Mid Century Modern Chair Revamp

Chris had this little chair in his bedroom when he was a kid.  He remembers his mother, Betty, reupholstering it with the striped fabric.

Mid century modern chair before revamp
The chair with Betty’s 1960s upholstery work

For some reason, he held onto it.  We would use it sometimes as extra seating at garage sales, or as a stool for reaching high places.

For the last decade, it’s been buried under empty boxes in our basement.  Recently I decided to organize the basement, and I brought the chair upstairs into the light of day.

We’d just been to an exhibit featuring the work of Danish modern furniture designers – the best of the best from the Mad Men era.  Those chairs certainly outclassed our chair, but this cute little guy was sure trying.

Proud Origins

After a little research, we learned that we had a “tubular cantilever chair.”  The back and seat are attached to a continuous steel frame that then sweeps beautifully to an L-shaped base.

This simple and ingenious design has been around for a surprisingly long time and was actually once the center of controversy.

An early version of the cantilever chair was designed in 1925 by Marcel Breuer, a Hungarian modernist designer and architect.  But it is said that his design was inspired by the work of Dutch designer Mart Stam.  The two designers wound up  in a patent lawsuit in a German court, which Stam won.

Contemporary furniture designers of the time embraced the cantilever concept and were inspired to create all sorts of variations.

Better Than New

With the recent renewed interest in mid century modern design, these chairs are popular once again.  So Chris decided to give his chair a little facelift.

First he removed the upholstery his mother had added to the seat, and the yellow bathrug that she had cut to fit as padding.  As a child of the Great Depression, Betty never wasted anything.

Mid Century modern chair cushion taken apart
Unpeeling the layers on the chair seat

Then he dealt with the chair back.  It still had the original upholstery but had been painted several times.  The little steel tacks, a nice decorative detail, had been painted over.

old tacks
Removing the tacks from the chair back

He stripped paint splatter from the steel frame and polished it.

Mid Century modern cantilever chair frame

You can see in this photo how the entire frame of the chair is one continuous piece of steel tubing.  So with the back and the seat, the chair is made up of only three pieces.

Chris reupholstered the back and seat with a red leatherette fabric.  I love his choice of the red – such a versatile color.  Now the chair can work in either a whimsical retro setting or in a more serious classic contemporary environment.

Mid Century modern chair reupholstered
Cantilever chair after new upholstery.
Midcentury modern chair closeup
Close-up of steel tacks after being stripped of paint.

The original upholstery fabric was nothing special and there were no maker’s marks on the chair, leading us to conclude that it is not a high-end piece.  I suspect it looks better now than when it was new.

I don’t think it’s going back in the basement.

 


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