Before and After: A Forever Chair

You may remember that some time ago I found the “perfect” chair for my living room. Though I had a plan for said chair, the reality of my plans is that they often go unrealized for years and years. I can say, for once, that I did not let that happen to this chair. It did not have to go off to the island of furniture too filthy to come inside—at least not for very long. For a big project such as this to go from beginning to end in less than one year, for me, is rather remarkable. And I’m more than just pleased with the fact that it’s done—it also looks as amazing as I had envisioned. Here’s a before pic of my frizzy green filth monster:


I bought this chair expecting to have it reupholstered. I had seen a picture of it posted from a friend’s shop out of town and I fell in love with the shape. But its condition left a lot to be desired. 50 years of love had taken their toll inside and out. Note the crumbled, rotting foam in this in-progress shot from my upholsterer:


All of the materials under the fabric were more than past their prime so this puppy had to be stripped back to the bare wood frame and springs.


This part is tricky. When you have to replace everything you run the risk of the end result having a slightly different shape than the original. But my guy came through big time.


I’m even more in love now. The orange-red color might not be for everyone but it’s going to work very well in the overall scheme I have planned for my living room.


Even my upholsterer loved this one—it’s now one of his favorite projects. I think he had fun working on it.


The very steep angle of the seat gives it some dramatic flair. It appears as though you’d be forced into a deeply reclined position while sitting, but it’s actually extremely comfortable and natural feeling. And it’s 1000 times more comfortable with new high density foam.


For the fabric I chose “Rivington” in paprika by Knoll Textiles. It’s the same fabric that I used on my sofa but in a different colorway. The fabric has a high wool content and is treated with nanotex technology to make it virtually stain proof. This upholstery job should last another 60 years. And at nearly 94, should I still be lucky enough to be around, I’m sure I’ll be able to discount any damage incurred in that time as “character.”

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Before and After: The Home Office

You may remember way, way back in 2014 I shared a before post about my guest/bedroom home office. You can check out the original post here. At that time I had just bought an amazing desk and credenza that I had deemed worthy of sacrificing my guest bedroom for. That sacrifice has taken much longer to complete than anticipated. It began with selling my tanker desk which was replaced by my kitchen table and several storage totes of its contents—and that’s kind of where it stopped for about two years. Two years of all of my office supplies being lost in boxes while a desk worth more than my car sat—appropriately—idle in the garage. But it has now happened. It has finally happened. Oh, glorious day my desk and credenza are here!

So what are these pieces? Well, they’re movie stars—sort of. Designed in 1959 by Bodil Kjaer, this rosewood desk and credenza were manufactured by E. Pederson and Sons A/S in Denmark. The designs earned some fame after appearing in Tiger Tanaka’s office in the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice.

Tiger Tanaka's Office in You Only Live Twice, 1967.

Tiger Tanaka’s Office in You Only Live Twice, 1967.

My pair, however, had a little harder life. Originally belonging to a prominent Des Moines architect, they made their way through a host of area executives at publishing and insurance companies before finally being abandoned in a corporate move. A realtor saved them as they were being hauled to a construction dumpster and eventually sold them to a friend who sold them to me. This was likely the only chance I’d have to own them (they don’t show up in the wild) so I took it. They’ve waited so long for a good home—so let’s see how the transformation went, shall we?





There’s still a lot of stuff to figure out on this wall, including the art, cord management issues (something that wasn’t a problem in 1959), the rug (which needs to be bigger and under the desk) and possibly the paint color. More on that one in a bit.





Again I think this wall is up for an art change. I always sort of liked having Africa above my computer, so I may just swap the two walls out. I’m not sure about the paint here either. The room actually has three colors, a sherbet green, light blue and dark grey. I think maybe I’ll keep the light blue and change the green and grey to a dark teal or blue grey. I think that would set off the rosewood nicely.





Another former inhabitant of an executive suite, the Nicos Zographos chair is finally happy to have a home, too. I have a plan to change the drapes out for some longer and wider gold drapes of the same material. I think the gold/blue/rosewood palette is going to feel very rich. I may still keep some of the pops of orange and green in the space as accents, but I’ll have to see how that feels in reality.

So there you have it. What do you think, are these pieces worth making my guests sleep on an air mattress for? Hopefully someday I’ll have a space large enough for both an amazing Bond ally office and a guest room so this is really just temporary. But I knew that when someday came, I’d never be able to find this desk and credenza without selling an organ or two.

