Yvonne Blacker: Seating with Soul

August 14, 2012

During the summer months in New England, it’s not unusual to find chair orphans abandoned on the side of the road. For a lot of us in the design field, it is very difficult to simply drive by an item that, with a little TLC, could end up being the best seat in the house. I certainly have brought home my share of four legged finds…I can count over a dozen in use right now, although they look nothing like they did when we first met. Each one has its Cinderella story of transformation. Perhaps that’s why the desire to rescue a worn-out chair is so powerful. Who wouldn’t want to play the role of fairy godmother?

Repurposed chairs grace my vignette for a summer design show at Tapley Hall. Photo by Wynne & Mintz Photography

After applying fresh coats of paint, I chose a neutral linen striped fabric, a bright ikat print and a classic leopard pattern to recover the chairs and footstool that I used in my space “The Summer Nursery” at the Danvers Historical Society Design Show held in July of 2010. The combination of these unique pieces paired with the stories of their origin make this vignette more personal. The large chair is from my first apartment (my mom had found it, and back then we had it covered in a pink and white Victorian-like floral), the small chair my husband brought home when our sons were quite little (originally sporting a worn oak finish) and the footstool (formerly covered with a butterfly print) was in our first nursery. The new upholstery, which completely changed their personalities, was expertly done by Paula Bakies of Acorn Interiors.

I certainly am not alone when it comes to chair renovating. Anyone who has inherited seating from a distant relative has pondered the question, “How can I make this my own?” While a solid mahogany chair has its place in proper design, these days it’s totally acceptable to give modern makeovers to traditional pieces. To do so, the best way to begin is with a little prep work and a lot of confidence. Older chair styles can look quite hip and trendy when dressed in bold colors and graphic prints.

Traditional dining chairs are painted flamingo pink by Ethan Allen for Dining By Design at the Architectural Digest Home Design Show 2012. Photo by Yvonne Blacker

Designer Sharyn Fireman has launched a collection of one-of-a-kind chair redos. Vibrant fabrics paired with well-polished curves convert selected pieces from wallflower to show-stealer.

Or, as Fireman describes the “Lucy” chair, below:
“I’m ripped, I’m torn and, yes, very old.
I was found by a redhead on the side of the road.
I was brought back to life without too much strife.
So glamourous now. Ready to be sold.”

Before and after: “Lucy” from the Chair Candy Design collection by Sharyn Fireman. Photo courtesy of Sharyn Fireman

Fabric isn’t the only way to re-dress a vintage chair. Amy Chalmers, design blogger and shop owner at Maison Decor in Malden and soon to be in the SOWA district of Boston, used Annie Sloan Chalk Paint to create a French country chair with Tiffany-style.

“It was a faux leather upholstery. I painted the entire chair, waxed it and add a little silver leaf Rub ‘n Buff…they really transformed into beauties. I loved them so much I took them home and we sit on them daily. The chalk paint is standing up with no signs of wear, so I am very happy with the result.” – Amy Chalmers

A “before” picture of the faux leather chair. Photo courtesy of Amy Chalmers

The Tiffany-blue beauty “after.” Photo courtesy of Amy Chalmers

Secret ingredients: Annie Sloan Chalk Paint plus silver leaf Rub ‘n Buff. Photo courtesy of Amy Chalmers

Adorning salvaged furniture with a playful mix of graphic patterns and wild textiles is another way to create artful seating that inspires conversation. These eye-catching combos by Andrea Mihalik of Wild Chairy go where most chairs don’t dare. According to the Wild Chairy website, “Andrea’s hand-crafted pieces combine the nostalgia of old world stateliness with the bold whimsy of contemporary upholsteries, resulting in usable art that’s unexpected and unique.”

Twice as fun: a pair of chairs with a pair of fabrics. Photo courtesy of Wild Chairy

A golden frame is offset with an ink dot fabric and chalkboard back. Photo courtesy of Wild Chairy

The Chia Chair: part cozy, part pet? Photo courtesy of Wild Chairy

Along with chairs that can be reupholstered, a re-covered bench will always get my attention. Artist Susan Siefer of MadPatter ArtDesign is another fan of using Annie Sloan Chalk Paint to make an average piece of furniture really stand out. She paints on commission as well as offering her “Chalk it Up” furnishings on Etsy.

Pink-legged stool with paisley fabric. Photo courtesy of Susan Siefer

If you don’t have a piece that’s ready to transform, consider hanging images of stylish seating on your walls. “These new series of chair paintings combine everything I love. Interior design, furniture with personality, pattern, metallics…and allows me to ‘create’ my own fabric, my first love.” -Susan Siefer

Louis Chair: Venetian plaster on wood by Susan Siefer. Photo courtesy of Susan Siefer

So the next time you spot a chair all alone on the side of the road remember that with a bit of creative tailoring, it could become one of the best-dressed members of your home.

A “before” picture of a stack of chairs. Photo by Michael J. Lee for Chair Candy Design. 

The stack of chairs after. Photo by Michael J. Lee for Chair Candy Design

-Yvonne Blacker

As an interior decorator and color consultant, Yvonne Blacker coaches her clients on how to make design decisions with confidence. She shares design related stories on her blog, Design Vignettes as well as on the pages of New England Finery Magazine. She also works for the Designer Bath showroom in Beverly, Massachusetts as their marketing director. Check out her interior plus fashion-related designed sets on Polyvore.

For more ideas on making the old new again, check out:

Upholstery, the Value Proposition

Hardly Garden Variety

Twice Loved