below is after photos- & if you want it, details of how we rescued these trashed pieces and turned them into desirable treasures are set out here.
First we picked a dry sunny day (you cannot do this indoors) and cleaned the frames thoroughly with plastic scourers and a soapy wood cleaner, wiping off excess and letting them dry in the sun.
The underside of the upholstery was steam cleaned to rid it of any dust mites. As we were keen to preserve the aged finish of the two original leather seats and the two faux leather reupholstered (in the 1940s) seats; and the amazing patina on the upholstery studs we did not disturb these elements. Worn but not torn leather upholstery is very rare.
Two seats were functional and stable, but (ironically) the ones with the 40’s recovering job had rotten webbing which we removed and replaced with new clips and zig-zag springing underneath these.
One seat had a weak frame, so Trevor carefully rebuilt part of it and braced this one with metal corner brackets without disturbing the old upholstery above.These two were relined underneath for neatness and finish.
What we did then was to clean the seats thoroughly with make-up wipes; designed for skin of course these work on leather which is also skin! Use good ones please, the results with micellar water wipes are excellent. Then we waxed five times to soften and strengthen and restore some flexibility to the battered finish.
The results were pretty dramatic –below left & right-
Next, we treated for woodworm and general wood chomping bugs. Then we rebuilt the missing/rotten feet. Solid stuff was stabilised with a plastic wood modelling medium or replaced by splinting on new wood. There were no fatal deep cracks.
The finish could not be rendered super smooth like some old pieces without knocking it back to a ridiculous extent so we decided to celebrate the rusticity & honesty of these four pieces and go with that. Of course, we checked for any rough or splintered bits that might catch on clothes etc and rubbed these back.
The chairs had remnants of varnish and old paint on them so I was quite happy to refinish in an appropriate paint shade. The natural complement to dark red seats is one of our custom mix Gustavian grey/taupe chalky paints. two thin coats were applied by Trevor.
We do not, by any means, go for a distressed look on all our painted pieces, but this set was shouting at me for this look. It’s so easy to go wrong here and it’s a question of experience and judgement where you should rub back your new finish; the best thing to do is to take loads of photos of each piece so you know exactly where each one got worn and damaged over the years (for example, where they were picked up by the ridge at the back, where someone had sat or leaned on them, where the corners and front legs got knocked and scraped, where bored children kicked their feet on the stretchers etc etc) just follow the original marks for an authentic look!
In any set of chairs, one will ALWAYS be more knocked about than the others.
Then I designed a simple folky/country motif and hand painted each chair front and back. Each chair is slightly different as these are hand made, not factory jobs, so I was careful to ensure that each motif was a little different also. I then took a good sable lining brush and outlined the pretty pierced backs and also painted the carved apron details to front and side- all this in watered down antique white chalk paint.
Personally, I don’t generally distress furniture with sand paper; why destroy your old pieces further!!! I wait 2 hours after painting, then use a damp plastic washing up scourer to rub back. Safe, disposable, effective. This way you control where you get back to the bare wood and where you just take off a thin layer of paint.
The chairs then get three thin coats of clear wax, polishing between and allowing 24 hours for the wax to cure between coats to be tough enough for daily use in their new home. A final polish sets the finish, but it’s a low sheen, not an unnatural glossy shine.