I am quite smitten with mid-century furniture, although I’m by no means a purist. I like to mix it up, make it mine, and I’m not at all thrilled by original upholstery (this is so juvenile, but when I see vintage sofa or chair cushions, all I can think about are the decades worth of farts that I imagine to be trapped in the foam – I know there’s steam cleaning and that this is an irrational worry but I can’t help it). Anyway, as much as I love it, there is a down side to the solidly built, wood furniture of the 1950s and 60s: maintenance. Teak, in particular, needs a lot of TLC to look good. I recently took an afternoon to give our teak dining table, my beloved minty teak chair, and the velvet garbage chair a little love. I wanted to share the process and results – along with an interesting discovery about my favorite chair. Turns out it’s something special!
Long-time readers might remember me acquiring the minty chair in the Ottawa classifieds years ago, after posting a want ad. I used a photo of a similar chair, but was really hoping for a mate for my orange tweed chair. Pairs of chairs have always eluded me. A mid-century collector contacted me and I drove to Quebec to pick up the chair she was offering. I loved the curvy arms and how comfortable it was – some mid-century furniture isn’t meant for the kind of lounging I like to do. This was the perfect reading chair, save for one problem: its disintegrating foam and ripped upholstery.
The shot upholstery didn’t matter to me because I wanted new foam and fabric anyway (farts!!), so I awkwardly shoved the chair into our Versa and sped home to Ottawa. I agonized over upholstery samples at my favorite upholster (Kessels). I’d found the houndsooth tweed, for the kitchen chairs, there, after every other Ottawa fabric and upholstery shop had told me “upholstery-grade black and white houndstooth doesn’t exist”. Lol. Kessels found me at least twenty options, so when it came time to upholster the minty chair they were who I turned to first. The women who helped me were the ones who pushed the bold, abstracted flower fabric on me and I’m so happy they did because the pattern has made the chair a much-loved piece.
On a related note: I recently re-wrote/edited a post I wrote on picking fabrics. The core of it is there, but updated with more photos and tips. I don’t know if this is “allowed” in blogland, but it was from so many years ago – back when I had no readers and wrote really boring things (were the two connected?) – but I thought the idea of the post was relevant. Read the revised post here and share your tips and experiences – I’d love to read them!
I paid $250 for the chair (plus the cost of fabric, which I don’t remember, and the labour, which was $400), but I recently learned that this chair is quite rare and fetches a handsome price. Without markings, I knew nothing about it. After I’d had it for awhile, and realized how amazingly comfortable it was, I put want ads in kijiji (Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal), looking for a pair, or even just more information. Nada (but I did receive hundreds of emails asking about the upholstery). Happily, through the magic of the internet and the genius of someone who saw my chair on instagram, I recently found this Etsy listing:
Turns out my little chair is designed by Yngve Ekstrom, and made in Sweden in the late 1950s. The chair in the listing sold for $1200! The good news is that it was definitely worth restoring this guy, but the bad news is that I doubt I’ll be able to afford a pair for him. It was definitely neat, though, to Google “Mingo” (the name of this style) and see tons of these chairs – my chair! – pop up:
Finding out about this chair made me love it even more, and it also made me feel a little sheepish about not taking better care of it. During the move, a little paint had transferred onto the teak when it was bumped against a wall (teak is so darn soft!) and I hadn’t oiled the wood since it had been recovered, mostly because I was terrified of dripping oil on the upholstery. It was looking a little dry and dull.
I decided I had to take better care of it, immediately. I draped some old towels on as much of the upholstery as possible and lightly sanded the paint scuff (with a fine grit sandpaper). Then I oiled the legs, applying the teak oil with a lint-free rag, allowing it to sit for five minutes, and then wiping off – as per the directions. I’ve bought many different brands of teak oil, most recently I bought a bottle from Canadian Tire, and I have yet to find the one but I have noticed that the instructions can vary a bit, so always default to what the manufacturer suggests. I’ve occasionally let the teak oil soak into the wood for longer than five minutes with no troubles, but otherwise I follow the directions to the letter.
With the house filled with fumes, the furnace blasting and the windows open (why didn’t I do this when it was warmer?) I figured I might as well tackle the solid wood arms on the velvet chair I heaved from the garbage. I still know nothing about him, but I doubt he has any fancy lineage. Because the wood arms are embedded into the fabric, I used a low-tack painter’s tape to protect the velvet, along with strategically draped towels.
I used Danish oil on these arms, like I did when Hubby and I first refinished them. The arms on the velvet chair were really nerve-wracking to oil, but the result looks so good:
You might have never noticed the paint transfer on the minty chair but I did – it was the first thing I’d see in photos. Now the wood gleams:
As glorious as the wood arms and legs now look on my two mid-century chairs, I’d like you to ogle my wood pile for a moment. I spent over an hour filling up the cubby. It should take a few minutes, but I spent a long time rustling around in our outdoor wood pile, picking out the best pieces – only rounds, which look good but take forever to catch. Next time it will be a jumble, especially because we plan to burn through the janky pile of really hacked apart pieces left with the house, so I’m enjoying the picturesque pile while I can.