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Going Glam with Milo Baughman

For years people have been asking me what the next big craze will be after mid-century modern. Although I truly believe that well designed modern classics will never go out of style regardless of era, I do think we’re going to see more and more people dabbling in the glamorous and sometimes extravagant modern design from the late 1970s and early ’80s. In the netherworld between modernism and post-modernism designers went bold, playing with exotic materials and revisiting modern design from the early 20th century. The result is often an unexpected contrast of disco-era decadence and pure Bahausian form. There’s nothing that sums this up better than this recent find:


Chrome, caning, brass, exotic veneer, massive monolithic slabs balanced by impossibly delicate forms—this epic dining set has all of the design cues of its era. When I found this I had a hunch it was a Milo Baughman design, but the seller didn’t know the manufacturer—they only knew their interior designer had ordered it in 1981. So, I took a chance.


I’d say about 90% of the time when I find something and wonder if it’s a Milo Baughman design, it’s not. And there’s good reason for this: Baughman was a highly prolific designer with a portfolio of work created for some of the best manufacturers of the mid-20th century including Drexel, Directional, Glenn of California, Henredon and many more. His most notable and most recognized work, however, was with Thayer Coggin for whom he designed collections from 1953 until his death in 2003. Many of these pieces were so well received that countless manufacturers began imitating his designs, still creating confusion in the marketplace decades later. It wasn’t until I began loading the chairs in my car that I saw the Thayer Coggin tags on the bottoms of the chairs.


I have no idea what kind of wood the veneer is, but I know that I love it. The exotic book matched grain is beyond cool. Undoubtedly some irreplaceable corner of the rainforests vanished to bring this table to life. Sorry, Earth.


What I liked just as much as the design was the accompanying story. The original owners had built a concrete dome house—much to the wonderment and sometimes chagrin of their suburban neighbors— as a test model for efficiency during the height of the energy crisis. The home was part of the “Home for All America” house plan series by Better Homes and Gardens, whose designers specified all of the furnishings and décor. Although the owners were unaware of it ever appearing in BH&G, I suspect photos of this table in situ exist somewhere in a period publication from Meredith publishing. Any readers out there have a 1981-ish copy of the Better Homes and Gardens Decorating Book?


The only thing I’ll be changing about the design is the burnt sienna poly velour upholstery. Although it’s very 1981, it’s maybe too 1981. I’m thinking an off-white tweed or maybe something exotic like a jewel-tone velvet. What are your thoughts on material?

Draper Chair by Thayer Coggin

Draper Chair by Thayer Coggin

Oh, and if you’re hungry for more of Mr. Baughman’s work, many of his original designs have been re-released by Thayer Coggin including a full line of ready-to-ship as well as made-to-order pieces. Learn more about Milo Baughman and see a current offering of his work on the Thayer Coggin website.

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Before and After: Journey to the Bottom of the Seams

When I bought the chairs in today’s Before and After, I expected this post to have a much different ending. I fully expected this to be a “look what I found under this ugly 80s fabric!” post and I was going to title it “White Lies Beneath” and that was going to be clever and everyone was going to be all like, “Wow! Holy crap! I can’t believe that was under there!” And really, it was so, so close to being that kind of post. So close.


Last fall I purchased a pair of 1950s loose cushion chairs. They were in great condition, but had been reupholstered in sadness in the late 80s. A nursing home in hell is missing four cushions. I planned to reupholster, but I soon discovered that behind the zipper lay another cushion cover. Into this magical fabric Narnia I gladly went.


Ok. Less of a bummer. Actually in person the little blue, pink and yellow threads were pretty cool. I could live with this. But…there was another layer of fabric underneath. Could this be the original fabric? Pristine and preserved through the ages by layers of ghastly mauve swaddling? With great anticipation I peeled back the layers to reveal…


This kind of terrible and definitely worn out barkcloth fabric with a greasy head stain on the back. Awesome. Jackpot. Fail. But hey, at least I could retreat to the white covers, right? All I needed to do was wash them up and put new foam in. Easy peasy. Unless, of course, the aged latex backing on the fabric disintegrates in the washing machine leaving a thick orange sludge and unreinforced fabric with the tensile strength of a paper towel. Which is exactly what happened. Sigh. Off to the upholsterer!


Other than the unexpected expense of the upholstery, I have to say these look much better than they would have with any of the old covers. Converting the back cushions to box cushions and adding the button detailing gives them a much more tailored look. For the fabric I chose Hourglass from Knoll Textiles in the Aegean colorway. It complements the lighter wood nicely.


So I guess I can’t be too mad at these chairs. They turned out nicely, even if they were a big tease. And no, this doesn’t stop me from dreaming. Every time I see a great piece of furniture doused in pastel Southwestern fabric or floral tapestry, I’m still going to take a peek underneath. And someday I am going to find the original fabric. And someday it isn’t going to look or smell like a man made of cabbage died on it. Someday.

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Before and After: A Forum in Hell

Whenever I tell people that I buy furniture from Craigslist often, they get kind of squirmy and ponder about the weird things I might encounter or the probability that it will end in some kind of shirtless, toothless Cops-style drama. It never has. Even the strangest places I’ve ever gone to buy something have turned out to be fairly benign. So, I never think much about answering an ad and hopping in the car. At least I didn’t before I bought this:


And I bet I know what you’re thinking, “Why did you buy that?” Let me  paint you a picture. The scene, as I pull up to a not-so-great house in a not-so-great neighborhood, is a running truck with two dudes parked in the driveway and a woman hanging out of the front door screaming back and forth with an unseen man inside the house. Cool. I wait by the front door, in the rain, until the screaming stops and the woman leads me to a garage behind the house—followed close behind by the man from the house and the two dudes from the truck. Oh…cool. But, I’ve made it this far, I’m either going to buy a credenza or get murdered in what appears to be a shed built for that purpose. I was informed they had just painted the floor and that’s why there was paint on the legs. And painty foot prints on top. Because why wouldn’t there be? Despite the ready-for-death condition of the piece, I decided to pity buy it—because there’s not a single other person on this entire Earth that would. One of the guys from the truck helped me carry it—informing me along that way that he could carry it by himself if I wanted because he had spent 25 years in prison power-lifting. Not terrifying at all.

At the end of the day they turned out to be OK people with a really beat up credenza. But I knew this credenza was from Stanley’s American Forum line and I knew that, despite appearances, it would clean up nicely. So how did I pull this off? Sanding, to start. Lots and lots of sanding. I had just bought a new random orbit sander that I had been wanting to try out. I figured this nothing-left-to-lose credenza was the perfect guinea pig.


I’ve always used a quarter sheet palm sander and I’ve always been annoyed by the little swirly marks it leaves. The random orbit sander is supposed to do away with that issue, and it did to a significant degree. But it can also chew through veneer pretty quickly, so be careful. Fortunately the sanding went well, but there were some ink and water stains that I knew I couldn’t strip or sand out and normal stain wouldn’t hide. My next resort was a major color shift to a darker tone to hide any minor flaws. For this I like to use General Finishes dye stain.


Dye stain is amazing. It’s water based, has no odor and imparts a deep, uniform color in one coat on practically any type of wood. No splotching. No resistance. Just even color. It takes a little technique though. Pro tip: work wet. Flood an entire surface and then wipe it all off with a rag—quickly. Dye stain dries fast and lap marks will show and can’t be corrected. It’s also worth noting that dye stain is permanent, like permanent permanent. So test on a scrap first. I was pretty happy with the results on this piece.

After sanding and one coat of dye stain.

After sanding and one coat of dye stain.

The dye stain helped, but there were still little nicks and flaws that needed some coverage and the color overall wasn’t quite right. My next go to is General Finishes gel stain. If you remember my post on refinishing Broyhill Brasilia, then you may remember that this product is a key step in that process. I used antique walnut because it’s what I had on hand (and was about the right color for this piece anyway).


One coat of this. Wipe it on and off evenly with a cotton rag. Then on to topcoat. My favorite product is General Finishes Arm-R-Seal satin urethane. It’s a strong finish that goes on like a poly but looks more like lacquer or a finer finish. And it’s super easy to apply. Wipe on evenly and thinly with a folded cotton t-shirt rag. Sand to 320 grit between coats. Usually three coats.


After the last coat, I used a 3M 7445 white polishing pad to knick off any specs of dust and give the finish a super smooth feel without scratching it. And with that…voila!



Sadly the super cool original American Forum pulls were long gone when I bought this, so I used some replacement porcelain knobs that I keep around for Drexel Declaration pieces. I like the contrast, but it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

IMG_8891 So often I hear people say, “the finish was beyond repair so I painted it.” And I can just about guarantee that whatever “beyond repair” means to them is not nearly as bad as this piece was. I’ll be brutally honest that I don’t like most painted mid-century furniture when restoration is viable. Aside from professionally applied, commercial quality paints, most hand applied latex and chalk paints don’t produce long lasting finishes. They build up thickly and chip and peel and repainting only builds up thicker and nastier. Paint also changes the original design intent of a piece of furniture. That’s not always a bad thing—but it’s almost always a bad thing. The beauty of quality wood—in this case gorgeous American walnut—is as timeless as a tree itself and the effort required to restore it properly isn’t much worse than painting. And it looks better. And it lasts longer. And that’s the end of my rant.

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