Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Vintage Oak Chair Redo - Who Knew?
When my dad was moving back to Wisconsin from Arkansas this spring, he said I could have the old dining room table, as it was too big to fit in his smaller home here. The table was oak and old and had been in the family ever since Mom bought it secondhand before 1960. It was painted black when she bought it, so she stripped it down to the beautiful wood underneath and varnished it.
I asked Dad what about the six dining chairs.* Mom had found those at a garage or estate sale a couple years after buying the table. They didn't match the table exactly, but were a similar oak and simple yet solid design. They had sentimental value to me, as they were part of many memories of family meals and fun times growing up.
Dad said, "Oh, you don't want those, do you? They're so old and falling apart. I think I might just put them at the curb." I said, "No, I'd like the chairs. Maybe I can have them fixed. Just throw them on the moving truck if you have room." So he brought me the chairs along with the table.
Well, the chairs were indeed in poor shape. There were, as the furniture guy later put it, "enough nails in them to make a boat anchor." Broken stretchers on the bottom had been fixed with hardware store wooden dowels, and there were sloppy, gloppy glue jobs at the joints. When Mom reupholstered the seats (which she did at least three times during the chairs' 45-year residence at my folks' house), Dad just drilled another set of holes right through the oak seats. The seats had so many holes, they looked like they had been in a John Dillinger shootout.
Nevertheless, I hauled the lot over to a furniture guy in the next little town. I told him he could cannibalize a couple chairs, if necessary, for parts, but that I'd like to end up with four decent chairs out of the six. As I unloaded and parked the chairs on his driveway, he said, "Oh, I can fix all six of them, no problem." Then he said, "Do you know what these are worth?" Um, nope. Dad was going to trash them.
"A set like this would be easily $$$$." **
"Oh, yeah, they're a nice set," he continued. "Quarter sawn white oak with tiger striping and sort of a pad foot in the front. A set of six. Yep, they're very nice chairs."
So he stripped them, fixed their rickety wobbliness, and plugged the holes in the seats. A few weeks later, he called that they were ready for me. I was going to sand, stain, and reupholster them. Upon seeing them, the difference was already remarkable. The years of grime and nicotine had been stripped away, leaving just beautiful, wonderfully grained white oak.
Suddenly, however, the work I had yet to do on them seemed daunting for someone of my limited experience and ability. I asked what he'd charge to sand them for me? Stain them? How about putting new upholstered seats on them? Each response registered in my head as cha-ching, but I sure as heck didn't want to ruin them by doing a half job. And how could I put the old plywood covered cushions back on top of those oak seats without drilling holes? He tried to describe the technique that would have been used to secure the original padded leather seats on the chairs. Done from the underside, it wouldn't have created any holes in the oak seat itself. Although nice of him to try to explain, it was over my head. Ultimately, I left the chairs there for him to finish.
Best decision I've made all summer.
My only job was to buy the fabric I wanted for the seats. I chose a Robert Allen upholstery fabric in two different but color-coordinating patterns, and had three chairs done in each fabric.
I picked up the finished chairs last week and could not have been happier!
There's no mistaking they're still old chairs that have had many decades of use. (I would guess these date to the early part of the 20th century, probably sometime between 1910 and 1940.)
I like to think of them as having character.
I'll be linking to Vintage Thingie Thursday at Colorado Lady. Head over to see what other fun blasts the past has to offer!
*I'm sorry I didn't take any "before" pictures. Who knew there would be a story in these chairs?
**Suffice it to say this was a surprising figure, the first number of which was larger than a 1 and the second not a 0. Regardless, I like the chairs the same as if they were worth a fraction as much. Their value to me comes from the fact that they have been well-loved and used in our family in the past, and that they could be restored to be enjoyed well into the future.