Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Chair Project

Back in 1967, my father bought his father two chairs as a gift. We don't know the fate of the other chair, but one of the chairs has made a home with me for several years now. It started off as a burnt red-orange color with a lot of structure and was super comfortable. Holes were starting to wear in the arms of the chair so I got this great idea to recover it. My dad helped and, even though we had no idea what we were doing, we recovered the chair. We didn't do a good job recovering the chair, but we did it. That's kind of a recurring theme with my dad and me. Neither of us are perfectionists, but we love to get things done. You can only imagine how this chair looked after we had stripped it of all of its stuffing and thereby its structure, bought a utilitarian black fabric and some foam fill from the fabric store, and used our mad made-up upholstery skills to recover it. We even invested in a staple gun-- albeit not a very powerful one. Let's just say it didn't look all that great, but it served its purpose.

Once Rick and I were married, we decided to give the chair a much needed makeover. Rick wasn't keen on the duct tape my dad and I had used to hold the cushion together. I can sew, but I don't do zippers. The duct tape was our substitute for a zipper and being that it was the underside of the cushion, no one really noticed. The important part was that the chair was comfortable.

Rick and I went to the fabric store to pick out a redish, rust-colored fabric with a bit of a pattern to it to return the chair to a color and style closer to the original. Being that Rick is a perfectionist, he also insisted that we got a few tools of the trade instead of just "winging it" as my dad and I had done. He also didn't let me use duct tape this time. After several days of stapling and hammering and stuffing, we had something that again resembled a chair. Not a really pretty chair. Not perfect --which is surprising for Rick but he got too frustrated with the project to really care about perfection in the end --but an improvement over the previous attempt. This version of the chair had stuffing that would poke out at the joint where the arms met the chair back since we had no way to tie the fabric down at that point. The seat bottom where the cushion rested wasn't anchored into the back of the chair either so that caused it to slip down and expose the stuffing at the front of the chair base. And if you ask Rick about it, he'll claim that the pokey strips used to hold the fabric in place had come unattached and were out to get him as he always seemed to get stabbed when he sat in the chair for some reason.

For some relevant background on this story, you need to understand that I've only done a few projects with my dad that I can remember. He isn't really the crafty/handy type. We made a Frankenstein monster with a pumpkin head to enter into the Sycamore Pumpkin Festival one year. We attempted to make a go cart like you see on all the commercials. It worked but we needed to run it down a hill for momentum and then never really got a good breaking system figured out. And we once sanded down an old wooden desk that was salvaged from his work. We did a less-than-perfect job painting it bright red and I spent the next decade covering it with stickers, concert ticket stubs and cancelled stamps. I really loved that desk and took it to Milwaukee with Rick and I when we moved in together. I tend to cherish the projects my dad and I have undertaken together, even if they aren't perfect.

Point being, Rick hated the red desk and refused to ever move it again since it was made of pressed wood. It was insanely heavy and cumbersome so I don't really blame him (Okay, maybe just a little bit). When it came time to move to Chicago, he sawed it into pieces and took it to the dumpster. It was a sad day for me.

Now you can imagine how upset I became when Rick said he now hated this red chair and wanted to throw it out. He was tired of it drawing blood every time he sat down (somehow I never got stabbed by the chair so I'm not sure that was really the case with him but that was what he claimed.) This was the chair that used to belong to my grandfather. The chair that my dad and I recovered (with the help of a little duct tape). The chair that he and I had recovered (using a safety pin and some creative cushion design instead of a zipper). This chair had lived with us everywhere we had lived together. It was comfortable. It was sentimental. And here he wanted to just pitch it to the curb. No sir. That was where I drew the line.

After weeks of considering a new chair and not finding anything that was just right, we took the red chair to DeKalb to have it recovered by a professional. We dropped it off, picked a fun fabric along the lines of a rust color, and told the upholsterer to be creative with it. I asked her to give it some form, some personality, some better stuffing and a zippered cushion along the way.

Three weeks and a gazillion dollars later (partially sponsored by Granny and Aunt Terri as an Iain baby shower gift), we have a beautiful chair with a good story behind it. It is now, as far as I am concerned anyway, an heirloom. Rick no longer hates it and isn't being (allegedly) stabbed by it. Ada loves bouncing in it, until I reprimand her anyway. And I find it to be a nice, comfortable place to relax and cuddle with the kids. Well worth the investment.

Moral of the story: Sometimes you just have to invest in the things that will leave lasting memories.

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