Day 147: Restore Vintage Chairs

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Last year, as my sister Debbie and her family prepared to move into a new home, I was gifted with two old wooden chairs that my grandfather owned, and supposedly built. The chairs were wobbly and needed some repairs. Debbie had used them in her pool area, with plants plopped on the seats so no one would risk sitting on them. I was thrilled to receive them and had visions of them in my backyard garden.

Today, my first was to restore these two chairs, in the hopes of making them usable again rather than decorative. What a satisfying project it turned out to be! Greg supervised my work and stepped in a couple of times to show me how to use a tool. But for the most part, he allowed me to do the work. Like many people, I can competently use a hammer and screw driver. But when it comes to using power tools, or a hand saw, I’ve gladly stepped aside to allow someone else, anyone else, to use those more intimidating tools.

I started by assessing the chairs and determining what needed to be done, with Greg’s help. Both chairs had been repaired in the past, and we smiled over some of those repairs. There were many small tacks to remove and on the lighter colored chair, at least 6 layers of fabric on the seat, all rotted. The lighter chair also had missing dowel rods in the back and some cracked and split pieces that needed glued, repaired or replaced. Looking it over,  I didn’t think it could be made usable. That was okay. It could be a decorative chair in the garden and hold a pot of flowers. The red chair was in much better condition although it needed tightening up and minor repair work. I was confident this chair could be usable again.

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The chairs had the same frame style, but the seats and backs were very different. Whether they were always that way, or whether multiple repairs had gradually changed their appearances, I didn’t know. My paternal grandfather died when I was 5 years old. I have warm memories of sitting on his lap and tipping my head back to watch him laugh and talk. I’d reach up to touch the stubble that always seemed present on his chin. He loved to make things and tinker with cars and I enjoyed playing in his large workshop, my imagination running wild as I poked through containers of nails, bolts and assorted gadgets. We called him Poopaw. The day he passed away, Poopaw had a premonition of his impending death, and visited all his children and grandchildren, either in person or by phone. Shortly after his round of visits was completed, he had a massive heart attack and died.

My father passed away 4 years ago after fighting valiantly against pancreatic cancer. I can’t ask him questions either about the chairs. I can only preserve them and enjoy them. I think Dad and Poopaw would be surprised and delighted that I did most of the restoration myself. Today I used a hammer and a pry bar, which were no biggies. But I also learned to use a hand saw, bar clamps and wood glue, a compressor and nail gun, and a speed square. The compressor and nail gun, noisy but very efficient, has always scared me! The thought of putting a nail through my own hand has caused me to avoid it. I did great though.

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The red chair simply needed reinforcement with wood glue and a few nails. It became very sturdy and usable again quickly. I like the chippy paint and the uneven boards across the back and the seat. The lighter colored chair was more challenging. I put new dowel rods in the back, and glued cracked and broken sections and then reinforced those areas with nails. After removing layer after layer of material from the seat, I had a clean frame but no seat to sit upon. I went looking for inspiration and found it in my own backyard. Lath work that had been removed from the upstairs after the tornado was piled on the picnic table. Greg had saved it for making birdhouses. Looking at it, I knew I’d found the perfect material for the chair seat. It was even faded to a nice gray tone, which matched the chair. I sawed those narrow boards to the correct length and attached them to the framework.  I was thrilled with the results. The chair that I thought was beyond repair became sturdy and ready for use.

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Both chairs are now in my meditation area. I don’t want to paint them. I don’t want to make them look like new again. I appreciate the Japanese concept of Wabi Sabi…beauty in imperfection.  The chippy paint, the uneven boards, the faded glory, even the repairs present a beauty and grace of their own. My grandfather loved these chairs. My dad loved them as well. My sister loved them and cared for them and passed them on to me.  I love these chairs. They have a new home in my garden and I will enjoy using them. And perhaps, occasionally, I’ll feel the warmth of my grandfather’s or father’s smile, and know they are near and pleased to see that the chairs are still being cherished.

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