Tag Archives: Saarinen

A Home for Wayward Chairs: Confessions of a Chair Addict

When I was a little girl, my favorite books and movies were ones of transformation. In particular I loved stories of neglected horses who, because someone was able to see potential beneath their woebegone exteriors, were transformed into show horses or race horses with the aid of a curry comb, a bag of oats and some love. I’d like to introduce you to my stable of beauties, safely rescued and ready to be coaxed back from the brink of death with proper care – and a highly descriptive montage of training, setbacks and, ultimately, triumph. Set to stirring music. It might be presumptuous, but the way I see it I am to thrift store chairs as Mickey Rooney’s jaded jockey-turned-trainer was to Velvet and her horse, Pie, in National Velvet. All the chairs How many people live in my house? Two. By my calculations, and also taking into account the three chairs not pictured, there are 10.5 chairs per each human in this household. 5.25 chairs per every mammal that resides here. We also have couches and kitchen stools, so if we were counting actual seats and not just chairs then that number skyrockets and – I’m afraid – it might be a bit excessive. But those chairs are beautiful! And such bargains! And so loaded with potential and they need me.   You’ve met much of my stable already here on the blog; seen the transformations of some, and read about the plans for others.  Today I want to introduce you to a few you haven’t met, and first up is this Ward Bennett chair. I found it in the book section of a local thrift store, bedraggled and abused and in need of some serious attention. Under the soiled upholstery dwelt the bones of a thoroughbred, and as I gingerly perched on it to assess its soundness I knew I couldn’t leave it there. The price tag read $2.99 and I carried it (dragged it) home, exultant. Ward Bennett front Slide1A tag on the bottom of the chair reads Ward Bennett Designs for Brickel Associates.  Indulge me for a moment and let me transform from Mickey Rooney horse trainer to a modern day Sam Spade (perhaps a Veronica Mars?) sleuthing for the past of this chair.  I learned that Ward Bennett was a prolific and well-known designer who has designs in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection.  On the Herman Miller site (they are still making and selling a couple of his chairs) they say that Bennett “learned a great deal about lumbar support, the importance of chair arms, and designing the right “pitch” from working with the doctor who treated John F. Kennedy’s bad back.”  Folks, this chair is practically presidential. I found this poster of Bennett’s designs for Brickel, but though the chairs in the middle of the fourth row are very similar they are not exactly the same.

Though the bone-colored finish is a little marred, I’d be reluctant to try painting it myself. This kind of hard, enameled finish is hard to recreate at home and I fear I’d end up with a drippy mess. I may look into having it professionally lacquered, but my first choice would be to try to make the white work for me. Up close, the original velvet upholstery has a subtle faux bois pattern, which would be fun to replicate. I’m considering a black velvet for the seat and front and then something unexpected – like an embroidered piece – for the back. I probably wouldn’t do the whole thing with this much pattern – though this chair makes it tempting – but I’d love something similar for the back. I’m on the hunt at thrift stores for something with rich colors and a not-too-traditional motif.

The next in my stable of diamonds-in-the-rough is also mid-century modern, and also a lucky thrift store find. I found it one morning at a local Goodwill and it was definitely a case of being in the right place at the right time.  I’ve never bought anything of note at this particular store, so when I spotted this little honey I broke into a full sprint until I reached it then cradled it possessively in my arms all the way to the cash register. Kosuga Front Kosuga Side In contrast to most of the chairs I bring home, this one’s upholstery is in pretty good shape.  No weird stains, no gaping holes, no offensive patterns or smells.  The wood is pretty dinged up, and I’m not sure yet how to fix it – I fear the depth of the gouges is beyond the help of even my beloved Restor-a-Finish. Kosuga tag I’ve had trouble finding more about Kosuga – there’s a current website with the same name, but the text is in Japanese and Google translate doesn’t seem up to the task. I have seen chairs with the same Kosuga tag on eBay and 1st Dibs, but they don’t offer any additional information.  Searching the web, I found myself over at the Design Addict forum where this response to a query about a Kosuga chair pretty much summed up the fruitlessness of my search:   those were made……….. by Klingon craftsmen in the period of 1972-1976 in the alpha centauri region of what is now know as the french-canadian crescent valley. they were built using old-growth peanut wood and are very rare.   Ha!  The internet can really bring out the best in people. The Ward Bennett and the Kosuga chairs are ones I remain enamored of even after the thrill of discovery is gone, but I’ve also made a few missteps. Just after we moved into our house, when acquiring chairs was essential not excessive, I found a Craigslist listing for four mid-century chairs in a town about 30 miles north of Eugene. Cameron and I drove there and I gleefully paid $10 for all four plus a little ottoman. They are cute, but in varying states of disrepair. Fan Chair  The wood is brittle and splitting in some spots, the finish is red and worn and I just can’t see myself devoting the many hours it would take to sand them down and redo them. Not when so many more alluring projects await. I’ve considered painting them – perhaps a saucy bright color – but the truth is that while the chairs aren’t exactly uncomfortable, when presented with a room containing these and all the other chairs in our house, these are always last pick. I’m pretty sure the only reason I’ve held onto them for so long is because of this picture:

