*Note. This will take longer than it appears to. We wouldn't want to give the impression that reupholstering is an easy task. It is time consuming and only for the detail-oriented and most prepared doers. Yet, once done and done right — you will sit comfortably knowing that reupholstering is another skill-set to check off your list!
Renee and I set out a plan to up-cycle a second-hand chair in need of love. We got our inspiration from the emerging chair designer, Yinka Ilori, featured at this year's International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) that LOCZI attended in New York. What really captivated us about his piece was the use of batik fabric that appears to have come full circle in the more recent year's high-end fashion scene. Batik's original origins are still known to be a mystery (mainly because of its span across the entire globe). It is loosely translated to mean 'to dot'. Some translate it as 'wax writing' or 'drawing with a broken line'.
We began our up-cycle chair project on a sunny Sunday afternoon and
headed down to one of our favorite spots for vintage finds, the Alameda Flea Market in the Bernal Heights/ Bayshore hood of San Francisco. We set out to find a piece of furniture that was simple, low in cost, and with enough integrity to stand on
its own. There were several vintage Knoll chairs displayed by vendors that we quickly fell in love with, but the range of $200 - $400+ was a range that seemed out of principle — if we were going to up-cycle a chair, it was going to be one with more 'humble ' beginnings.
It didn't take long, but under a stack of dusty books, we found our blue beauty. The vendor quickly told us — as a selling point it seemed (which was initially more of a deterrent), that our vintage office chair was made in San Quentin by an inmate right before his execution. According to the vendor, there was a large facility in the Prison where inmates learned carpentry, upholstery and other skills. And though its history bore a somewhat somber vibe, this chair seemed like the perfect piece for our cause. After making a quick and final round, like true bargain shoppers, we returned to the chair and swooped it up for $40.00.
Our next stop: the fabric store. There were an overwhelming amount of options at Discount Fabrics on Howard street in the SOMA district. We inicially went with an Ikat fabric. But tucked away in a couple barrels we found a jackpot of batik's — most of them made in Nigeria. From there we also purchased our pipping, tacks, and foam. Making our final trip to the hardware store where we added a quarter-inch wood paneling sheet, an automatic staple gun, and spray paint to our list of supplies.
Four hours later, we found ourselves deep in the disassembling of our blue beauty. The original fabric was extremely dusty, old, and hadn't been cleaned in its entire existence. So we found it best to strip it down to the carcass exposing only its wood backing by ripping out individual staples from the arm rests, back and seat of the chair — ensuring that all the man-made materials and energy of our chair were going to be new and clean!
Next up: spray painting. We pulled out the protective gear and headed to the nearest rooftop sanding down the existing walnut to give it two beautiful coats of satiny black. By the end of that task we were exhausted from the already 10 hour day and decided to throw the towel in and come back to our project well rested and energized.
Refreshed and ready for the next and final steps of cutting the fabric, foam, wood and assembling, we measured the most suitible layout of the fabric, and ironed it. But not before gluing down the cut foam cushioning onto the arms, seat and back of our chair. The foam turned out to be more time consuming than we thought. Much like cutting out a pattern: be sure that when you cut the foam, all sides are measured for the comfort and movement of the fabric and arms that will rest on the chair.
After the foam, our stapling troubles began. We stapled down the fabric around each cushion, carefully measuring the pattern and fabric to its proper center in congruence with the other pieces of fabric on the chair. The reupholstering of the back was hard work. It required some female MacGyver techniques that if you take a look below, will help you understand its layout better than I can describe. Just be sure that as you take apart the existing fabric — you remember how it was assembled. This helps. Each piece
of furniture is different and the original craftsman may have known what process works best for your piece. So try to stay true to its original construction to leave out any unnecessary errors.
Our automatic stapler gave out before we were actually able to staple so we manually stapled each piece of fabric, holding down its place in the exact positioning before stapling. With this material, it was important to be careful not to rip the fabric and keeping it smooth and wrinkle-free before and after each staple.
About five hours later (20-something hours total) when all the stapling, smoothing, measuring and centering had been completed, we were surprisingly pleased by our final product! The San Quentin story though originally strange and eerie makes this project more than just a up-cycled or reupholstering project, but a transformation of spirit. Made with love and devotion on both ends there's no doubt that the future owner of this chair should a will be no doubt a positive force. LOCZIdesign plans to auction this chair during our next designedCOLLECTIVE in late October. Its proceeds will go directly to one of the many outreach programs in our community.