THE BLOG
09/07/2016 01:48 pm ET

A Little Fabric, A Dream, and A Talented Professional: Breathe New Life Into Furniture with Custom Upholstery

My Grandmother Carrie had the same furniture from 1936 until 2006. For sixty years she lived with, cared for and reinvented quality pieces that are still timeless today. (I know because now I now have much of her furniture in my home!).

Carrie was also a talented designer and seamstress and at the helm of our family decorating, upholstery and window treatment business. As such, she had skills and access to materials that enabled her to continually breathe new life into her own interiors.

Switching Fabrics in a Room Makes a Dramatic Difference

One of the many lessons she taught me was to work with what you've got and make subtle changes that have great impact. One such change is really all about fabric. Carrie made slipcovers for her furniture and switched out those slipcovers with the seasons. She did the same with her draperies, tablecloths, etc.

Of course sometimes she took the plunge and had something reupholstered because it was better for the lines of the piece. In these instances, it was well thought out and well budgeted, since upholstery can be very pricey.

Very recently I took a cue from my Grandmother's playbook and decide to reupholster a much-loved chair. I bought the chair at an antiques shop about 16 years ago for my home, which was largely decorated with Midcentury Modern furniture at the time. It was love at first sight because it made me think of the furniture from I Love Lucy. When Lucy got new furniture, so did the rest of America. And this chair is a magnificent example of design at that time.

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My favorite chair was pretty sad before its new upholstery.

The chair retained its original upholstery (a nubby charcoal woolen blend) and was perfect for my home. After many years of enjoyment, however, (pets, parties, people) it began to look pretty dog-eared.

Luckily, like my Grandmother, because of my work, I have access to great materials and very skilled people. So I decided for my new home I'd have new upholstery for this sensational chair.

Recently I completed a design job where I used men's suiting material to cover furniture and create window treatments. The result was rich, masculine and unexpected.

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With its old fabric stripped away, the chair was ready for a new lease on life.

Finding the Right Material and the Right Craftsman is Essential

I wanted to go for the same look for this chair, but men's suiting material doesn't come cheap. So I did what I always do. I went thrift shopping and found a wonderful azure blue pinstripe for about a tenth of the cost of such material when it is new.

The next step was to call my friend Eldin, of Johnston Craft, who I commissioned to do the work for my client. Lucky for me, he was the only call I needed to make.

Like any good craftsman, Eldin came and assessed the piece and the material and gave me an estimate based primarily on labor. I green lit the project.... and off my chair went.

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The upholstery process requires skill and patience.

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A window into the amount of work that goes into a job like this.

As I jockeyed though moving and getting settled, visions of my special chair danced in my head. I knew exactly where it was going to go and couldn't wait to be reunited. On the day of the big reveal, Eldin proudly pulled up with the chair in his truck. Much like a master sculptor, Eldin had it wrapped in a crisp, white sheet (largely to protect it, but also to build anticipation).

Eldin gently lifted the chair into my home and put it in its new spot. When he removed the sheet, my jaw dropped. My chair was reinvented and looked like a million bucks.

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The final product in Eldin's workshop.

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The sideview of the chair in Eldin's workshop.

Instead of Tossing It, Reinvent It

Like old friends, there are just some pieces of furniture I just want to hang on to for the long haul, and this chair was one of them. In its previous state, it had gone from sensational to sad, but all it needed some imagination and love.

So if there's a piece you love that is looking past its prime.... consider reupholstering rather than tossing it. It's fun to see it get a new lease on life and worth every penny.

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A special guest in my home enjoying the final product.

JOHNSTON CRAFT: http://johnstoncraft.biz

RICHTER DESIGN: www.richterdesign.net

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