Saturday, March 8, 2008

Refurbishing two modern chairs

In late fall of 1996, my art professor got fed up with two pink vinyl chairs that haunted the old art studio atop the bluffs. They were modern and angular (oh, and pink and vinyl), an eyesore to some sensibilities. He put them out the curb in front of the building, where one of my classmates painted "THIS IS ART" on them.

I happened upon these chairs and was smitten. I claimed them as my own. My friends Justin and Sloan helped me carry them home. Sloan carried one inverted on his head, and the oil paint ruined his new jacket. It came off the chairs though, and suddenly I was a modernist.

Everyone has a comment on a set of pink vinyl chairs, particularly when you live in a dorm. The stylized design looked out of place amidst the cheap couches and institutional bunkbeds. I loved them because they were armless, perfect for playing guitar, and because they were pink and modern, an eyesore to some sensibilities. They survived college and the litany of editorial positions offered about them.

When I moved to New York City after college, I brought no furniture with me, so they remained at home, where my mom recovered them as a gift. I had always envisioned recovering them in something tactile, like suede. My mom had a St. Louis friend update their look with a deep green corduroy against a Santa Fe pattern. It wasn't what I would've chosen, but I was grateful to have them recovered, since they were falling apart by then.

Here's what they looked like by 2001:

I finally came back to St. Louis in 2003 and took them with me when I moved to DC. In 2005, my roommates got a puppy, who used one of the chairs to teethe with, tearing the fabric down to the wood beneath. This opened the door to recover them again, which of course didn't happen for another three years. My wife and I made it our first project last summer, and we're finally just about done. Neither of us have refinished furniture before, so it's not a perfect job. But we're happy with it. In 2008, my pink vinyl chairs now look like this:

Here are some photos of the refurbishing process. The first thing we did was to remove all the fabric, which was held in by hundreds and hundreds of staples and even some of the original nails. Underneath the fabric was burlap, a fluff of yellow padding like insulation, and beneath that, a wiry mess of stiff strawlike material, which covered the springs. Stripped down:

The many staples we pulled out, and some scraps of the original pink fabric:

Once the chairs were pulled apart, some repair was necessary. Some of the clips that held the springs in were broken and needed to be refashioned from sheet metal. Two pieces of the wood frame had been cracked in half, and these needed to be mended sturdily enough to be used again. In this picture, you can see the broken front panel being Gorilla Glued back together, as well as all the old nail and staple holes being filled with wood putty. Note also the legs have been sanded, as the previous upholsterer painted them dark green (and that's not my Diet Coke):

To make sure that the broken wood would still support someone sitting on it, I drilled holes and embedded pegs along the break before Gorilla Glueing them. Note the "Voney Art Studio 83/84" written on it. I guess that means the chairs are at least 25 years old. We can only guess at their manufacturing date, as there is no manufacturer listed. The materials suggest mid-century to me, but I hardly have any authority to guess.

One of the chairs has "PROPERTY OF S.W.R." written in pencil on the underside. This would be a mystery if my friend Amy hadn't come into my room in college and said, "You have my brother's chairs! Where did you get them?" I'd never met her brother, but apparently he had them in his yearbook photo years ago, before he left them to the art studio. Here's some detail of that, and the finished pieces ready for reassembly:

I don't have photos of all the work we did in covering the springs, which were tied together with twine, covered with burlap and a layer of foam. On a project like this, it's easy to get sidetracked and not touch it for months. (Which we did.) We started in August, and there are still a few things we need to do complete the job six months later. But who knows where to buy furniture tack strips? As a first attempt, we're satisfied with the job we did. It was probably an investment of 30-40 hours of work, so enjoying them daily is a payoff I'm happy with.

1 comment:

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