Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Renovate Brooklyn! Day Twenty-Two: Holy #@$%! Upholstery Is Hard Work!

I'd love to say that Mummy and I prevailed over the reupholstery of the street-salvaged arm chair this weekend, but alas, we were way-laid by the temptations of antiquing, multiple side-projects, cooking extravagant meals, and generally toodling around together, so we only got about 3/4 of the way there. And the last 1/4 is clearly proving to be the most difficult part. 

I will keep updating everyone as I progress, but here's where we stand at the moment. After stripping the chair of all of its (not bug-ridden) fabric, I had to remove all of the old nails, staples, and nail-heads from the frame. This was a loveless, tedious, rather sharp task, but someone had to do it and I was the man for the job.

Above, you can see the chair dressed as Frankenstein. This is actually after I stapled the webbing onto the frame. As any good interior designer/upholsterer will tell you, the best way to start a project is to vastly underestimate how much of a material you'll need, and then drive into rural New York State where it is incredibly difficult to find additional quantities of the materials you didn't buy enough of to begin with. Thus, my webbing actually consists of normal webbing, and then some random strips of fabric I happened to have lying around. For those of you unfamiliar with this process, this is the way we described it to John: The wooden chair frame is like the skeleton of the chair, the webbing like the muscles and tendons, the batting/stuffing like the fat, and the fabric is the skin-- keeping everything inside the body of the chair.

The evening I finished the webbing of the chair, we made a spectacular meal of Coq Au Vin, prepared with a marvelously fresh chicken purchased from a farmer down the road from our house. (Okay, for all you detail-zealots, it was a marvelously fresh chicken when we bought it in July, but then we froze the billiow out of it, so that's how it was "farm-fresh" in February.) 

We served the Coq Au Vin over Chestnut Polenta, a recipe we found on the NY Times website and then slightly adapted.

For the polenta:
1 cup coarse-ground polenta
Kosher salt
1/4 cup chestnut flour (see notes)
Freshly ground black pepper

To make the polenta: In a medium pot, combine the polenta, 4 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil and whisk continuously until the mixture comes together. Lower heat to a simmer and stir often with a wooden spoon until tender, about 30 minutes. Stir in the chestnut flour and cook for 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and cover.

Our changes: 
I have yet to find chestnut flour, though I confess to not looking very hard. Instead, I prefer to put jarred chestnuts in a zip-loc bag and hit them enthusiastically with a hammer. This breaks them up into lovely morsels which hold up well in the polenta so you get these tasty little chunks of chestnuts mixed in.

Likewise, the polenta I usually use claims to cook in 3 minutes, while the NY Times recipe says you cook it for half an hour. I just cook it until it tastes ready-- which is usually somewhere in between 3 & 30 minutes. Also, I add extra salt and maybe a drizzle of olive oil to add a little more richness to the whole affair. Whether you make these little adjustments or not, it is awesome.

And if you've got the ill chestnut-flour connect, let me know!

Okay, back to the chair. So after that delicious meal, I had a sudden brilliant idea as I was climbing into bed on Saturday night. I should paint the frame of the chair!!! Which is what I did, as shown in the picture above. I lightly sanded down the frame, and then hit the whole thing with two coats of Benjamin Moore's Decorator's White, which is what I had handy down in the basement.

I am trying to channel the charming eclecticism of a chair like this, minus the $2,000.00+ price tag. Granted, the chair from Horchow - pictured above left - did not come with the risk of bedbugs.

Next up-- adding the batting. I did a couple of layers, stapling them on like a pro to make sure that it was nice and comfy, although if it ends up in our bedroom, my clothes are more likely to sit on it than I will. But, they'll be sitting in style! At this point, one could compare my chair - above right- and the Horchow chair and think we were actually getting pretty close to completion, but sadly the worst was yet to come. The actual upholstery.

And wow! Am I out of my league! This is definitely a "blind-leading-the-blind" operation, as neither Mummy nor I have the foggiest idea what we're doing. And now that she has departed, I'm on my own to figure this riddle out. Oy.

So that's where we are at this point. Mummy came, we all survived successfully, and then she left, leaving me with the remains of an incredibly ambitious project to complete unescorted. Oddly, this seems harder than tearing down the walls. Hmmm.

Hopefully progress is in my future! 


  1. wow very nice your recently post i like that . wonderful chair and nice details shared in the post . great idea and best article used so thanks

  2. This chair project is supremely interesting! As a fellow Williamsburg dweller looking to live shabby-chic, I am inspired by this project and I admire your audacity in the face of such an undertaking. Where are you buying your fabric and materials in the city?

  3. To Jacqueline:

    Thanks for your enthusiasm! I usually buy most of my fabric and materials from Harry Zarin's down on the Lower East Side. Also, I recently found a little sewing shop in Greenpoint where I can pick up extra thread, trim, and a little Polish hostility.

    Find these shops at the info below:
    *B E Yarn: 784 Manhattan Ave., Brooklyn, NY.

    Happy Shopping!

  4. To Romantic Dinner:

    Thanks for your comment! Keep reading and hopefully I'll get that chair finished soon.