Reupholstering a Curbside Castaway

From the desk of Amy Frederickson - vintage enthusiast, revitalization fanatic and Revitaliste founder.

I am a big believer in opportunistically acquiring pieces. That’s my euphemistic way of saying I support buying an unique object you stumble upon even if you don’t know how or when you’ll use it (as long as you're not playing in hoarder territory!). I’m of the mindset that if you adore it, you will find a way to incorporate it into your life. Such is the case with my entryway chairs.

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One afternoon, while still living in Manhattan, I encountered a handsome pair of accent chairs sitting at the curb’s edge. Their simple, sturdy frames immediately struck me. I inquired with the doorman of the building from where they seemed to have once resided. He confirmed they were indeed free for the taking, left seconds earlier by their erstwhile owner–a psychoanalyst with an office on the ground floor (oh, if only these chairs could talk!). From the sagging seats and threadbare fabric, it was clear that the therapist wasn’t the only one who had logged many hours supporting patients through their woes.

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Pushing a stroller with two children and the requisite provisions of a Manhattan mom (read: the contents of our pantry and nursery), I was not particularly prepared to avail myself of this found treasure. And though I had no idea where I’d use these chairs, I was determined to bring them into my home. In what I’m sure appeared to be a slapstick comedy routine, I tried every imaginable method of transporting these chairs - but MAN were they shockingly heavy (such is the price of quality). Presently, a kindly gentleman offered to help me carry the chairs to my building. And they say people aren’t friendly in NYC! After they were graciously delivered to my home, it took me only three years to put them to use.


Revitalization Checklist

  • Strip and stain wood frames

  • Reupholster and replace disintegrating foam

  • Structural integrity: solid and stable — physically and emotionally (apparently the psychoanalysis had sunk in)

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Design Decisions

In a distant life in which I actually did interesting things (aka pre-kids), I had purchased yards of vibrantly colored shantung silk while traveling through Asia. Like the accent chairs, I had acquired this fabric without a specific use/purpose in mind. When we moved to our new home in SF, I wanted a pair of simple but impactful chairs in our entryway…at long last, my curbside-castaways AND my luxurious silk had finally found their special purpose.

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Though the wood of the frames was in exceptionally good condition, the original stain had an orangish-red hue which would not work with the orange silk. I opted for a very deep walnut stain to act as a strong contrast to the fabric. Given the luxurious sheen of the silk, a semi-gloss finish would make the chairs just a touch more elegant. In the process of replacing the foam, I decided to change the seat back to give the chairs a bit more visual appeal - opting for a thick, box cushion. As a finishing touch, we added a welt to make the chairs look even more refined.

Things To Keep In Mind

Don’t be afraid to bring stray furniture into your home. But DO inspect pieces thoroughly before taking them in. Lift up and unzip the cushions (I even give them a whack on the ground to see if anything happens), open all the drawers, look under the piece. It certainly helps if you know the piece’s home/origin or why it was left outside. In the many years I’ve been collecting castaway furniture, I have never had a problem with unwanted critters hitching a ride.

Silk is a very family-unfriendly fabric. Basically anything that touches it leaves a blemish - little hands (why are they SO greasy?), big hands (why ARE they greasy?) and any liquid will leave an indelible mark. Direct sunlight and frequent use will erode the silk fibers. Even knit-backing silk (a process we’ll discuss in a future post) doesn’t protect it from the deleterious effects of humans.

I made my decision to use silk on these chairs with my eyes wide open. And there are stains on my chairs but I don’t mind because every time I enter my home I am greeted by their luminous color and the priceless memories of how they came into my life.


Wondering where to reupholster your old chair?

Revitaliste is the one-stop resource to transform furniture into one-of-a-kind pieces. Get in touch for an upholstery quote HERE.