Monday, August 4, 2014

Trash to Treasure - Retro Chair

Tonight we finally got around to taking some pictures of the chair that I mentioned in the last couple posts. It's all finished, and Joe and I are quite happy with it. This really was a tag team effort between the two of us. Joe offered to take on the refinishing of the wood while I handled the re-upholstery of the seat and back. I'm not sure which of us had the more difficult job but I do know that we got the ones best suited to us :)

The story of this chair starts with me first spotting it at the end of someone's driveway on trash day. I actually drove by it in the morning while it was drizzling, and thought about stopping right then to pick it up. However I was already running late for work and thought that the rain might be ruining the wood. So I didn't pick it up then but instantly regretted it haha. I thought there would be no way that the chair would still be there when I was coming home, but lo and behold it was! This time I stopped and gave it a quick look over. Besides needing some love it seemed to be in good condition, and it passed my "shake test". Basically I tried to shake and wiggle the chair to check for structural stability. It was solid! So into the back of my car it went. This is the first piece of trash furniture that my new Subaru has had the honor of hauling :) When I got it home and showed Joe, he was of course less than thrilled that I had brought yet another piece of furniture into the house that needed work, but he did admit that it was a cool chair and that it seemed solid.

A quick background about this chair. It had a couple tags on the bottom that told me it was made by the Sikes Furniture Company in Buffalo, NY. There was not a date of manufacturing, but the model of the chair was 1954. I have no idea if that correlates to the year it was made, but maybe so. Another tag on the bottom let us know that the wood was walnut. I did a little research but couldn't find too much information about the Sikes Furniture Co. or the value of the chair. So we decided that we would keep the chair for ourselves once it was fixed up. I would call the style of this chair either "Danish Modern" or "Mid-Century Modern". As implied by the name, this style of furniture was made around the middle of the 20th century and was often modeled after Danish designs that used clean, modern lines, slim legs, solid wood, and minimal excess decoration. I'd say the defining characteristics that make this chair fall into that category are the interesting angles on the arm rests, the solid walnut frame and the brass tips on the narrow front legs. If curious about other examples of this style, just Google either of the terms above.

On to the makeover! It started with me removing the seat and back cushions which were conveniently attached with screws from the back and underside. Then I began the very tedious removal of hundreds of upholstery tacks. I had to pop each one up with a flat-head screwdriver then pull it out with some needle-nose pliers. You can kind of see in this picture how there were layers of fabric and piping that were tacked on on top of each other. Removing each layer revealed another row of tacks.

After removing all the old vinyl (or leather, I'm honestly not sure) covering I needed to check and see if the padding underneath was usable. I really wanted it to be so that I didn't have to bother replacing it. I veeerrrrry cautiously gave one of the cushions a little sniff and didn't smell anything. So I sniffed a little closer and a little more haha. Miraculously the padding didn't have any bad smells and I was able to keep it. It must have been sealed in really well under the vinyl all those years.

A couple weeks after that I finally got to work on recovering the cushions. I cut pieces big enough to wrap around the cushions with plenty of excess to pull on. I started out trying to just use a hand held staple gun but the wood base of the cushions was so hard that the staples wouldn't go in all the way. After trying to hammer a few of them in the rest of the way and failing miserably, I decided to consider getting a pneumatic upholstery stapler to use with our air compressor. We found one on Amazon for $25 and it was the best money we've spent on a tool in a long time! At least as far as I'm concerned. It made the rest of the upholstery job so easy. I still used the hand held staple gun to kind of tack the fabric in place since it was very simple remove those if I needed to re-position the fabric. While re-covering the cushions I tried to keep a couple things in mind. First, keeping the fabric centered on the chair and second, pulling the fabric very tight so that there wouldn't be any wrinkles on the finished top. I think I was pretty successful!

First I covered each cushion with the main top piece of fabric.

Then I sewed a bunch of piping to use around the entire seat cushion and the top of the back cushion. Once that was made, I was able to attach it using the air stapler as well.

When stapling the piping around corners I snipped some notches into the fabric to reduce the bulk at the corner. 

Only the top edge of the chair back needed piping. 

The back of the chair back also had to be covered with the main fabric since it shows through the back of the chair frame. I had to attach the top edge of that first from underneath so that the staples would be hidden. I did it very similar to the how the old backing was attached which you can see in one of the old pictures above. For the bottom of the seat I used a coordinating piece of fabric from my stash to cover everything and give it a nice finished look.

While I was working on all the upholstery, Joe took care of the chair frame. When he started there were lots of areas that had surface staining, scratches and gouges.

He started the re-finishing process by hand sanding the entire frame with 80 grit sandpaper. Then he moved on to 120, 180 and finally 220 grit. The difference when he was done sanding was amazing!

The wood looked awesome and I could start to see the beauty of the finished product. After sanding he did a little research on how to finish the wood. Options include, polyurethane, lacquer, wax, oil, and who knows what else. We decided to use Danish Oil which is a common finish for mid-century modern furniture. The dry wood really soaked up the oil and Joe ended up applying a few coats over about a week or so.

I loved seeing the beautiful grain of the walnut shine through!

The final step in the makeover was to polish up the brass tips on the front legs. To do that I just used some Brasso and old t-shirts scraps. They polished up pretty nice. Now for some finished pictures of the chair.

A little detail of the cool fabric I found. 

Here you can kind of see how I covered the bottom of the seat to hide all the edges of the stapled fabric. 

As you can see I didn't quite get the fabric super smooth along the edge of the seat but I'm still happy with it. 

Here you can see the cool flared arm detail.

Sorry for the picture overload but I'm just happy to share it I guess. I hope you all had a fun weekend and are enjoying the last few weeks of summer. I've got one more furniture makeover in progress that will hopefully be done soon if my sewing machine will cooperate. In the mean time I'm hoping to share a couple recipes this week. Until next time, have a great night!


  1. The two of you did a beautiful job of refinishing this chair!

  2. That is a beautiful chair. You two did an awesome job!

  3. Not sure if my comments are going through--I never comment! But this is fabulous! Love the fabric, as I usually only see black or white on MCM chairs. Could you share where to find it?

    1. Thanks so much! I wish I could find a link to the fabric for you, but it is something that I dug out of the clearance pile at JoAnn's several months back. So I guess that would be my best advice, dig through the clearance bin at your fabric store for a nice, heavyweight upholstery fabric that someone may have overlooked :)

    2. Thanks! At least I have a place to start.

  4. How beautiful and stunning!