This past summer, my husband Chris and I were enjoying a bike ride in our neighborhood. It was a beautiful day, and at the time Chris was still clinging to a tiny shred of hope that his wife might actually be sane.
That hope was about to be dashed.
The Chairs That Needed Me
We came across these four chairs, which someone had kicked to the curb.
A few people were looking at them, but everyone wound up walking away. They were destined for the dumpster. So of course I had to step in.
At first glance they looked like rattan chairs. But on closer examination the frames appeared to be oak. The non-loadbearing cross-braces were a mixture of bamboo and rattan.
So they were very solid. They just needed a lot of work, starting with a good cleaning.
Using fine steel wool, I scrubbed them down with denatured alcohol. Then I rinsed each chair with water. Cleaning was probably the most time-consuming part of rehabbing these chairs. Every nook and cranny of every chair needed to be cleaned. One chair in particular was heavily covered in black soot.
I thought that reupholstering these chairs would be a snap. The seats looked removable. I was hoping to remove each seat before I cleaned the chairs.
Turned out the seats were built into the chairs. They would be impossible to remove without destroying the chairs. So I removed the fabric and padding. Each chair had a tack strip for the seat cushion which also had to be removed.
Apparently whoever built these chairs didn’t intend for them to ever be reupholstered.
As a solution, Chris cut new seat bottoms from scrap plywood he had on hand. We would secure them to the top of the original seats once I added the new cushions.
Finally the fun began: Choosing the fabric. I chose an outdoor fabric with a fresh, tropical pattern. Then I used my trusty old electric carving knife to cleanly and easily cut the foam for the new chair pads. For more detail on how I reupholster chair pads, check out this post.
Refreshing the Wood
Using a rag, I wiped the chairs down with Howard Restor-A-Finish in Golden Oak.
Fixing the Caning
Some of the original caning was coming unraveled and some was missing. I had never worked with caning before, and I ordered the wrong size. It was a bit thinner than the original caning.
But I only needed to replace the caning in a few areas, so I used it anyway. And it was very easy to work with once I soaked it in water for 30 minutes.
I figured that once the new caning was stained to match the chairs, the discrepancy in size wouldn’t be very visible anyway.
Turned out the new caning didn’t absorb stain very well, but luckily we have many half-used cans of stain on hand, and eventually I found one that worked.
I applied a coat satin finish to each chair. I used General Finishes Arm-R-Seal in Satin. This step went quickly since the finish could be applied with a rag. It really made a difference, giving the chairs an elegant, subtle gleam.
A few of the metal feet on the chair legs were missing, so Chris attached new ones, and then he attached the newly-upholstered chair seats.
Were these chairs really worth all the work? Well, it would have been a shame for them to wind up in the landfill, but if I had it to do over, I just might have left them on the curb hoping that someone else would rescue them. And I really should have learned my lesson after the chair project I did earlier this year.
But now that all the work is behind me, I love these chairs.
Especially because of the outdoor fabric, they look elegant yet informal. And they are so versatile: Great for additional indoor seating or for garden parties.
They are still not perfect, but they are old so imperfection is part of the charm. And they are a far cry from what they were before.
One More Rescue
So in summer I impulsively rescued those four sad chairs that needed a ton of work.
Meanwhile, at an estate sale, Chris found a little mid-century bar that barely needed anything. But it wouldn’t work, or fit, in our house.
No problem. It turned out to be a fun little addition to our patio for a few late-summer get-togethers.
This is post is for entertainment only and not a tutorial.
Howard Restor-A-Finish is a wonderful product for refreshing furniture. It’s quick and easy to apply, so we use it all the time in our furniture rehab projects. It is available in many stain colors, and I used the Golden Oak finish for the chairs.
The lovely finish I used on the chairs was General Finishes Arm-R-Seal in Satin.
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