"Animals of all classes, old and young, shrink with instinctive fear from any strange object approaching them."
―William Henry Hudson
Look at what happened to one client's leather La-Z-Boy recliner when the window on their woodburner exploded and a large piece of superheated glass landed on the seat. Fortunately no one was sitting in the chair at the time and it did not catch fire, thanks to the natural properties of leather, which is flame-resistant. You can see from the accompanying photo that it did little more than scorch the surface and shrink the leather. The insurance company gave Leatherwise a call and we replaced the damaged panel, colouring the new panel to match the rest of the chair.
"One must steer, not talk." ― Seneca
"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.
"If there is some art involved, I'd like it to be that it came through the cracks of daily work." — Martin Mull
Recently I was asked to inspect two armchairs from a client's German leather lounge suite with a view to repairing and refinishing. One area of concern was the level of deterioration of the leather on the armrests due to prolonged exposure to natural body oils and lack of proper maintenance. Not only had the finish broken down, but the leather substrate showed signs of damage as well. In severe cases we recommend replacement of the damaged panels. Fortunately, in this case we were able to sufficiently extract the contaminants to allow a successful repair and refinish before reinstating the mottled effect.
"Cats are intended to teach us that not everything in nature has a function." — Garrison Keillor
I like cats. I really do. And not because they bring me work. But there are times when I commiserate with cat owners over what their pet has done to their furniture. Sometimes the damage is minor, at times it's extreme.
Take this leather three-seater couch, for example. The owner's elderly cat had taken to using the seat for a toilet on at least a couple of occasions. The damage caused by the cat's urine was significant, contaminating not only the leather and adjacent synthetic materials, but also the foam, the wooden frame, and even the metal bolts!
Remedial work involved replacing the contaminated leather and foam, as well as treating the wood and replacing the corroded bolts, among other things. Finally I recoloured the replacement leather to match the existing. Fortunately, our client's insurance company came to the party. And the cat? It had used up all of its nine lives.
"I do love a good handbag… I think no one should make fun of anyone else’s handbag choices." — Hillary Clinton
It seems that a month doesn't go by where I am asked to restore that most treasured of fashion accessories — a woman's handbag. The owner of these two bags felt that they needed some love before she could be seen with them in public, and of course the beauty of leather handbags is that they will last a lifetime if you look after them. So, look after them we did!
"If you think it's expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur." — Red Adair
A local car dealer asked me to take a look at the damaged driver's seat of a late-model Holden Monaro which had just been sold. Damaged bolsters are a common problem in cars, especially on the driver's seat which receives the most wear, and particularly on bucket seats where the bolsters are protruding at the point of entry.
I was quite surprised to find, however, that not only was the bolster worn, but a previous owner had tried to "fix" the problem with a layer of paint over the top, which was coming away and revealing the damage beneath. In some areas, the original "fix" had actually caused more damage. Therefore, I had to remove the DIY layer, repair the damage underneath, and prepare the leather surface before mixing and applying our specialised leather pigments and sealers. The photos below show the results and, needless to say, the new owner was thrilled.
The owners of this poor old leather lounge suite were reluctant to replace it because of how comfy it is. However, the sofa was in a bad way. Not only did the leather badly need attention, but one of the seats had also collapsed. The photos show the restoration work undertaken, and for much less than the price of a new suite!
"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.
"I'll spread my wings and I'll learn how to fly. I'll do what it takes 'til I touch the sky."
Recently I was introduced to the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, described by the company as the successor to the SLR McLaren and a spiritual successor to the original 300SL Gullwing.
This car was only six months old and yet the leather driver's seat already had minor scuffing due to friction wear at the point of entry.
One of the main challenges of a job like this is getting the colour right. The leather upholstery in the SLS AMG is not just any old red; it is based on the original classic red of the seats in the 1954 300SL. As anyone involved in colour matching can appreciate, there is red, and then there is candy red, fire engine red, tomato soup red, wine red, and a myriad shades in between. On some jobs (as was the case with this one), I can spend more time on getting the colour right than on doing the actual repair. This is because the colour will look different under artificial light, natural light, and direct sunlight. The gull-wing door also cast a shadow over the work area, which added to the challenge. Therefore, I had to move the car a couple of times for examination purposes (and not just because I loved the howl of the 6.3L V8 and its throaty exhaust note), although I chose not to take up the owner's offer to "take it for a spin."
Once the colour was matched, it was a matter of masking off the affected area, preparing the damaged panel, applying the colour, blending it out, then applying the clear finish. When the car's owner turned up at the end of the day, he examined the seat and told me, "You have done a beautiful job!"
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!
The Greytown owner of a new red leather suite was dismayed to find that the piping between the cushions had succumbed to premature wear. The retailer asked us to inspect and remedy the problem for their customer. Because it was only a small job, I was able to touch up the affected areas on site using portable equipment, which meant less inconvenience for the customer and a reduced cost for our client, who was very pleased with the result.
A common problem we encounter when asked to clean or refinish leather upholstery is contamination on the headrest and armrests from an accumulation of natural body and/or hair oils. Fundamentally, this is a problem that is entirely preventable by following a good leather care regimen using products such as those recommended on our Leather Care Products page.
Sadly, we often see this problem when it is beyond the cleaning stage and the oils have penetrated deep into the leather, spreading far beyond what can be detected on the surface. Untreated, this can cause the leather to break down and rot, causing irreversible damage.
This was the case with the headrest on a cream leather recliner armchair we treated recently. While on the surface the damage looked minimal, it was necessary to remove the contaminated leather to reveal just how far the oil had spread. The solution? In a small number of cases we can extract the oil and refinish the existing leather, but often we recommend replacing the affected panels, as we did in this instance. Our client was very pleased with the finished result, which can be seen in the photos below.
It has been said that humans love dogs but eat cows. It seems that one of our client's dogs wanted to find out why recently and so it took a big chunk out of its master's leather sofa. The owner said to me, "We feed the dog well, so I don't know why it did this!" Who knows what is behind canine reasoning? All I know is that after the crime has been committed, the dog is generally smart enough to know it is in trouble and will endeavour to find a place to "hide." (Sorry, I just couldn't resist slipping a pun in there.)
Needless to say, our client contacted their insurance company, who instructed us to carry out the repair work. The client also approved additional remedial work as the adjacent seat cushions were very worn and needed replacing. The final result is illustrated below. The seat panels are new leather recoloured to match the original chocolate brown, and all adjacent wear areas including armrests and inside seat backs were refinished to ensure a consistent look. The result is a revitalised showroom finish with years of life adding to its value. The owner was absolutely thrilled with my work and very pleased to have the sofa back in time to watch the All Blacks vs South Africa rugby match on the weekend!
A pair of leather scuffs sounds like a nice footwear treat for the summer, but it's not what you want to see when you've just invested in a pair of new Italian Natuzzi leather lounge chairs. Our client had just taken delivery of their new chairs and discovered that one of them had got damaged in transit, with severe scuffing wearing away at the finish. Not a good look on expensive new Italian leather! All was not lost, however. The Wellington furniture retailer contacted us at the recommendation of a local upholsterer, and their minds were put at ease when they saw the results.