Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sitting Pretty

Although normally an irresistable force of cuteness, Scout can also be a massive force of destruction. What she makes up for in adorableness she lacks in grace, as evidenced by the countless pieces of glassware that have been upended/smashed by her clutzy leapings onto windowsills, tables, and counters where she does not belong. Far worse, however, is the fate of any nubbly fabric on which she has laid her paws, as evidenced by Exhibit A: The United Way Rescue Chairs (see above photo where Scout pretends not to be interested).

The United Way Rescue Chairs were salvaged by my husband from his former employer (out of the actual dumpster), who had carelessly tossed out what are clearly modern masterpieces in shabby clothing. Scout made said clothing even shabbier with her balance beam stretching and shredding routine performed nearly daily on the backs of the chairs. The double-sided sticky tape put an end to the acrobatics... but by then, the damage was done.

For my husband's 2007 Christmas present, Scout gave him a really nice piece of buttery soft leather in a "brown zebra" dye, which she got for an unbelievably good deal off of eBay (with some help).

Scout then commissioned her feeder to reupholster the Chairs, which went something like this:
January 1, 2008:

1) Watch episode of HGTV and see how easy this will be.
2) Take chair covering off and get a lay of the land.
3) Assess what tools you will need - likely to entail a small screwdriver, pliers, and hammer (for staple removal), scissors, and staple gun. Spend day removing staples on the bottom piece. (Notice Scout, supervising while napping.)

4) Faithfully document the undoing, so you will have pictures of what's involved in the redoing. Because you will absolutely forget how to redo things.

5) Investigate original padding to get a sense of how much you'll need to replace. Plan to do more, since the padding in question has clearly been beneath someone heavy for about 10 years.

6) Observe complicated padding scheme of piece of linen muslin glued to small pieces of thin padding laid over edges of thicker padding.

7) Replicate this nonsensical scheme for Chair 1 over the course of the next day, using different kinds of adhesive (spray, roll on, glue stick, etc.).

8) Use old pieces of fabric as pattern for new leather pieces, by stretching them flat and tracing the outline of the old piece (including cuts) on back of new leather. Measure twice, cut once = make sure to lay out and trace old pieces on new one to ensure you have enough leather for all four pieces before actually cutting anything out.

9) Painstakingly cover chair over the next day with new leather pieces to get just the right folds, using mostly small tacks and some staples.

10) Discover after 3 days of this project and once chair is finished that leather needs to be pulled tight. As in Joan-Rivers-facelift-tight. As in tighter-than-you-pulled-it-tight. Curse HGTV and pile remaining materials on Chair #2 for next 12 months.

11) December 26, 2008: as part of 2008 Christmas present (after sufficient recovery from first go-round) commence reupholstering United Way Rescue Chair #2.

12) Apply lessons learned by (a) getting husband to join in fun of removing staples, thus cutting job from an all-day project to about 2 hours; and (b) omitting all adhesives and fasteners in favor of electric staple gun.

13) Repeat Step 2.

14) Repad chair by opening up old batting and shoving in new piece of heavy duty batting from JoAnn's.

15) Cover batting with thick foam padding and staple over the front edge.

16) Cover batting and padding with a thin layer of padding - this will essentially serve to smooth everything out. Wrap thinner layer over all edges of chair and staple (sparsely - remember, there's more to come!) to the bottom/back of the chair.

17) Once wrapped, lay out the leather.

18) Remember, the leather must be really, really tight. This is best accomplished by tacking down each corner halfway, stretching the leather across until it really can't be stretched anymore, tacking that corner down, and repeating on the other corners.

19) Once you have tacked down the corners and stretched the leather as much as you can, get out the staple gun and fire away. Be sure to make cuts for the frame.

20) After everything is stapled down on the bottom, start on the back.

21) Put chair back into frame and screw into place.

22) Now comes the hard part - the back. I'll spare you the gory details of this process, but the gist of it is that you have a piece of cardboard, a piece of leather, and this heavy metal band that has spikes punched out of it, and no, I'm not talking about Black Sabbath. The concept is that you line up the metal band immediately next to the edge of the cardboard, pull the leather TIGHT around the band and over the spikes, poke the spikes through the leather, then flip the metal band over and hammer the now clean edge into the wooden frame. This is difficult on the first side and then a nightmare on the second side, but if it works, you get a nice clean back. Frankly, you could achieve the same look by just wrapping the cardboard in leather and tacking it to the back with 8 very small dark tacks (1 in each corner and 1 in each middle) that hardly anyone would see. Unfortunately, my husband is hardly anyone and all he can see are little tacks, so I opted for the hard way.

23) The hardest part of all is saved for last - cleanly tucking the edge of the back into the back cover. This is just lots of trial and error.

24) Two United Way Rescue Chairs: $0 + intangible cost of slight embarrassment from dumpster diving at office. Awesome buttery leather on eBay: $120. Batting, padding, glue, tacks, staple gun, and 4 trips to JoAnn's Crafts/Lowe's: $50. 4 total days of vacation time: Technically $800, but we'll say $0. Two beautifully reupholstered modern chairs and keeping less trash from our landfills: Priceless.


Christopher Busta-Peck said...

Nice chair!

It looks to me like an interpretation of Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe's Brno Chair. It might even be one of the ones issued by Knoll. The originals used flat steel bars instead of tubular steel.

danielle said...

Whoa. Thanks so much for sending that. Yes, I loved them because they reminded me of the MVDR chairs (I am hoping someday to have the lounge chair), which my architect mother also had knock-offs of for tall barstools (in cane - so 80s). These lack that final bow in the front of the frame which is what makes the MVDR chair such a masterpiece, but sheesh, for $4,000, I'll take my knock-offs.

Christopher Busta-Peck said...

The Wassily chair?

I recall when I first saw it at the Bauhaus Archiv, in Berlin, what a revelation it was to see it upholstered in canvas. Canvas seems so much more appropriate for the style. It's more affordable and more in touch with the other work of the Bauhaus movement than when the leather-upholstered versions.

Hmm. This makes me wonder whether the Barcelona Chair was originally upholstered in cloth, too.

Joy said...

Sweet! Dave talks about how he wants to refinish old furniture for years. Now, he's got some instructions.

Jennifer said...

I have a chair that needs to be reupholstered. Your chair turned out beautifully. Maybe mine has a chance if I just follow your instructions . . . .

Cyndy said...

I enjoyed reading your step by step instructions because they are exactly the steps I followed when I reupholstered the seats (bench seats, not bucket) of my ancient Ford many years ago. Except instead of using leather, I used purple velvet - classy, huh! Well I was much younger then. They did look cool. I've always been afraid to tackle real furniture but maybe I'll give it a try now that I've had this excellent review!

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