If you’re anything like me, you have a hard time saying “no” to vintage or antique chairs that just need a “little” love.
“Little” is in quotation marks because most of the chairs I fall for actually need LOTS of love; which I never seem to realize until I buy it and bring it home. That’s when borderline panic sets in. Thoughts like “holy crap I didn’t realize a peg in this leg was missing!” or “dang those cushions are going to be a beast to reupholster!”. You’d be shocked at how often this happens. My husband, Nate, however, knows better.
Take this barrel chair for instance:
I purchased this mid century beauty last year at Cedar & Cotton.
While the fabric was stained, I fell hard for those sexy brass legs! I thought “Oh, I can replace that fabric in no time and make this baby shine. She’ll look so pretty in the living room. I can sort of sew, I’m crafty, I’ll figure this out! This project will be easy-peasy!”
Photo By: Madeline Henshal | Model: Mr. Whiskey | Bronze Foot Rest also purchased from Cedar & Cotton
In case you’re wondering, yes, I’m saying all that out loud to Nate, who was with me at the time and was giving me the side eye at this point. “That’s going to be a tough one to reupholster” he warned, “are you sure you can manage that?”. But once I can visualize the end result of a project, I can be as stubborn as an ox. “YES!" I said! “Plus she’s less than $90 — it’s a bargain!!! I need to have her.”
And so, a credit card swipe and car ride later, she was sitting in our living room.
Although Mr. Whiskey loved her just the way she was, I felt that a little makeover to “Miss Sexy Legs” would do her good.
The next time we visited friends in NYC, I made it a priority to visit my favorite fabric store: Mood Fabrics. After scouring isles upon isles of fabric, my eyes spotted a bold, textured black and white pattern. I knew it was the one the minute I saw it. It was a checkered wool/tweed blend that had a handwoven texture. Although it was men’s suiting fabric, and not upholstery fabric, I thought it was sturdy enough to work.
I fell for that pattern because it reminded me of early 1900’s American textiles and/or coverlets such as the ones below, which I’M BORDERLINE OBSESSED WITH:
Over the years I’ve learned that certain design elements from various eras pull me in by my heart strings. It’s also hugely satisfying for me to blend those elements in one project to create something entirely “fresh”. As our Baltimore rowhome was built in 1910, it’s no surprise that I wanted to combine a textile reminiscent of that period with Miss Sexy Legs. This would tie her in to the historical aspect of our house but still speak to Nate’s and my contemporary aesthetic.
So I went for it. 2 yards of fabric cost $50. Total cost for the project was now $135. Still a bargain I thought!
Most vintage-inspired barrel CHAIRS from stores like CB2, West Elm, etc. are easily $375+ online:
When I got home reality quickly set in as I deconstructed the chair and officially saw what I signed myself up for.
Guys: Reupholstery is not what I would call “easy”. Sewing fabric for curvy furniture makes things exponentially harder. Sewing fabric with a gridded pattern for curvy furniture is effing ridiculous. All the lines need to align perfectly with each seam, otherwise things are going to look disastrous. You also need to sew on multiple biases in order to make the fabric hug those curves just right.
Ugh. What a nightmare. I considered taking it to a professional upholsterer, but that would cost hundreds of dollars; which was not something I wanted to do. So naturally I did the next practical thing:
I avoided this project like the plague and procrastinated for 6 months. Obviously.
But when December rolled around, I knew I had put things off long enough. “It’s now or never” I said. “If I mess up, I’ll just have to cough up the extra bucks to get it done correctly. And serves me right if it comes to that!”
After taking the chair completely apart, undoing thousands of stitches, understanding each piece of deconstructed fabric, making a new template for sewing, cutting my new fabric extra carefully, pinning & loosely hand sewing new fragments together, applying the new cover to make sure it fit, unpinning, sewing pieces with my hand-me-down 1970’s Sears Kenmore machine (because who needs modern technology?!), pricking many fingers, stapling many staples, and finally reassembling, it was done.
It took 3 days, but I did it. I breathed a sigh of relief. Miss Sexy legs NEVER LOOKED BETTER.
Prop & Set Stylist + Creative Event Designer