"Remember that the most valuable antiques are dear old friends." — H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
The owner of this deep-buttoned leather sofa had just finished redecorating the interior of his home and decided that this sofa needed the same treatment. The photos below highlight the transformation.
"The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind." — Robert Allen Zimmerman (Bob Dylan)
One thing I have learned in this business is to expect the unexpected. Old leather household items are occasionally brought to me for repair, but nothing prepared me for this set of vintage bellows with a zebra mane decoration which its owner had brought all the way from Zimbabwe. They still like to use the bellows when lighting their open fire, but the poor old thing had lost its puff. And no wonder: the leather valve had perished and was full of holes. Using the old leather as a template and following the original design, I managed to restore the bellows to full working condition and improve its appearance at the same time, right down to its new brass decorative nails.
I enjoy challenges like this as they present an opportunity to find a solution while learning along the way, which is one of my Core Values. The photos below tell the story of how the job progressed to completion. The owner was absolutely thrilled with the end result.
Occasionally we get asked to do jobs which fall outside our area of expertise. When that happens, we like to refer our clients to local businesses which specialise in that particular craft. One example is Jill Rose of Spellbound Quality Bookbinding, who recently repaired a client's antique cutlery box. The box was encased with a heavy grade of embossed paper, which is possibly why its owner thought it might have been leather. I left the box in Jill's capable hands, and she did a beautiful job, as you can see below.
"To stay ahead, you must have your next idea waiting in the wings."
Recently I received a call from the owner of a local second-hand store asking me to come and inspect a leather wingback chair and its matching footstool no longer wanted due to their condition. When I arrived in the store and saw the chair, I could see why. Apart from its unattractive mustard orange colour, the chair had suffered severe damage through deterioration in areas typically most neglected: the headrest and hand areas of the armrests. Sadly, this problem can generally be avoided simply by regular care and maintenance. By the time it gets to this stage, however, it requires professional attention.
After a brief appraisal I gave the store owner an indication of what it might cost to restore the chair. A few days later, I had another call: a prospective buyer was interested in the chair and would I undertake its restoration? No problem. I contacted the buyer to discuss options, provided a quote, and got the go-ahead.
By all appearances, the ends of the armrests on this leather chair were in the worst state and initially looked beyond hope. They had clearly been subject to years of hand oil and soiling, causing the finish to break down and the leather to develop surface cracking. A close examination, however, revealed the potential for restoration. I had to remove the surface contamination, prepare and fill the cracks, then allow it to cure. The following photos show the dramatic transformation before and after the repair work when the base colour is applied, but before the final antiquing process with the darker top coat blend and clear finish.
The remaining photos show the very pleasing contrast between the original condition and finished result, and we received a wonderful testimonial from the happy owner.
The following advertorial appeared in the December 3, 2013, issue of the Wairarapa Midweek, and it seems to have struck a chord with its readers. Since its publication we've had a number of calls from people with leather furnishings in need of love and attention!
"Fashions fade, style is eternal." — Yves Saint-Laurent
This beautiful Victorian leather armchair and its matching footstool were once a deep, luxurious green. I know that because the original colour still sits underneath the folds and other areas which had never been exposed to the light.
However, due to years of exposure to damaging UV rays, the pigments had severely faded, leaving an irregular mixture of mottled green and teal. However, that is the only thing that detracts from this beautiful piece of furniture, and the owner was very keen to have the colour restored.
This chair attracted a lot of attention due to it being featured as a "work in progress" exhibit (with the owner's permission) during the recent Made in Wairarapa Expo. Many visitors to the Expo wanted to see the finished product, and so I am pleased to be able to finally post the results below.
"A chair is a very difficult object. A skyscraper is almost easier. That is why Chippendale is famous."
Sometimes I embark on projects which I can see are going to be incredibly difficult, or at least very challenging. This was certainly the case with four dining chairs which looked to be around 100 years old and were brought to me for restoration. The leather inserts on the back were thin and on two chairs were worn completely through at the bottom corners, as can be seen in the accompanying photos.
However, my client told me that she didn't want the chairs to look perfect but rather that they retain their old and worn look, and so I had the challenging task of repairing the damaged leather panels rather than replacing them entirely. Once the repairs were completed, I carefully masked off all the exposed wood to protect it during the recolouring and refinishing process. The final result was very pleasing and my client was delighted.
