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."

Okay then.

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.


Michelle said...

They turned out beautifully! I love the two different, but coordinated upholstery you chose. The chairs do have character. I like the wood and the shape of their feet. Most important of all though is the memories you have of them. Your mom would be pleased with what you've done with them.

Deborah said...

It would be interesting to know how much they are worth. Maybe we would learn to value things like that more and not be so ready to discard them just because they are old. Love the story. Thank you for sharing.

Ann said...

What great looking chairs! I have a love affair with old oak furniture. I think oak is such a pretty wood. You did good by convincing your dad not to put them out on the curb.:o)
Enjoy them and love them!
The Tattered Tassel

Sally Annie Magundy said...

What a great post! Oh gosh, your chairs are just beautiful. How wonderful to find that something so dear to you was indeed something very precious. Enjoy!

Happy VTT,

LV said...

Some things are worth more than money can buy. You were smart in keeping the chairs. It is amazing what a difference was made in them. You have some very nice treasures and memories with them.

Jane said...

I loved this post. I would have kept the chairs for their sentimental value too....bonus that they ended up being worth what they were!
They look amazing and I love the fabric. Now they're ready for many more decades of use.

Maureen said...

What a great rescue!

Keetha Broyles said...

Gorgeous! I so love the wood grain and am DELIGHTED that you kept it natural!

Teresa said...

These are wonderful T back chairs. claw feet and tiger oak. These are just great. I too am looking for some chairs for an old library table I have. It is so hard to find four or more that match and I love. still hunting. These are great and the fact that your mom loved them is even better.

Sarah Craig said...

Beautiful beautiful chairs, P.! I spend a lot of time telling my daughter what things are worth in my house so that if anything ever happens to me, she doesn't put something valuable out at the curb!

Sandi (Meme) said...

Isn't it fun when you come upon something surprising like that? I'm going to follow you, and hope you will come over and visit me too - maybe even decide to stay awhile! Have a great week. Sandi

GaAm said...

One word: Fabulous!!!!!

I love old wood that is lovingly treated and brought back for a second round of life.

SueWis said...

Wow, beautiful! You must have reacted like a participant on Antiques Roadshow!

Elizabeth said...

I SO have to know what those mysterious **** numbers are!

Your chairs turned out so beautifully and I love the fabric choices. Three of each worked out perfectly! Yay for you!

xo -E

Unknown said...

So glad you took the time to have them fixed up--they're beautiful!

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Shay said...

I still love that fabric.

Your chairs look absolutely stunningly beautiful. I love that they come with so much history and you're going to add to that.

Anonymous said...

oh my gosh Paulette they are beautiful, and the history behind them just makes that more valuable to you. lak

Diann @ The thrifty Groove said...

These are beautiful chairs! The fabric choice is wonderful and I am so glad you kept them natural!

Unknown said...

Your chairs are GORGEOUS!! I think you did a great job of finding the right person to bring them back to their glory :)


Ann said...

The shape of the chairs is unique---and I love the covers. Great job.

Pam Kessler said...

Those are beautiful and I like your choice of fabric for the seats.

reprise vintage said...

those are really beautiful and i love the seat covers you chose!

Annie said...

I'm so glad that you didn't just slap some paint on those chairs, as many people are doing these days. The quarter-sawn white oak is beautiful!

madge said...

girl! those are awesome!!

Unknown said...

They are truly beautiful. Like the fabric you choose also. My mom refinished the black stained oak table with claw feet and 6 chairs that was my grandparents. They were beautiful. She had to have the seats caned. I used them for years and then passed them on to one of the grands for a home start up. They are still beautiful. I made her promise never to get rid of them.


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