The long-awaited completion of a chair restoration project has been an education in two crafts which transformed four clapped out chairs into covetable pink beauties, writes
Feature: Carol O'Callaghan
Pictures and videos: Larry Cummins
FINALLY, my dining chairs have come home after social distancing for three whole months at the studios of upholsterer Eddie McGarry and furniture restorer Paddy Dunne on Cork’s Tramore Road where I dropped them off in early March for a makeover.
Expecting to unite them with my dining table a fortnight later, instead I’ve become accustomed to TV dinners on the sofa and developed an addiction to the BBC’s Eggheads and Pointless, while my redundant dining table retrained as a place to site the laptop for Zoom meetings.
The saga began back in the carefree days of browsing house clearance and charity shops, and indulging in the dangerous pursuit of touching things which led to my rescue of a set of four G-Plan dining chairs.
And what a forlorn quartet they were.
Draped in shabby, worn-out beige upholstery (who or what looks good in beige?) and edged in tarnished brass tacks, I knew them instantly as my longed-for Fresco design produced in the 1960s.
This was later confirmed by upholsterer Eddie who stripped off every vestige of tacked on beige and sagging foam filling to reveal a surprisingly youthful 60-year-old framework, ripe for a slot on 10 Years Younger.
But it wasn’t until Paddy the restorer set them on his workbench for scrutiny that I got the surprise news they were made of solid teak hidden under decades of polish.
Now fully restored, upholstered and admired, the result is beyond my expectations and I can’t decide which I’m more impressed by; the gleaming transformation in the framework and what Paddy calls, “light in the wood”; the gorgeousness of the dusky pink upholstery, or how comfortable they are to sit on.
But if there’s one thing I’m absolutely decided on it’s the value of getting professionals involved, otherwise I would have stumbled into a haberdashery and been seduced by a most unsuitable curtain fabric before getting trigger happy with a staple gun.
For all my well-intentioned notions of cleaning the framework myself, no way could I have excavated the layers of polish and dust on the frame to reveal such beautiful grain beneath. Ignorance in this case would not have produced anything remotely close to bliss.
As for fixing one particularly unstable chair which Eddie jokingly described as “more like a recliner”, I’d probably have presented a guest at my table with the caveat: “Careful on that chair now, it’s a bit wobbly,” and then fretted for their safety for the rest of the evening.
But 40 years’ experience in the upholstery business, where Eddie has worked on everything from chairs to sofas, headboards to cabinet interiors and commercial work, means wise words for the upholstery novice.
“Wait until we’ve stripped the chair first to see if there are problems underneath that have to be fixed. Sometimes a client will ask for a chair to be covered over existing fabric but you then don’t see the problems that could bring you back in six months’ time. And you’ll also lose the definition of the chair by covering over what’s there already.” Once those practicalities are dealt with, the excitement of choosing fabric needs to be balanced by practicalities also.
“Take a look around your room,” Eddie advises. “Have a colour in mind but be careful about dead plain fabrics if there’s going to be wear and tear and traffic through the room. Choose a fabric with something going on in it and can be cleaned easily.” Buying preloved furniture, whether it’s from a charity shop or at auction, also requires a practical approach, according to Paddy, who, in addition to restoring furniture, sells antiques.
“Turn the piece upside down to examine it,” he advises. “There’s no woodworm in solid mahogany but if a piece has drawers pull them out and look at their sides which could be made of beech and have woodworm.
“If you’re buying at an auction,” he adds, “go beforehand and examine the piece thoroughly. Take your time and know it’s right for your home. Old furniture like the G-Plan chairs bring character and history and it’s good for the environment.” And his parting advice to me:
“Nourish them with beeswax every month and it will protect them from damage. They lived a life with a family since the 1960s and now they’re ready to enjoy a new life.”
Paddy Dunne Antiques & Restoration, 021 496 2438/087 241 2386, Eddie McGarry, Westbrook Upholstery, 021 496 6687/087 916 0695.