Updated: Oct 27, 2018
As consumers we are faced with financial decisions every day. As homeowners or renters, some of these decisions bear heftier price tags. Particularly in the height of the DIY craze when every project is YouTubeable and every mom and dad can wield a pass lode and jigsaw with ease, it often boils down to a basic Management 101 decision – do I make or buy? Would it be more cost effective to buy new or to make (or reupholster) the thingamabob?
If you have ever purchased new furniture, you know the initial investment of time and money in making that purchase. It’s an event you probably hope to never experience again. Not to mention, it seemed like a LOT of money to drop for a sofa or a whole matching suite even. Maybe you left the store feeling a little “had.” But let's get real, can you really even build your own Davenport sofa, let alone reap any savings by doing so? Yet here you observe that your favorite old sofa, the one you bought after moving into your first home, is a little creaky and saggy and the covering is a little worn and definitely outdated.
Or maybe your piece has a little more history. It may have been your grandparent’s. Now this complicates the decision because there’s a story behind it and you may not be so quick to haul it to a donation center or landfill. My recent client (whose name has been changed to “Ed” for this story) recently acquired his grandfather’s chair. Ed’s grandfather, maybe on a bright morning’s drive, saw someone was selling a chair from the back of a pickup truck. Maybe to surprise his wife, or maybe she was with him and she hollered at him to “stop the car!”, whatever the reason, the deal was made, and Ed drove home with his new chair. [Cars had a lot more inside room then. In the sixties, my parents fit a full-size green sofa, a matching armchair, a lamp table, a green lamp, and my sister Laura and me into our Buick station wagon – and were able to close the tailgate. Ah, yes, the good ol’ days when you could ride in the tailgate…]
Ed’s grandfather’s chair has been in the family since, and with each passing of it to the next generation, it’s been the subject of a similar make or buy decision. The family members would consider the condition of the chair: it’s a little more creaky, a little more saggy, and the covering is a little more worn and definitely outdated. Then they would wax nostalgic: “But it’s dad’s chair…” “But it’s granddad’s chair…”
It was true that Ed’s chair had been reupholstered three times before, and as it sat before me in its fourth rendition – an aged floral/paisley tapestry from the nineties – it was a shame to begin the work. All of it had to go, and unfortunately, there aren't any gains in efficiency when removing four coverings versus one. They each take about the same amount of time, so you just roll up your sleeves and do it. During the process I look for mementos of anything worth saving or photographing for the owner. After a weekend of pulling off thirty-some fabric pieces and a gazillion staples and tacks, most of that history was removed. What was left of the chair was the original wood frame and springs – that’s it.
I think about my own father’s interest for restoring vintage Chevys and wonder where’s the value in an entirely restored piece that began as a rusted chassis and you can no longer see anything original to the vehicle? It’s about nostalgia and renaissance.
When Ed picked up the chair, as my usual procedure with a client, I sat down with him at the dining room table and showed him pictures I photographed during the whole process. When I looked over to Ed, I could see how wide-eyed he was. And as I showed him an image of each different layer of fabric that had been uncovered, he’d say “Wow, I remember that. Yep.” My mom put it best when we talked about the history of this chair. She said she could very well remember her own grandfather’s chair almost better than anything he would wear on any given day: “the memories that chairs, and other pieces for that matter, evoke are often strong and vivid.”
This is why people take the trouble to reupholster or slipcover or repair pieces, and there is often never even a make or buy decision to contemplate in the first place. The most difficult decision becomes the new fabric selection! Here is Ed’s chair today. He and his wife chose a neutral that shows off the distinct and original style of the chair - its curved bottom, crested back, and carved features. The contemporary pattern of the fabric is subtle and complements with the owner’s other furnishings. It nestles in very well with its other contemporary counterparts back at home.
Good decision, Ed.
For more images of this chair's reupholstering, please visit 40s Armchair in my Portfolio.