Sunday, August 18, 2013

Upholstery: Projects of the Month

I've been eager to share with you this particular pair of pieces. They are both quite different, but for the same client (the owner of the gorgeous early 1800's home I featured in this post), and were both done in the same white fabric. We are also working on two other chairs for him as well, but they aren't done yet (they were prepped for new upholstery, but we're still waiting for confirmation on which fabrics to use).

The two pieces featured here are an old love seat likely from the 1920s or 1930s (it's difficult to date accurately since it is such a simple style), and a beautiful wing chair which is likely made by Coombe Furniture around the 1950s (I think) (my boss is sure of this, and I tend to agree 99% since I saw a reference to another chair online by them that had the exact same legs. They are also known for making frames in Elm, as was the case with this chair). Pierre was pretty obsessed with this chair. He absolutely loves it, and I'm just a tad surprised he didn't want to work on it himself. It does have great lines to it, as you'll see on the finished piece.

Love seat as received (with dusty blue slipcover):

Minus slip cover (note the way the back was done - one piece):

Broken rear leg:

The bottom was SLIGHTLY collapsed.

Before I continue, let me just say: this sofa needed "the works". Everything had to be redone on it. It had to be stripped down, disassembled, scraped, sand and refinish the legs, and then reassemble the frame. After that: new webbing, re-install the springs, retie the springs, new burlap, redo the berm (edge roll), re-web the back, reattach all the stuffing, and then reupholster everything. It took a lot of work, but I think the finished piece is gorgeous!

Alright, lets continue. Here's the frame with most of the stuffing and springs removed. Note the sagging rear straps, and somewhat loose side panels (arm tops are stuffed with straw).

Frame completely knocked apart (except for two larger H sections that were still solid).

Frame after reassembly, and ready for upholstering. And yes, that's all there is to an average sofa frame (new or old).

New webbing. I love doing this part. There's something rewarding/fun about stretching and tacking the webbing down. Most newer sofas and chairs have "no sag" (zigzag) springs, but usually coil springs are better (because of how they're attached to the frame on both the top and bottom of the rails).

Tying the springs. Not a fun part. The string is very hard on the hands and there are a LOT of knots involved. This is what's known as the "eight way hand tied".

New burlap and re-attached (original) edge roll (hand sewn in place):

Deck and arm pre-covers done (a rough fabric cover to help contain all the straw and horsehair that made up the original stuffing), and new webbing on the back rests. Also note how the back of the frame is divided in two sections. This is because the original sofa had a double "attached cushion" on the back as you'll see on the finished piece below (compare with the photo at the beginning where they had eliminated this detail).

Better photo showing the rough covers, and the back rests with new burlap.

That's it for the "in progress" photos, so here's the finished sofa! I love the shape (narrow arms, and square pillows). I don't think I'd ever want to have a white sofa, though. While I worked on this, I had to wash my hands about every hour to keep from getting the fabric dirty (which was almost like an ultra-white denim type fabric).

Also note that the seat cushions are slightly domed since they are the original spring cushions (basically they have a mini mattress type box of coiled springs inside them, wrapped in cotton padding). A lot of times these get replaced with foam cushions since they are often more comfortable, but the owner loves antiques and prefers things original. I didn't actually try sitting on the finished sofa, so I can't really say how comfy they are. Apparently the sofa won't be getting much use, and will be more of a "show piece", so it's not a big issue.

Note how the back cushions look like regular loose cushions, but they're attached to the frame.

The back has a very interesting detail where there is a huge 1 inch band of piping that follows the contour. It's a detail I haven't seen very often on other pieces.

The leg that was broken:

Back detail:

And now the wing chair. This was a bit more of a challenge to work on, since the chair arrived to us as a bare frame. This meant that we had to redo the stuffing and create new patterns from scratch. The chair also needed a few pieces repaired. Both wing tips were damaged (and loose on the frame), and one leg (the right one) was completely detached.

This small scrap of light green and yellow fabric was likely the original fabric on this chair (it was found under a piece of webbing).

Fixing the wings:

3/4 of the way through, just before attaching a side panel:

The finished chair! It really came out well. I especially like how the arms and wings look. Very crisp details.

The legs were touched-up (to remove scratches), and given a wax polish.

Till next time!


  1. These pieces look amazing. Good job. I wonder if you feel inspired to make your own furniture from scratch? It seems like you have the skill to do something like that.

    1. I do, and I don't. From a woodworking perspective, I could easily slap together a gorgeous sofa frame with turned legs in a day, and mostly use scrap wood, but the problem is that all the stuffing and padding gets to be expensive. While it would definitely be a lot of fun to build my own custom sofa, it would actually be cheaper for me to find an antique sofa that's in poor shape and then redo it. Old sofas can be found for as cheap as free, or around 100$ish, but all the foam and padding, and new springs, etc would set me back a few 100$ (maybe 200-300$?) All of that isn't counting the fabric, which is usually 30$ and up/yard. I don't mind spending some good money on a decent sofa, but if I'm not careful it may cost more than I'd want. I guess my ideal budget for a love seat would be around 500-600$ so I'd have to do some calculations. I'm definitely thinking about several options, since I DO need a sofa to replace my 2 crappy chairs.

  2. JC, these pieces are beautiful! Love the clean lines and especially like the loveseat. i think the backcushions are a great detail. it almost looks more up-to-date now, than with the one cushion! And now i definatly want a wingchair! ;o)