The ones in the picture aren’t in great shape either, but something about the way they look with that lace tablecloth is so romantic *sigh*.  HOWEVER, I think it’s time to let go and move on (I’m saying it here publicly so I’m accountable). Whew, this is a long post.  It’s the fever of the chairs!  I’m powerless to contain myself.  So just one more quick story to wrap up this chair saga.  This one involves an unexpected journey taken by a chair you may have already read about: the tulip chair. Slide2 When I rescued the tulip chair it had two tags, one stating that it was made for Knoll and one that it was property of Welton Becket and Associates.  I didn’t pay it much attention at first, but when curiosity got the better of me I turned to Google and found that Welton Becket was a famous mid century modern architect and designer in Los Angeles.  He is credited for both the Pan Pacific Auditorium in LA (which has since burned down) and the Capitol Records building, as well as other buildings all over the world.

Oh that this chair could talk.  I’d give a lot to know more about how it made its way from the office of a well-known mid century designer and architect to be bedraggled and goat-bearded in a jumbled garage in Eugene, OR.  Sounds like a story I would love. Thanks for joining me on this ramble through my stable of chairs!  Mera will be back with an assuredly more succinct post on Wednesday.  See you then!

A project in which I avoid ‘a slum of legs’ and also learn to temper my DIY expectations

this is the story of this chair and how sometimes the pictures in my head have nothing to do with reality)

This is the story of this chair and how sometimes my expectations are incongruent with reality

About two weeks ago, Cam and I stopped at a garage sale just a few blocks from our house. The guy running it had some good quality furniture and interesting ceramics and, tucked in the back of the dim garage, a totally busted and rusted Saarinen pedestal – or tulip – chair. According to the Knoll website, Eero Saarinen designed his iconic Pedestal Collection to address the “ugly, confusing, unrestful world” he observed underneath chairs and tables — the so-called “slum of legs.”

As I stood in the jumbled garage, I’m pretty sure my thoughts were along the lines of, “Well, now that I think of it, there certainly is a slum of legs at my house, and this chair just might be the remedy.”

The guy said he’d take $5 for it. Sold.

In my online research, I learned that this style of tag suggests the chair was made around 1959

In my online research, I learned that this style of tag suggests the chair was made around 1959

I came gleefully home with my treasure and then took a good hard look at it. It was missing its cushion. The upholstery was ratty and filthy, with crumbling foam poking out of small tears. The fabric on the arms was so frayed it looked like goat beards hanging down. The aluminum base was almost entirely devoid of paint and was badly rusted and pitted. I’d brought home an ‘iconic piece of mid-century design,’ but it wasn’t something I really wanted in my house.

Note the frayed arm, but please ignore the grey cushion; I'll explain that in a moment.

Note the frayed arm, but please ignore the grey cushion; I’ll explain that in a moment.

This picture doesn't show the truly horrific state of the fabric, but it does highlight the poor condition of the chair's base.

This picture doesn’t show the truly horrific state of the fabric, but it does highlight the poor condition of the chair’s base.

