What Lies Beneath?

At the end of April I’m off to Tresithick again to see Richard, Sonja and Nadine to continue my structured learning. Originally I’d wanted to complete the AMUSF (Association of Master Upholsterers and Soft Furnishers) qualification, but with the commitments of my day job I wasn’t able to meet the time requirements of the programme. So instead I’m creating my own path, visiting Tresithick when I can to learn the skills that are most useful for me at that time. Actually, I think it’s working out better for me this way – agreed, I won’t have a qualification, but I’m still gaining the same level of tuition and I can work on projects and skills that relate directly to the kind of pieces I’m being commissioned for.

So what do I want to learn this time? Well I’ve opted for something a little less traditional as I’ve been asked to complete a number of pieces lately that use foams and staples, rather than hair and tacks. Working on my Parker-Knoll style chair recently has given me an opportunity to try some skills associated with more modern chairs, but for my tuition I’ve purchased this baby:

Cocktail chair

A little 50’s cocktail chair, nice eh? Now as tempting as it was to keep this beautiful floral-fluff ensemble, I made the tough decision to strip it back and prior to making this purchase, I had a conversation with Richard about it’s suitability as a project. I wanted to try something that involved foam and a variety of panels that will need stitching together, and with it’s 50’s lines and curves it might also throw a few more challenges that I could learn from. Richard suggested that this little 50’s cocktail chair would likely have a bespoke spring unit in the seat which would be impossible to replace and should therefore be left in situ. I set to work stripping the chair.

One of the things that I enjoy about upholstery is piecing together the history of a chair while you’re stripping away its current façade. One of the things I hate about upholstery is cutting my hand on staples and having to sit with my head between my legs for 10 minutes so as not to faint. I really need to man-up.

What treats lay beneath the green velour on this little beauty? A bespoke spring unit? Some scraps of the original 50’s fabric? A unique method of upholstery that I could learn from? No. None of these. What lay beneath the original velour upholstery was a mass-produced chipboard carcass. This isn’t a 50’s chair at all – it’s a 50’s style chair. To add insult to injury there was even a chalked note on the inside if the seat base saying “10 please Fred”. Good old Fred, he was knocking these out like they were going out of fashion (and in the 1980’s they’d probably been out of fashion for about 30 years).

10 Please Fred
10 Please Fred

Here’s the question – does it make a difference? I felt a bit disappointed when I discovered the chair might only be 20-30 years old, but why? The shape is the same, with the right fabric I can still achieve the same look and structurally it’s sound, so it will fulfil its purpose. Ok, so it’s not actually from the 1950’s, but if the aesthetic is the most important thing, is that an issue? Now if I were an antique dealer I’d have a different view, but I’m not. So what do you think? Should I give this little imposter a more fitting 50’s look?

Oh, and while you’re at it I wouldn’t mind some help in choosing fabric – I love these 50’s prints from Sanderson and think they’ll really bring this chair to life, but I can’t decide. Which is your favourite?

                                Mobiles Black                                    Mobiles Blue        Mobiles Green    Festival    Perpetua


7 thoughts on “What Lies Beneath?

  1. An interesting tale and lesson about what indeed does lie beneath – shame you didn’t find a stash of old fivers… I wonder what’s happened to the other nine that Fred turned out, have any of them been lucky enough to be released from their velour hell and given a loving makeover. My vote’s for the blue fabric, the second one down. Have fun playing with it and enjoy your break/school in Tresithick.

  2. Hi Jon, not sure if you’ll still receive comments posted in a historical part of your blog (I’m not that IT savvy!). I’ve just picked up 2 of these chairs from the tip and came across your site whilst trying to age them. LOVE your story and as other say, inspiring. It will make me work harder at using the little free time I have to learn and develop my upholstery skills – clearly it can be done and doesn’t need a 6 year apprenticeship to create beautiful professional things.
    Oh, and happily, when I stripped my chairs they revealed the full sprung base units!

    1. Hi Emma, what a great find! You’re exactly right, you don’t need all the time in the world to develop your skills – just get stuck in! You’ll soon find that you’re getting better and learning from your successes and occasional mistakes! There are loads of good books out there too. Good luck!

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