The Chair {Part One}

{You wouldn't think a homely chair could produce enough fodder for two blog posts, but then, I am a wordy girl, you know. Today and Friday I am writing about my grandparents' wing chair and the epic struggle that's ensued over it.}

I wiggle my finger into the ragged hole; a hint of striped upholstery peeks from beneath the threadbare cotton. The floral slipcover on the arm is worn right through.
Dust billows, glittering in a shaft of light and then settling in a grey film on the end table as I strip the wing chair of its slip cover. When the boys come home from school they notice right away. "What happened to the chair?" Noah asks. "Why's it striped and pink now? Where are the big red flowers?"
The chair was my grandparents'. When I tear off the worn slip cover and see the original pink and green-striped fabric, I remember sitting primly with my silky dress smoothed over knees, white socks with lace ruffles, black patent leather shoes. I smell acrid incense twirling smoke ribbons next to the bottle of pink poodle shampoo in the bathroom. I hear Papa singing Michelle My Belle as he flips pancakes on the griddle.
I see that chair, and I am a child again, tucked into the Cape Cod house on the hill for a weekend sleepover at my grandparents.
The problem, of course, is that despite the memories it provokes, the chair itself is hideous without its slipcover. The original pink and green fabric clashes with my ruby velvet couch, leopard-print chair and gold walls. It’s not quirky or eclectic or funky. It's  just plain ugly.
Yet I want to keep it. They don't make chairs like this anymore, sturdy and solid, with a swooping back and elegant cabriole legs. This chair is too rich with memories, too rich to donate to the Goodwill.
I stop by the upholsterer’s shop on the way to work. The man behind the counter estimates that it will be $750 for the labor and fabric to recover the chair and its matching footstool.  I page through a heavy book, chenille and cotton and tweed between my fingers. Then I slide the book back onto the shelf and close the shop door quietly behind me.
...On Friday the saga continues. To pay to have the chair reupholstered...or not?


If you haven't done so already, would you kindly consider "liking" my Writer Facebook page by clicking here? Thank you!

Or if you prefer, you can get a dollop of "Graceful" in your email in-box or via the reader of your choice, by clicking here. Easy-peasy!

jennifer –   – (November 16, 2011 at 6:04 AM)  

I felt like I was there with you listening to your grandfather as he made pancakes. I can't wait to read the next part on Friday!

(And $750 to reupholster a chair?! My goodness! I know what my answer would be :) )

OutnumberedMom –   – (November 16, 2011 at 6:44 AM)  

I can't wait to hear...I'll be back!

Southern Gal  – (November 16, 2011 at 7:13 AM)  

Oh, what did you do? I'll be waiting Friday.

Michelle, Ma Belle was a song we heard all the time growing up as my sister is a Michele.  

amanda  – (November 16, 2011 at 7:49 AM)  

Hmmm ... looking forward to Friday :)

Deb  – (November 16, 2011 at 8:10 AM)  

the poodle shampoo. isn't it funny the things we remember? 
I would toss the chair and then regret it :)

Jodi@CuriousAcorn –   – (November 16, 2011 at 11:15 AM)  

You had me at "The chair"  I luvvvv chairs as you might already know. I'll be waiting for the next episode!

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 16, 2011 at 12:10 PM)  

I've done a lot of tossing and regretting in my life!

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 16, 2011 at 12:11 PM)  

I love chairs, too -- I have a lot of random ones scattered about my house. Sometimes I come home from a thrift shop or a yard sale and my husband groans, "Another chair?!" I think I have a problem.

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 16, 2011 at 12:12 PM)  

Awwwww, I just love that song -- such good memories.

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 16, 2011 at 12:12 PM)  

I know, I know, it's crazy and outlandish. But I love the chair...and hate the fabric. What's a girl to do???!!

Gaby  – (November 16, 2011 at 12:51 PM)  

What about doing it yourself? Impossible? I don't know if you follow Debbie at (this community of bloggers begins to resemble a small town. I see the same names wherever I go!) but she would love the challenge!

Lisa  – (November 16, 2011 at 1:09 PM)  

Ok Michelle, you definitely got my attention.  Looking forward to the rest of the story on Friday.  :)

Nancy Franson  – (November 16, 2011 at 4:55 PM)  

I have a complicated relationship with stuff. I love old stories, and I see how you can lose yourself in the story of that old chair. But I also cleaned out a house filled with forty years worth of stuff, much of it with stories to tell. I once thought about trying to reupholster something on my own. The idea didn't last long. Waiting, along with the others, to see what you decided.

Sheila Seiler Lagrand  – (November 16, 2011 at 5:39 PM)  

Some values can't be priced.

Same is true of costs. Some costs can't be priced.

I'll be back Friday with the rest of the gang:)

Shelly –   – (November 16, 2011 at 6:49 PM)  

This conjures fond memories of weekends with my grandparents and their furniture that stayed in the same spots in their house for most of my life.  Can't wait to hear the rest of the story!

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 16, 2011 at 7:48 PM)  

It IS comfy -- that wing is a perfect resting spot for my head!

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 16, 2011 at 7:49 PM)  

Yup, my grandparents never moved a single stick of furniture around. I can still picture their house exactly as they had it, even though they've been gone for quite some time now. I spent a lot of time there as a kid -- all good memories.

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 16, 2011 at 7:49 PM)  

Thanks, Sheila -- and you sure are right on both accounts!

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 16, 2011 at 7:52 PM)  

Brad and I cleaned out most of my grandparents' house when we lived there 10 years ago. A lot of stuff I didn't think twice about donating to the Goodwill or selling for consignment, but a few of the lovely antique pieces I kept and still have prominently in my house here in NE. I do regret donating my grandmother's extensive collection of costume jewelry though -- she had a ton of Bakelite bracelets that I cannot believe I gave away. Grrrrrr. File that under #whatwasIthinking? 

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 16, 2011 at 7:58 PM)  

Ha! You are too funny, reupholstering something myself! Let's just say that's not my special gift -- my husband even sews the buttons back onto my clothes! (I asked him to take a class and do the chair himself, but he didn't bite!).

I'm going to check out Debbie's place...not sure if I've been there before or not.

Laura Boggess  – (November 16, 2011 at 8:04 PM)  

Recently, we bought a new couch. Which meant getting rid of the old one. This is the couch I tucked my newborn infants onto at naptime. The first couch hubs and I bought together. I knew intimately ever stain. I decided that if I gave it to charity i would feel better. We were rejected by not one, but TWO!, charities! I was devastated. This was my beloved couch. Eventually, I had to get over my attachment. It went to the dump. But my couch never belonged to my grandparents, so I hope you decide to fix up your sweetie! Anxiously awaiting part 2.

Joanne Norton –   – (November 16, 2011 at 8:36 PM)  

No!  Can't give it up.  Too many memories are deeper in it's fabric and frame than could ever be released... and no one else would ever understand.

Melodyhester  – (November 16, 2011 at 9:28 PM)  

What a fabulous post. Love this. I have a chair an foot stool (because I can't spell automen....ha! I'm picturing a greasy mechanic right now not a petite foot stool) of my Grandmother's that had a similar ugly striped fabric. I have wonderful memories of my Grandmother sitting in the chair on Christmas Eve and watching all of us open presents. It now sits covered in a funky red and tan big paisley print in our living room. And my Mother sits in it at Christmas and our children crawl in her lap and she watches them open presents. And I've never even thought about this until now. How cool is this. Thanks for evoking such a wonderful memory for me. And sorry to turn this comment into all about me therapy session. I do hope you'll consider a second quote possibly for the chair? It looks like it's in great shape. There's got to be an upholsterer who works out of their basement that can cover that for you for less. I think you could get fabric and labor between $300-400. Can't wait for part 2.

briantmiller –   – (November 16, 2011 at 9:54 PM)  

nice...i have an end table that was made by my great uncle...i spent summers caring for him in his old age when i was in HS...still keep it polished...and a chair that he made by hand as well...both carry many memories...

Emily Wierenga  – (November 16, 2011 at 10:10 PM)  

i never thought i would enjoy a post about a chair as much as i did this, michelle. perhaps you should write a book about it because it truly captivated me... you are an amazing writer friend. i'm honored to know you.

