Vintage Chair: More Than Meets the Eye

There are two narratives, both of them about metamorphosis, for this chair. One is how I reupholstered it – my first attempt at a big piece of furniture – and the other is about the MAGIC that this chair contains. As I sat down to write this, I was still struggling with which narrative I should lead with, but the fact that I typed MAGIC in all caps tells me that’s the central theme. So I’ll start there, with the innate awesomeness of the chair, and tell you about my part in giving it a new outfit later in the post. Please note, however, that this next series of pictures is all post-upholstery, and that the chair is already wearing its new clothes.

bed chair after

I found this chair in a big resale warehouse here in Eugene. It was flanked by about 15 other living room chairs, notable because it was neither overstuffed nor (p)leather. The shape called to me, and then a sign taped to its back intrigued me:

“Arms fold down.”

Arms fold down? But why? For what? I noticed the wooden pegs in the chair’s back and saw that when I pulled them out, the arms did – in fact – fold down.

Do you see the wooden pegs on the back?

Do you see the wooden pegs on the back?

A closer inspection on hands and knees revealed some mechanism within the body of the chair. Was it a recliner? But if so, why would the arms fold down? Puzzled, I started surreptitiously (surreptitious because I already knew I needed to possess this mystery, and I didn’t want to draw attention) poking and pulling at it, trying to figure it out. It was obvious the chair would have to be reupholstered – and I’d never reupholstered anything – but once I knew its secret, I couldn’t be dissuaded. I brought it home.

Any guesses on the metamorphic capability?

Any guesses on its other incarnation?

First thing to trigger metamorphosis is to remove the back cushion:

without back cushion

Then pull out the pegs and lower the arms:

pulling peg

arms down

When the arms are down, grasp the back and lift up and out:

lifting the back

And voila!

it's a bed too

It’s a bed!

With awesome interior fabric and a headrest!

head rest and fabric detail

And it’s adorable!

ready for guests 2

And pretty comfortable, as Tiny Tiger can attest:

Beneath the disdainful stare of a piece of Dean-lookalike thrift store art.

Seems like Dean would want in on this too, right? Especially with that (thrift store) portrait giving benediction from above:

bunny jumps up

Ah, there he is. Make yourself comfy Bunny, don’t be shy.

the walrus and the tiger

dean and carl 2

Isn’t it amazing? I have no idea of its provenance or age, but it’s definitely hand built.  There were scraps of older fabric inside that suggested it had been reupholstered at least once, and the springs and webbing under the cot part are tied by hand. If I had to hazard a guess at when it was made… maybe the 1940s? But again, I really have no idea.

A photo of the insides taken during reupholstery

A photo of the insides taken during reupholstery

As for the reupholstery, I started it before the advent of Red House West, when taking pictures of a pretty ugly ‘before’ didn’t really occur to me. Here’s a shot of it with the grey fabric draped over the original (and musty) floral print while I decided if I liked it. It sat like this for months.

I vow to paint those walls this summer!

I vow to paint those walls this summer!

I would not presume to give an upholstery tutorial here. I made plenty of mistakes and, though I love the result, it’s hardly professional quality.  This particular chair’s structure (the fact that it practically disassembled)  was the only thing that gave me the confidence to attempt it. If you’re looking for a proper chair upholstery tutorial, I often referred to this five part series Jenny Komenda did over on Little Green Notebook.

chair before reupholstery 2

My basic process was to pull out the 1,000,001 staples and nails holding the fabric on (seriously, I had claw hand for days) and then use the pieces of old fabric as a pattern to cut the new fabric.  Because the arms fold and the seat lifts, it was relatively easy to stretch and staple the fabric into all the nooks, crannies and seams.

bed chair during reupholstery

I found the heavy-duty gray fabric in the red tag section at JoAnn Fabric, and it ended up only costing about $8 a yard. I also replaced all the batting and foam and gave the internal workings a good cleaning.

The only part that took some sewing was the back cushion, and Cameron’s mom – a sewing whiz and a veritable saint – pitched in to help me with it. I was really nervous about making presentable double welting, even after (maybe especially after) watching online tutorials. I ended up paying a local seamstress to make it–I took her the fabric and measurements and for $15 she did it all. Definitely worth it!

bed chair right side

bed chair after two

My laundry room revamp is underway and I’ll be sharing some details next week. In the meantime, check back on Friday for some Good Scores and don’t forget to submit your own! We’d love to feature something cool you’ve found and are even offering a reward! Details here.

Have any of you seen a vintage chair like this one? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

24 responses on “Vintage Chair: More Than Meets the Eye

    1. k80bennett

      Me too! I wish I’d taken lots of photos of the chair’s guts when I had it all taken apart, but seems all I could think about was getting it back together.

  1. Carol Crump Bryner

    That is just the niftiest thing ever. I’ve never seen a little fold out bed quite like that, although my husband and I once had an adorable stuffed chair whose arms folded down to make a kind of day bed. And you must have endless patience to pull out all those staples. Good work! Your cats are gorgeous.

    1. k80bennett

      That chair sounds awesome, Carol, and the boys thank you for your kind words. I think they’re handsome too (obviously… 27 pictures later…)

  2. Marlene Miller

    This has to be the most amazing and intriguing thing I’ve ever seen. Magic for sure. Great photos too, Katie, and I love the super stylish way you “dressed” it while in its cozy bed incarnation.

    1. k80bennett

      Thanks Mar! You’re welcome to come give it a test drive any time. But you might have to wrestle Bunny for a spot.

  3. Katy Gilmore

    I love to picture you surreptitiously investigating this charmer – doing that thrifter slurk, “no I don’t care about this, please don’t notice my lustful glance.” My favorite photo is the one of the insides taken during upholstery. The knowledge that the chair sat in that state for months is the only thing preventing me from assuming you can walk on water Katie! I don’t even know what “double welting” is! Upholstery is totally intimidating, and you make it look both fun and doable.

    1. k80bennett

      Ha! I am definitely the poster girl for ‘if she can do it, anybody can!’ Like with almost anything, I’m getting braver as I go along 🙂

  4. dwhmmatthews

    This is a true gem of a find! Your pictures are a discovery map. If Antiques Roadshow comes your way, this is worth a photo submittal in hopes of discovering its heritage. It’s an almost Duncan Phyfe, almost Empire but less so. I’d like to settle in on this cozy chair/bed someday and read a good book (but perhaps without those adorable cats; Terra cured me of feline envy).

    1. k80bennett

      Thanks Caroline for contributing your expertise! There was a point, when I was about a trillion staples in with a daunting mountain of uncut fabric nearby, that I almost wished I’d left it behind–but I’m so glad I didn’t!

  5. Judy lehman

    Colorado Rocky Mountains camping with surprise wifi and red house west! Wow!

    First Donna’s exquisite rugs and weaving and now this totally marvelous chair/bed transformed! Cudoes to amazing clever women! We enjoy it all!

  6. michellet2013

    What a fabulous chair and amazing transformation! I’ve never seen anything like it, and wish that I had one too—especially since it has the cats’ seal of approval. Well done Katie!

  7. kal

    That chair is amazing! It gives me inspiration to get moving on my own chair re-upholstery project this weekend (though I will be attempting to make my own piping, which will probably make me cry)!

    Also, nice to see I’m not the only one with cute 4 legged friends crashing my pictures!

Leave a Reply to dwhmmatthews Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *