Friday, March 16, 2012

A Second Chance

I don't know how she did it but Grandma had a way of keeping old things looking like new. Her ancient table linens were a bit thin from washing but had no stains. Clothing could be worn for decades and still look clean and neat. In a spare room I once found a very old basket, large enough for a small child to lie in, that was in perfect condition despite decades of use. After it came into our child-filled household it didn't take long before pieces began breaking off. In a panic I hid it in a shed where I hope it will be better preserved until a day I can bring it safely out again. Each piece of Grandma's furniture, circa 1930-1960, though out of fashion, looked as fine as the day they were brought into the house. She raised five boys on their farm so I marvel that everything remained so well preserved. I suspect that we do not value our possessions as highly or care for them as closely as Grandma's generation did.

 The irony is that mid-20th century furniture to Grandma was "new" and what she loved. The 19th century family hand-me-downs, the antiques, were old things that she disdained and gladly discarded seeing no value in them. When I swooned over the butter churn in the attic, Grandma couldn't understand my enthusiasm since to her it represented years of toil doing a tedious daily farm chore. The churn was given to me as a birthday gift. After decades of use and storage in perfect condition, it only took a few  years in my home with a couple little kids and the lid was broken. I was ashamed.

So it only took a few years in our home for one of Grandma's well-used but perfectly fine rocking chairs to end up like this:
This style of chair was not my favorite, probably new in the 1940s or 50s, and no one in the family liked the gold velvety fabric, but that was no reason to let it get into this condition.

A couple weeks ago I stumbled on it in the barn where it has been stored and decided to send it out for a facelift. Repaired, it would fit well in our newly built guest bedroom.

There is a local upholstery business that I have heard about from friends. The proprietor works in a nondescript building down the highway, a place with no signage, no vehicles parked in the lot, and that otherwise looks like an unoccupied building. There are no regular hours and only a small neon "open" sign occasionally illuminated to indicate that there may be something there. The only way to know that it is a place where old furniture is transformed is to know someone that can reveal that secret. It is one of those locations that only the long-time locals knows about. Every piece I have seen recovered there was done with skill and creativity. I knew that was where I wanted to take Grandma's chair. I didn't know who the craftsman was but wanted to find out.

I found the phone number in the phone book only by recognizing the address. After several calls I finally got an answer by a woman with whom I made arrangements to bring my chair over. When I walked into the quiet building, the workroom was just as expected, dim and crowded with half a dozen projects in process, mostly sofas and chairs. Also crowding the space were work tables, old furniture and a wall of upholstery fabric on long rolls- hundreds of rolls stacked from floor to ceiling. It was in that stack of mostly old and unappealing fabrics that I found what I wanted for the chair in just a few minutes of searching.

I went into the project without any color preferences or firm ideas of what I wanted except that I knew I wanted the chair to have two fabrics- one a print and one a solid color.

I was excited to find a pretty garden flower print and a lovely green that was just the same shade of sage that appeared in the print!

And the upholstery craftswoman did a wonderful job combining those fabrics on Grandma's chair...
I love it! I think I would not love the flower print all by itself on something large like a sofa but on this little chair, with the main flower design centered on the back and seat of the chair, and paired with the green accent fabric,  it looks lovely. I think it also still keeps a vintage feel that compliments the age of the chair.

The upholsterer also stripped and refinished the wood without erasing the age and story the chair has to tell. Lots of extended family members have rested their hands on the arms of this chair.

It's been given a second life. Let's see if we can extend it until the next generation is ready to use it.


  1. I love it! The flower print and the sage green work really well together.

  2. That is so fantastic! Gorgeous new life to that old thing!


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