Earlier this year, we bought six antique quarter sawn oak dining chairs and an antique oak dining table at a moving sale.
We have not been able to attribute the chairs to a particular manufacturer, but as close as we can tell they are a fine example from the Arts and Crafts Movement that influenced design from around 1880 until 1910.
This movement was a reaction to the decorative excesses and the mass production of Victorian furniture and décor. The Arts and Crafts Movement featured simple, honest designs and focused on the quality of the materials and the workmanship.
We made the mistake of not sitting in the chairs before we bought them. But that probably wouldn’t have change our minds anyway.
The chairs had been recently reupholstered with a nice neutral fabric that went with just about everything.
But there really wasn’t much cush there. Sitting in them for any length of time hurt the old tailbone.
The chair seats had sturdy oak frames, and they were holding up wonderfully. But the thin, flimsy wooden seat inserts inside the frames were failing on most of the chairs.
I could just imagine, at our next dinner party, guests sitting uncomfortably in their chairs until someone (probably me) fell through their seat. A memorable dinner for all the wrong reasons!
We decided to reupholster our dining chairs with thicker foam and new seat inserts.
Chris started cutting the inserts and I headed to the fabric store.
Tired of Playing it Safe
Once at the fabric store, I realized I was tired of playing it safe. None of the tidy geometric designs that a sensible person would choose for dining chair upholstery appealed to me. I had done all that before.
I was drawn to a Waverly print called ‘Santa Maria Adobe.’ The print is really too large for a dining chair and is definitely not for everyone. But for these chairs, I loved it.
The Makeover Begins
The chair seats were the kind that are easy to reupholster. Basically, you fold the fabric under and staple. But we decided to go with 2-inch high-density foam, so I would have to have the right tool to cut foam that thick.
I stumbled on a YouTube video where someone had built a table saw for cutting foam and the saw blade turned out to be an electric carving knife.
Luckily we had one sitting forgotten in a kitchen drawer.
But before I went through the trouble of building the “table” part of the table saw, I thought I would try cutting the foam with the electric knife by simply holding the foam vertically and cutting downward following an outline I had drawn on the foam.
It worked like a charm, like I was cutting through butter. What a time saver.
It was hard to get the seat corners to look right with foam that thick under the fabric. It took me a while to find the best way to fold the fabric at the corners.
But the oversized fabric pattern was easy to center. In order not to waste fabric, I made a couple of different looks for the chairs by centering different parts of the fabric – something I had never tried before.
When we have parties, we sometimes bring some dining chairs into the living room for extra seating. Now with the thicker pads and the crazy upholstery, each chair can stand on its own as an interesting piece that looks good wherever we put it.
And no one will fall through their chair.
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