Early one morning as I left the apartment for my morning training run, I spotted two matching chairs that appeared to be mid-century Danish chairs. The upholstery on the seats was ripped and the seat padding was poking out. They were really dusty, as if they had been sitting in someone’s basement for years. I thought they looked like excellent candidates for a furniture transformation project, but I was determined to go for my run and I worried that if I paused to bring the chairs into our basement I would lose my motivation to exercise. So, I kept walking towards the park.
The ENTIRE run I thought about those chairs. Within five minutes of leaving them behind I was furious with myself for leaving such a valuable resource sitting on the sidewalk. I was 100% convinced that they would be gone by the time I got back – it takes me a little less than 30 minutes to run around the park and I was certain that those high quality chairs wouldn’t last that length of time in our neighborhood – some other industrious scavenger would certainly snag them before I could get back.
But I was wrong! They were sitting there waiting for me when I got back home, and I was beyond thrilled. I turned them upside down and confirmed my suspicion that they were Danish – each was stamped with “Made in Denmark” and the name of the furniture maker – Aabe Christensen.
I brought them inside to our basement where they proceeded to collect more dust for several weeks. Here’s what they looked like – you can even see some of the dust on the left chair:
Once I got around to tackling this project, the first order of business was to unscrew the seat and backrest from the wooden frame, followed by the tedious and difficult task of ripping out hundreds of staples to remove the torn upholstery. For each staple, I forced a flat screwdriver head under the center of the staple so that it would pop up, and then I tugged it out using pliers. Taking off the existing black leather upholstery exposed the wooden underside and foam topside of the seats, and the wooden back and foam front of the backrests.
I traced the shape of the old upholstery pieces onto the underside of my new fabric – a sturdy navy cotton with a white modern botanic print that I found at Ikea. I chose this fabric to coordinate with the asian/organic theme we have in our living room – I loved the classic color combined with the modern design.
Once I had the shapes cut out, my husband helped me pull the fabric taut around the foam seat and backrest pieces so I could staple the edges of the fabric to the wooden backs using my staple gun. After a while, we got really good at a pretty little pleat detail that kept the fabric nice and tight around the rounded corners.
The seats were relatively easy – once we stapled the fabric in place they were basically done – no need to worry about how the stapled side (underside) of the seat looked. The front face of the backrests were pretty much the same – pull taut, staple, pull taut, staple, repeat, repeat…all the way around. But the rear faces of the backrests were by far the most challenging part – because unlike the underside of the seat, both sides of the backrests are visible! The wood back, covered in staples and the ragged edges of the upholstery, needed to be covered up. This challenge perplexed me for a few days (well…maybe it was weeks?!) and the chairs sat in our living room with naked backs while I figured out what to do.
Eventually I figured that I would do the best I could, even though it wouldn’t be how a professional upholsterer would do it. When I deconstructed the chair, I saw that the rear of the backrest was covered in the same black leather, mounted on a thin, flexible cardboard panel in the shape of the backrest. I removed all the existing fabric and tacks from the panel and adhered my fabric to it using iron-on glue strips. Then I attached the upholstered panel to the rear of the backrest with very small, black furniture tacks. I only used five tacks per backrest, and because they are dark, they basically blend in with the navy fabric – you can’t see them unless you get real close and look for them. Not professional, but it definitely does the trick and, really, who’s going to notice?
So, here they are in all their re-upholstered glory!
I LOVE these chairs! And so does everybody who comes to our home. Not only do they look sharp, they’re incredibly well-made and comfortable. Gotta love that Danish design.
Thank goodness I ran fast enough around the park that morning to snatch them off the sidewalk! You know that saying “I brake for [insert what you care about here].” Well, I run fast for free discarded furniture. What do you run fast for?