Emily Wierenga  – (November 16, 2011 at 10:10 PM)  

ps. i was sort of kidding about the book about the chair, but very serious about your gift of writing :)

journeytoepiphany  – (November 17, 2011 at 7:58 AM)  

I know exactly how you feel.  Things and places hold memories dear to us, and they are hard to let go.  The warm feelings they provoke are almost worth their ugliness, don't you think?

Krbrid –   – (November 17, 2011 at 8:54 AM)  

I SO understand this post!  I also have a very worn wing back chair that my grandpa used to sit in all the time.  He died in 1970.  That should give you an idea how old this chair is.  I also went to un upholsterer and it was going to be WAY to much for me to spend, so I bought a nice throw and covered the chair with this and threw in a nice small pillow. 
The table you have next to your chair looks just like one that belonged to my husbands grandparents.  The brother has that now.  My house is filled with antinque furniture that belonged to my grandparents.  I love the feel of having a little of my grandparents with me in my home!  :)

Laura Hegfield –   – (November 17, 2011 at 8:56 AM)  

I too have several pieces of furniture that belonged to my grandmother and great the end I did recover the upholstered pieces. I think it is how we look at the word recover. Recover as in bring it back to its essential beauty (which may be the bones of the chair frame, not the fabric it is dressed in) or to re-cover, to hide or conceal what is beneath.

JosephPote –   – (November 17, 2011 at 9:18 AM)  

Here in our little town of Hope, Arkansas, we have a place called Sheltered Workshop.  It is a nonprofit organization that benefits adults with learning disabilities.  They also employ learning disabled adults with appropriate jobs and supervision.

One of the needs they fill in our community is reupholstering furniture.  They do a decent job for a very economical price and the proceeds go to an excellent cause.

The times I have used them, I always felt like it was a complete win-win scenario.

I don't know if you have anything similar in your area, but I would recommend giving them a look, if you do.

Another option is to reupholster the chair, yourself.  There are a number of how-to books on the topic, and it might make a nice family project.

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 17, 2011 at 11:22 AM)  

Ok now I'm just jealous of Hope, Arkansas! :) What a great idea, Joe -- I'm going to look into whether there are any similar non-profits around here. Thank you for that suggestion!

As for the do-it-myself-idea...yeah, no thank you. Let's just say that "fabric creativity" is not one of my gifts. Ok, let's be honest...I don't even sew buttons on my own clothes (my husband does the job for me). I did try to convince Brad to take a reupholstery class...but he just laughed at me! 

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 17, 2011 at 11:25 AM)  

The throw and pillow is a good, inexpensive fix -- good thinking! I have several pieces of my grandparents' furniture (that sidetable in the photo was also their's -- it has a cool leather top!). I love having physical reminders of them in my home, too -- and it gives my house a unique, eclectic look, too, that I like.

Thanks for stopping by today!

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 17, 2011 at 11:28 AM)  

Really good point, Laura. Right now the chair is that it's in its original state. But I do think I'm going to have to come with some kind of "re-covering" solution -- whether it's a new slipcover, or a throw or maybe going for the whole enchillada and having it reupholstered. Even my 10-year-old, just last night, said to me out of the blue, "Mommy, I really don't like the way that chair looks now."


Michelle DeRusha  – (November 17, 2011 at 11:29 AM)  

I agree. I just couldn't believe how one look at that original fabric transported me back to my grandparents' house -- it was a truly wonderful experience. But then it wore off and I was left with the ugly fabric! ;)

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 17, 2011 at 11:30 AM)  

That made me laugh. I couldn't write a book about the chair, but I could certainly write a book about my grandparents -- they were so very good to my sister and me.

Thanks for taking the time to come by, Emily!

JosephPote –   – (November 17, 2011 at 11:31 AM)  


Well, if you must battle the green-eyed monster, it may as well be in regard to something as worthwhile as the Sheltered Workshop.  Right?

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 17, 2011 at 11:34 AM)  

I just love your walk down memory lane here, Melody -- thank you so much for sharing that with us! And the comment about the greasy mechanic made me laugh out loud -- you crack me up!

