Monday, August 5, 2013

"Divinely Comfortable But Beat To H*ll"

 Photo Roman dining couch courtesy Flickr

Friday’s post brought the above response from the owner of the sofa. I added the following: if it's divinely comfortable, preserve it by patching the scratching, so it doesn't deconstruct. Use a hunk of jeans or something with plain edges, then glue on a layer of salvaged carpet so the cats can work it in peace.

A piece like this can evolve over years into the upholstered equivalent of traditional Japanese patchwork, that added and reworked sections of cloth in simple rectangular units, as large as the stock would permit. Upholstery manuals and interior photographs from the late 1940s show similar economy: the seat of a chair was often covered in a different fabric from the back and arms. The examples I remember are from houses of privilege. The key to reuse is knowing the history of the thing, because cloth and padding can harbor microscopic pests. Presumably, this sofa is a veteran family piece that has been through a gradual process of demotion. 

After I blogged the other day, I realized that the lines of the couch are stylish and pureI don't think there's any such thing as beat to hell on a good piece of furniture. Our eyes get conditioned by new merchandising, but there's a respectable tradition of making the most of what one already has, and where this couch is concerned, that's quite a lot.

One school of thought about furniture holds that it's valuable to have things that are broken in, that show the comforting evidence of long use. The green aspects are obvious. Divinely comfortable is not always easy to find. Even a promising new piece from a high-end store can have its limitations, so one that's a known quantity is valuable in ways that are not obvious.

The hip retail chain ”ologie” offers old French upholstered pieces that are stripped down to their bones and webbing. Even a skeleton is valuable, if the structure is sound, and it’s fun to have a chance to rediscover the evolution of upholstery. Diana Phipp’s “Affordable Splendour” is a good tech manual for hacking padded furniture. Searching Flickr for "empire sofa" brought up a good collection of images of upholstery frames.

The gist of Phipp’s advice is to choose a piece with a sound frame, preferably heavy for its size to indicate good wood, with existing upholstery in good condition. If the seat is sagging, flip the piece over and get into the innards, lashing the springs together with heavy jute twine or zip ties. Re-do the webbing, hot glue a layer of muslin or landscaping fabric to the bottom to exclude bugs and rodents, and then hot glue a new covering in place. Phipps paints the original cording to match the new fabric, but I usually hot glue new line in place using something from the mountain climbing section of the local outdoor co-op.

Finish the feet of a used sofa with shoe polish, if they’re wood. Add teflon magical sliding castors to protect old glue joints from racking as the piece is pushed here and there.

Handle furniture by the rails that support the seat. That’s often a two-person job, and it’s worth the trouble to wait for a helper to show up.


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