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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Car-Boot Booty

Since my last post, I've been busy trawling car-boot sales looking for local loot. And by "loot", I mean castaway chairs screaming out for a make-over, preferably for under £5.00. Since I left England it seems that the cost of practically everything has rocketed into the stratosphere, but you can always rely on a jolly good car boot sale for a jolly good deal. 

For those of you who do not know, car-boot sales are sort of a British institution and are a rather fun way to spend a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. The Cambridge Dictionary romantically describes them as such: "an event in a public place where people sell unwanted possessions, often from the backs of their cars." Or, as my American friend Nealia queried while we were skyping the other day, "So... it's like a cross between a yard sale and a flea market?" Yes, exactly, but from the back of your car. Isn't that fantastic?

What makes them so fun is you can find anything at a car boot sale, and you can haggle for it too. I'm actually a bit rubbish at haggling as I tend to do exactly as I'm told, so if I'm told something costs £2.50 then I'll pay £2.50. My boyfriend David is brilliant at haggling and is therefore the perfect car boot sale partner. 

David at a car-boot sale
Want to see what we scored? As the old idiom goes: "one man's junk is another man's treasure."

Cast-iron chandelier - £1.00

Detail on chandelier: Bakelite candle holders

Jersey Pottery coasters - £4.00

Bucket-back sprung seat chair - £3.50

Two poorly re-upholstered G-Plan chairs - £2.50 each

Vintage glasses - £0.50 pence for six

1970's pencil holder and sharpener - £0.50 pence

Grand total spent - £12.00. Not bad going.

I'm going to use the G-Plan and bucket-back chairs as my next project pieces for upholstery, and will post fabric ideas soon. They make perfect starter projects because both styles are simple enough that I can wet my feet again with some upholstery techniques, I didn't spend a fortune on them, and their shapes suit my mid-century aesthetic.  Hopefully I can make them look so fabulous that someone may be interested in buying them once completed. The chandelier is another side-project for restoration, and the other bits and pieces...  well, I just couldn't resist.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Chair Love?

It's a bit of an ambiguous title, I'll admit. I don't have a fetish for inanimate objects, at least not in the same way that lady from San Fran who married the Eiffel Tower does, but I do have a special place in my heart reserved for chairs.

Why I love chairs

Beauty and function.
I just find them aesthetically pleasing. And you can sit on them. The basic rule for any design is “Form follows function.” If an object has to perform a certain function, its design must support that function. With chairs however, the sky's the limit.

Each chair could tell a story, from a plastic chair in a school classroom to a King's throne. Chairs hold history, you can track time through their design. One of the most exciting things about carefully stripping a chair down to its frame is to find what lies underneath, whether it's the original fabric, the type of stuffing used, or carvings on the wood frame, all hidden by the new upholstery. It's a form of archaeology.

Why I want to upholster them

When I moved to the United States, I arrived with only a backpack of clothes. When I moved into my first apartment, I had no furniture and barely any funds to buy anything new. A colleague at work told me I could have her old couch and a chair that she no longer used. The chair was an old Danish modern wooden chair, the cushions were falling apart and covered in cat hair, but the frame was solid. I removed the cushions and fell in love. I've dragged that chair frame around with me for twelve years, with every intention to do something fabulous with it. It's currently in storage, but watch this space...

That chair, and subsequent chairs I've gotten my hands on, have all sparked my interest in upcycling old furniture. I've always baulked at spending a lot of money on... well, anything, but in this throw-away culture, how wonderful is it to be able to reinvent something you already have? Freshen it up, restore it, upcycle it, whatever floats your boat. The pictures below are the before and after shots of a Victorian Balloon Back chair I upholstered at Tresithick last year. Transforming that chair restored my soul. But that's a story for another time.



My Grandfathers.
Both my paternal and maternal Grandfathers were craftsmen.

Grandad Lewis, now retired, was a furniture designer and maker for a traditional English cabinet makers called R E H Kennedy. He travelled the world with his designs, one of which, a reproduction crib, is now a part of Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum in Massachusetts, USA.

Grandad Pearce, now deceased, owned a wrought iron works, based in the village of Bredfield, in Suffolk. You can see one of his pieces in the village here. His work also went all over the world, and he was commissioned on several occasions by the Royal Family.

I'm really proud of them. Both were true artisans of their generation, and I would like to carry on that tradition.

Me with Grandad Pearce
Grandad Lewis (standing), on the HMS Mauritius during WWII.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

OK... So what now?

That's a good question. The answer to which I assume will reveal itself with time, because if there is one thing I've learned in my 37 years it's that John Lennon hit the nail on the head when he sang "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans". Obviously I've learned a bit more than that, but that oft-repeated quote is pretty bang on, don't you think?

To get to the "So what now?" stage, I'll first attempt to bring you up to speed with "So what happened?" Well, as John would be quick to point out, "life" is what happened. I moved to America in my early twenties and lived there for twelve years. This was quite contrary to what I had expected to do, which was stay in America for the 18 month duration of my visa, experience some wonderful things, come back to the UK and complete my PhD. Instead I married an American and experienced many wonderful, and some rather painful things. The marriage lasted seven years, and I'm proud of it and of us, but while I expected I would be married for the rest of my life, it didn't work out that way and I found myself at the next crossroads.

Having spent the past decade-plus working and living in the United States, I only had time to visit England for a week or more, once every year or so. It was during an annual trip home that I spent an evening crying on my brothers shoulder and lamenting the fact that I had no bloody idea what I was supposed to do next. "What do you want to do?" my brother asked. A simple enough question, and one I had asked myself repeatedly for years, but this time I only had myself to consider. I thought about travelling, going back to university, online dating, yet the answer I came up with was "I want to upholster chairs". And so I did. Here: Tresithick Upholstery and Restorations.

In October 2010, I spent six weeks in Cornwall learning the craft of traditional upholstery. It was exactly what I needed, and exactly what I wanted to do. 

Fast forward one year to September 2011. I packed up my belongings, said many tearful goodbyes to my amazing friends, and moved back to England. So here I am. Sitting in my boyfriend David's flat, feeling slightly panicked, searching for jobs and writing the first post of this blog. I've never written a blog before, but I'm going to use it as a way to chart my progress and as an exercise in accountability. I need to make sure I put my money where my mouth is. OK... So what now?

I'm going to breathe new life back into old chairs, and hopefully do the same for myself in the process.