I will explore other quotes...I admit, I have not done that yet. This one upholsterer's shop is literally right down the street -- I could walk there from my house. So it was easy to drop by there one day on a whim. But yes, this does require more exploration for sure (although I must say, back when I lived in MA I originally looked into getting this same chair reupholstered there, and it was going to cost upwards of $700 ten years ago, which is why I went with the custom-made slipcover. As it was, that option was $450!).

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 17, 2011 at 11:35 AM)  

I like the way you state that, Joanne -- that "too many memories are deeper in its fabric and frame." So true. I'm definitely not going to donate it or throw it out -- it's just a question of living with the ugly fabric or plunking down a bunch of money to have it recovered.

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 17, 2011 at 11:40 AM)  

Oh my gosh, Laura, your comment reminds me of when we bought a new couch a few years ago. Our old one was a mess -- so much that we dragged it out to the front yard and put a sign on it -- free to whomever wants it and can haul it away (I'm sure my neighbors were thrilled with that). Anyway, Rowan was SO upset about the couch going away -- he literally went out to the front yard and sat on the old couch in his pajamas and wailed. Brad and I couldn't help but crack up -- it was so pathetic but funny.

We do have a hard time parting with our "stuff" sometimes don't we?

By the way, our couch wasn't on the front lawn 20 minutes when the neighbor college boy came by and took it, thrilled that he'd have a "new" couch for the house he shared with his college roommates.

This, by the way, did not make Rowan feel any better. 

[I feel another furniture blog post coming on!]

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 17, 2011 at 11:42 AM)  

Love your story, Brian -- especially that you lovingly keep the table polished.

My son Noah uses a desk that was both mine and my father's before me -- hand-made by my dad's uncle, Noah's great-great uncle. On the bottom it's incribed from my great uncle to my dad, from my dad to me, and from me to Noah.  I totally have a thing for hand-made family heirlooms.

soulstops –   – (November 17, 2011 at 2:11 PM)  

Hi Michelle,

I'm with you...Hope, Arkansas sounds like a great idea...I'm also craft and fabric-challenged...thus, the chair in my living room, which needs to be reupholstered is, need.

Since the chair holds such precious memories, I hope you can find a solution.


Janis Van Keuren –   – (November 17, 2011 at 2:34 PM)  

Family heirlooms carry so many memories, they're hard to part with or even change. I have inherited my grandmother's dining room table and chairs with its ornately carved legs and chair backs--which I dusted every week as a young girl. I swore I would buy an elegant wood dining room table made by Drexel and Heritage--with less carving and easier to dust.

Well, that beautiful set now graces my dining room and I won't part with it until I have to. In the meantime, upholstering the flat leather seats had been a desire for a long time but Mom and I never settled on a suitable fabric. Finally, four years ago (long after Mom's passing), I hired a reasonable decorator to advise me on small changes I wanted to make around the house. She brought in several fabric samples, and today we have beautifully and reasonably upholstered dining chairs that warm our dining room.

May you be blessed with a similarly successful and heartwarming experience.

I could almost have my own post about furniture, here (tee, hee).


thefisherlady –   – (November 17, 2011 at 4:50 PM)  

I actually like it just like it is! I like that you walked out of the shop :)

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 17, 2011 at 8:32 PM)  

I may still walk back in though...that's the thing. We'll see -- I'm on the hunt for a cheaper alternative right now, like maybe a slip cover. I admit, the fabric isn't TOO bad...but it does totally clash with the rest of my house. My grandmother would not approve of that! ;)

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 17, 2011 at 8:33 PM)  

Love this story about your treasured dining room set, Janis -- hopefully I'll be able to find an economic and aesthetically pleasing solution, too!

Thanks so much for stopping by!!

Michelle DeRusha  – (November 17, 2011 at 8:35 PM)  

Ah, we are two birds of a feather, eh? I'm totally craft-challenged, too, which is a real bummer when you have young kids. They are pretty tolerant of my ineptitude though.

Thanks for stopping by today!

Connie@raise your eyes  – (November 17, 2011 at 10:02 PM)  

Yep, find a cover (maybe not big red flowers) for it for now and do something else with the $750...I'm sure you can think of lots of other things...

Post a Comment

All material and photographs copyrighted Michelle DeRusha 2012

  © Blogger template Shush by 2009

Back to TOP