Upholstering this kind of chair is way outside of my skill set. There is a place online called retro redo that specializes in reupholstering shell chairs in period-appropriate fabric, but they are outside my budget and probably will be for quite a while.

So what to do? The problems the chair had were more than could be mitigated by a sheepskin thrown over it, but I didn’t want it to languish in our storage area until I could afford to get it redone. Then I found this tutorial online and thought I had found the answer: painted upholstery. Brilliant. A short-term solution that would make the chair usable, but wouldn’t alter it in a permanent way. Down the road I could still have the chair restored to its former glory. So I got to work.

The first thing I did was make a pattern for a new cushion. I looked at images online of original chairs to get a sense of shape and scale, and then used a newspaper to trace the outline and make a pattern.

If I mention my shame at the kitty litter in the background, will that make it go away?

If I mention my shame at the kitty litter in the background, will that make it go away?

patterning the cushion 2

I had both foam and fabric left over from a previous project.  Because I planned on painting the cushion to match the chair, I was mostly concerned that the texture of the fabrics be similar.

I had both foam and fabric left over from a previous project. Because I planned on painting the cushion to match the chair, I was mostly concerned that the texture of the fabrics be similar.

Following the advice of the upholstery painting tutorial I’d found online, I used black acrylic paint and a fabric medium – which is supposed to keep the paint supple and make the final product softer (*spoiler* supposed to) – that I got at JoAnn Fabrics. I used a coupon, and it cost about $17 for all the supplies. I vacuumed the heck out of the chair and gave the goat beards a little shave using a utility knife. I headed out into the sunshine and started painting the chair. I also painted the new cushion so it would match.

My hopes were high when I first began

My hopes were high when I first began

Black tulip in the spring sunshine

Black tulip in the spring sunshine

I did one coat on Saturday and let it dry overnight. I did a second coat early on Sunday morning and then a third on Sunday afternoon. I also (with no small amount of effort) removed the final remnants of the paint from the base. I gave the fiberglass shell a good cleaning (which was very satisfying) and, after a final going-over with a Mr Clean Magic Eraser, it was sparkling like new.

And the final verdict? It turned out… okay. In what is probably a surprise to no one but me, painted fabric looks exactly like painted fabric. Or maybe like wet asphalt. And it feels just like painted fabric. Or maybe like sandpaper. When I first laid brush to fabric, I had convinced myself that when it was done it would look like a newly upholstered chair. About midway through the second coat, it was obvious that the final product would be very different from the image in my head. It’s shinier than I expected and scratchier and, although the paint goes a long way in hiding some of the fabric’s defects, a lot are still visible.

Afternoon sunlight reflecting (unfortunately) off the chair

Afternoon sunlight reflecting (unfortunately) off the chair

I’ve visited it often in the last few hours (I like to go into the room to try and ‘surprise’ it, to see if maybe it’s changed) and, though it’s certainly not perfect, I’ve decided it is leagues better than the battered red. It’s clean and usable and I’ll get to enjoy its lovely shape until I can afford a proper reupholstery job. I’m going to do a little research on the cost of getting the base re-painted and, depending on what I find out, I might have that done in the interim. Based on this experience, I doubt I’ll try painting upholstery again, unless it’s outdoor furniture where stiff and shiny fabric wouldn’t be quite such a deterrent. I should note, however, that there are lots of fabric-painting supporters out there on the interwebs and, if you’re on the fence and thinking about trying it, you should check out their experiences too.

tulip chair after with pillow good light

As a palate cleanser for a pretty frustrating DIY, I made the cheerful little polka dot pillow that’s sitting on the chair. It was a perfectly gratifying project: it only took about half an hour and I was able to do it with materials I already had. For the cover, I used this awesome (and easy) tutorial and vintage fabric. What makes the pillow in my opinion? Those cute tassels.

Be still my heart

Be still my heart

I’ve been on a tassel-tying tear the last two weeks, working on a DIY I plan to share next week. I’ll share a tutorial then too and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll soon be looking at everything in your home and thinking how much better it would look festooned with cheerful tassels.

#stuffonmycat

#stuffonmycat

Thanks for reading this post! Anybody else had a DIY letdown lately?