Friday, March 2, 2012

Repurposed & Renewed: 1920s/30s Deco Style Oak Dining Chair

1920s/1930s vintage Deco oak dining chair in need of recovering and a little TLC.
This '20s/'30s dining chair has good bones,
but needs a little love...
So many times I've passed by a chair at a flea market, ratty but with good bones, and thought, "If only that was reupholstered, it would be fantastic." I toy with the idea of an upholstery class with grand visions of myself picking up old Edwardian reading chairs at a steal, recovering them and returning them to their former state of furniture gloriousness.

While that is still at this point a junker's future dream, I have gotten quite adept at basic dining chair seat reupholstery. I've done a couple more complicated ones that wrapped around the wood, but really love best the simple dining chair seats that you pop out, recover and presto, the chair starts to sing again!

Case in point: this lovely '20s/'30's dining chair that I got for a bargain £10 at the charity shop. Tucked away, lonely in the corner of the tiny men's section, it didn't have a price tag on it, but when I asked they said, yes, it was for sale. It was £15 but if I wanted it I could have it for £10.

Yes please!

The chair is of sturdy, traditional oak, but has some really lovely deco details like the curved carving of the back panel and the rolled edges of the legs in the front. Also the side rails of the seat frame have a slight, purposeful bow to them, bending a little as if to blend with the contour of its human sitter.  Not necessary for functionality but a lovely touch.

The only problem? The nasty pleather seat covering. Ugh.

Handy canine "helper" optional.
But, luckily, as "restorations" go, this is one of the easiest fixes. A bit of sturdy fabric, a hammer or screwdriver to pull out old nails and staples, and a staple gun to hold everything new on and you're set!  Let the renovation commence!

First, the seat came out easily. Sometimes they're screwed in, but in this case the seat was snugly fitted sans screws into the frame.

Next up is deciding whether to keep on the existing fabric or not. If the original fabric is just threadbare and of nicer quality, I do sometimes leave it on the chair to give it an extra layer and to help hold the padding together. In this case, as its current fake leather covering was slippery and could cause the new fabric to wear strangely, it had to come off.

Yanking the fabric off with the nails still in
the wood...remove as many as possible before continuing
If I know that I don't want to keep the old fabric, as in this case, I usually just rip the old seat covering off and then pick out the upholstery tacks later. You do want to remove as many of the tacks or nails that you can as those could snag or weaken your fabric.  If you want to keep the original fabric, carefully pick out the tacks as best you can with a hammer end or screwdriver.

Once that's done, lay the seat down face up and drape your new fabric over the padding. Take the time to place the fabric on the seat exactly as you want the pattern to fall on the chair when finished. Then carefully turn everything over so the fabric is face down.

Pull the fabric taut before stapling to make sure you
keep out any bunches or wrinkles
The rest now is more or less like wrapping a package. On one of the longer sides, place a staple or two in the center of the bar. Then, on the opposite side of the frame, pull the fabric taut and add staples there. Do the same thing for the two other sides of the frame.

At this point, pick up the frame and do a quick check on the "front" to make sure the fabric looks like it's laying well and there are no buckles or loose bits. This is your chance to pick out a couple staples and start over if you're not happy, but if all looks good, turn the frame back over.

Knowing that everything looks good on the front, I now usually trim excess fabric from around the edges. I leave a couple inches still for safety, but I cut off anything more than that in order to keep the bulk out of the way.  Continue stapling the sides. Each you staple, first pull the fabric taut to make sure you're keeping everything smooth. Not too hard, but keep it nice and firm.  Staple all the edges until about 3" from each corner.

The corners can be tricky and each chair seat varies based on its shape. I've done varying folds depending on the chair, but each time I do a corner they end up slightly different.  I can't offer a great professional technique here as I tend to just wing it, but do decide ahead of time where you want the corner seam to be and then start folding, again like a package or origami, until you get it nice, clean corner.
Step 1: Pull the fabric taut on the chair seat and staple.
Step 1: Pull taut and staple

That said, generally I do what I would call a two fold corner. 

First, pull one side out and flat and staple the inside securely (step 1).

Second, fold back the other side halfway and staple (step 2). 
Step 32: Fold halfway and staple.
Step 2: Fold halfway and staple

Finally fold the second side all the way over and staple (step 3).  It should give you a nice, relatively clean corner.

Some chairs you might want to use decorative upholstery tacks if the corners will be visible, but for an inset chair seat like this, a basic neat corner stapling will do nicely.

Step 3: putting the final fold.
Step 3: The final fold and staple
When the corners are done, trim any more excess material from around the edges, if there is any left, to make sure that there won't be trails of fabric hanging down underneath the chair when the seat is replaced. Turn it back over and hurrah!  Your new, lovely, upholstered seat is done!

Easy tip: Use an old orphan sock to apply the beeswax!
A use for your orphan socks!
As this chair had been sitting in the corner gathering dust and seemingly quite lonely, I decided to give it a nice coat of beeswax. Using a leftover sock, I generously applied it over the chair, especially rubbing it in in places where the finish seemed worn.

Think of beeswax as shoe polish for don't want to cover it with big glops of goo, but you do want to give it all a nice, even layer. Let it dry for a little bit - I usually leave it about 30 minutes - then with another clean sock buff the beeswax off.  Beeswax is great because it's not tinted and leaves just the smallest of shines.  It's not intended to make the wood seem highly polished or sparkly, but simply to protect it and make the wood look healthier.

Finally, pop the seat back in and see your "new" old chair sparkle!
A beautiful restoration result of this vintage 20's deco oak chair!
Now that's a beauty!

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