls

Black is the new black; it’s always classic. Everyone looks good in it, including furniture. This dresser had such a good figure that black would only complement it further, so black she became. Here’s how she started:

Little Black Dresser Before

Simple, elegant, great bones. Solid maple, no veneer. In her ’50s, I would guess. Unattractive hardware, even worse color. All characteristics that make it perfect for a new outfit. So, I put her in black, but every little black dress needs the proper accessories. And what goes best with a little black dress? A necklace of pearls–large, shimmery, white pearls.

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Now this cute little dresser looks elegant, sharp, and finished. The hardware has touches of gold, and the pearls have subtle hues of green, pink and shadow grey. Not too fussy, and with a sense of humor!

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Little Black Dresser with Pearls3

Original Painting by L. Howard, “Mountain Lake”.
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Killer Legs: Work Table to French Farm Swirl Table

It was the legs that got me. Leaning, without their tabletop, in a corner of a filthy, rundown garage apartment formerly inhabited by a very disorganized old person and what must have been a dozen cats. Or so it seemed, from the clouds of cat hair collected in every nook, every pile of neglected furnishings, everywhere I turned. But there they were. Killer curves, charming little wood wheels.

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After a short search, the rather disheveled table top turned up nearby, leaning against another wall along with old plywood and a nasty cabinet made of MDF, which was fraying from moisture exposure. I left that. But now I had this:

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The leaf was nowhere to be found, but the table would serve me well until I figured out another use for the legs. I needed someplace to lay brushes, rags, tools, and paint cans while I used them, and to prop smaller projects on to work. So, for several months, that’s what it did. But I kept seeing those legs. And, after awhile, I began thinking in earnest how nice that table would look all painted up. So that’s what I did. So now I have this:

FrenchFarmSwirlTableI wanted to make an expressive statement on the top and the gorgeous, killer legs had to be highlighted. But it still needed to remind me of its age. It is an antique, after all. So the top got painted with a freehanded swirl pattern and sanded to give it the time-worn look of so many elegant dinner parties like my parents used to have, and the legs got a very colorful, heavily distressed treatment.

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I think it will look amazing with any color or style of chairs. What do you think?