"There is no investment you can make which will pay you so well as the effort to scatter sunshine and good cheer through your establishment." — Orison S. Marden
The owner of an antique leather chaise longue (French for "long chair") was cheered by its keenly-awaited return home yesterday after being without it for a short period while it was undergoing restoration.*
This project had involved more than just a mere tidy-up. (See previous blog entries "Getting the stitch" and "Putting our best foot forward.") The original green colour had all but gone and the bare leather was exposed in many places, stitching needed to be replaced, holes and tears repaired, wooden trim repaired and repolished, dust cover replaced, and then finally a complete refinish of the leather itself in an antiqued green with satin finish.
Finally, the work was all done and the day arrived for me to deliver the chaise longue to its owner. The chair had been in their family for over 100 years, and they had longed to see it restored to its former glory. Their reaction put a smile on my face and made all the hours of work worthwhile. The photos below tell the rest of the story. Thanks again to Tony Kilmister of Kilmister Furniture Restoration for the beautiful wood repairs and repolishing.
*Chaise longue is a French term adopted into English usage which is often incorrectly pronounced or written as "chaise lounge."
Some of the best things about the Wairarapa are its people. We have in this region a lot of highly skilled and talented individuals who have become experts in their craft.
In our Mission Statement, we highlight the importance of supporting such people as they make up the local businesses, craftspeople, and suppliers who share our passion to produce quality work for our valued clients. One such skilled craftsman is Tony Kilmister of Kilmister Furniture Restoration.
I am currently in the process of restoring an antique leather chaise longue (see my earlier post "Getting the stitch"), and part of what is charming about this piece of furniture is its wooden trim, including the feet. Our client was keen to see this restored along with the leather upholstery, so I asked Tony to have a look at it before I embark on the leather refinishing process.
Tony skilfully repaired and repolished the trim, and some of the results are shown below. This "long chair" really is beginning to put its best feet forward. Now all that remains is to refinish the leather.
Anyone looking at this photo could be excused for thinking that I burnt my toast for breakfast. In fact, when I posted it on my Facebook page, someone thought it was badly burnt pastry!
What you see is actually one of four leather dining chair inserts, or slip seats, which shows the combined effects of time, neglect, and sun damage. The leather had, quite literally, been "toasted"!
Naturally, the original leather was beyond recovery. After removing the tatty remains, I restored the webbing support and rebolstered the seat padding so that the new leather would sit nicely.
Once the seat frames and padding were tidied up, I applied a two-colour antique effect to new leather panels, then trimmed them and attached them to the seat frame. The result is shown below.
"The stitch be lost unless the thread be knotted." — Italian proverb
Today I spent a couple of hours painstakingly hand-stitching leather piping which had separated from one of the side panels of an antique leather chaise longue which I am currently restoring.
Hand-stitching three layers of leather together is not an easy job, and the stitching I was repairing is one of those jobs which you need to do well so that it will hold fast for a long time to come, but it is also one of those jobs that no one will see once it is done as the stitching will be hidden from view.
I was at the tail end of the seam and ready to finish for the day when my wife Brigitte arrived home. A skilled and accomplished seamstress, she took one look at my work and said, "Wow, that looks beautiful! It's so tidy!"
The only person who saw my work before it would disappear was the one whose opinion meant the most to me. And it made my day.
The next day I worked until dusk to get the hand stitching completed so that I could begin the next stage of the project.
There is a Japanese proverb that says "a good sword is the one left in its scabbard." This week something similar could have been said about the scabbard itself, i.e. a good scabbard is best left alone.
I had been handed a vintage bayonet scabbard (circa 1907) and was asked if I could do anything with it. The scabbard was made of leather with a steel shank at the base and a steel tip at the end. The problem? At some point in its recent history someone had decided to apply silver paint to the leather, apparently in a misguided effort to "improve" its appearance by matching its colour to the steel at each end.
Fortunately, I was able to remove the silver paint and bring the leather back to a partially restored state as requested by the owner, who was extremely happy with the result as its appearance was now consistent with the overall condition of the piece.
"Today's preparation determines tomorrow's achievement."
I saw the above quote by an unknown author today and thought how well it summed up my latest project.
Preparation is the key to a successful result in the leather refinishing industry. I take this very seriously, and much of my time involved in any refinishing job is in the preparation.
For example, take the antique style office chair pictured below. Much more time than usual was required to prepare it for refinishing. The main areas of concern were the leather surfaces. The arms and seat back had deteriorated through neglect and some damage had been done to the seat cushion where a strip of adhesive tape had completely removed the finish.
I was equally concerned with protecting the non-leather components. The wooden framing needed protection from the leather refinishing process, and the metal pins required meticulous masking. All of this took considerable time, and there are no shortcuts to doing a good job.
All-in-all, I would say that the time spent on this job was 80% preparation, but the end result was worth it. The chair looks absolutely fantastic.