Intrigued by the question that I had raised earlier as to which upholstery on the chairs was the original, last night I found some time to remove the upholstery from the seat frames. I wasn’t too surprised to find more red vinyl under all but two of them.
But remember, I thought – and still think – that the red vinyl was from the 1940s. Whoever had redone the chairs in that fabric had done a thorough job in removing all previous upholstery and renewing the padding as well, as that was the last layer on the frames – except for the two frames in the saddest condition. These were covered with several layers of their own, but the original brown leather was still present underneath it all.
Why had these two seats been neglected in the chairs’ big red makeover? Perhaps they were deemed unsafe and ignored.
If you can’t see, in addition to the cracks and the makeshift cross nailed to the bottom, the corners are tacked together with picture-frame braces – those squiggly lines of metal. Weird.
The covers on these two chairs each concealed a few generations of upholstery – the one in the most modern fabric covered a rose-print fabric that looked very 70’s or 80’s to me. The other chair was covered in black vinyl.
Underneath those layers, they were both covered in a burgundy flower print that I can’t place. Its provenance must be earlier than the red vinyl, since the red vinyl seems to have replaced it on the other chairs – so maybe 1930? It was very old and brittle, and had been in contact with the original leather underneath for so long that it was stuck as if with spray adhesive. Its fabric weave had imprinted itself on the leather, making me think for a while there that the leather was actually vinyl. Not so – but I suppose 100 years of being squashed together did its best to fuse the two materials.
So now we’re up to 7 layers of materials: modern tree print, 80’s scallops, 70’s roses, black vinyl, red vinyl, 30’s flower print, original leather.
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After peeeeeeeeling off the red fabric at last we come to the original layer, one which tells us so much about when these chairs were made and what they were originally like.
The original upholstery was real leather – possibly yellow, or a golden brown. You can’t tell here, but when I wiped it clean(ish) there were just a few remnants of flecks of color. The leather was so brittle it tore like paper when I tried to loosen it from the nails.
There was a brand or a mark on the inside – I wonder if it’s enough information to enable me to do more research on these chairs.
Underneath the leather was a layer of wool. Like, from a sheep. You don’t see cushions stuffed with real wool anymore.
And under that, surprise! A layer of straw!
Both of these seats, unlike the others, had solid bottoms. The one I opened (I left the other mostly alone) looked makeshift and hasty to me, like someone at a later date had simply inserted a piece of beveled plywood into the hole. (Perhaps because due to whatever accident had shattered it, the frame was no longer strong enough to accommodate a slung cushion like the others have.) But I can’t figure out a way that they could have done that without first removing the leather upper, and there was no damage to the leather that I could see.
Unless that was the reason the frames were in such poor shape? Maybe someone had tried to dismantle the frames from the backs, insert the plywood, and reassemble the frames? Judging from the poor, haphazard way they were put back together, that seems possible.
Or what if they were all originally hard-bottomed chairs, and the person who did the fancy 1940’s job pulled out the plywood bottoms when they replaced the padding and previous upholstery? I know that the seat frames are all original – there were scraps of the original leather still tacked on them all in places under the red vinyl – and after all, it really doesn’t make sense that someone would open up a chair and insert plywood but leave the original squashed straw batting in place.
I stopped pulling off the leather at this point, unwilling to rip it further. I will have to remake both these seat frames from scratch because they are so broken, so I might as well try to preserve as much integrity as is left of the originals. And then the question becomes… what do I do with the originals? Keep them in the basement forever? Or once separated from their chairs, do they become trash? Maybe I should throw out the really broken one but keep the kinda-ok one in case I go on Antiques Roadshow?
I’ve never made anything that had to fit as exactly as one of these seat frames. All that beveling edges, and mitered corners… and of course I will have to put them together with doweling because I don’t have a pocket-hole jig for screws… I hope I’m up to the task.