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Start to Finnish Saarinen (see what I did there?)

Saarinen for Knoll Executive Arm Chairs with Bent Wood Legs

Okay, so the title of this post is super cheesy, because Eero Saarinen was a Finnish-American, and this post is about reviving three of his chairs from “start to finish.” I guess I just couldn’t help myself…:)

Goofy humour aside, I was lucky enough to acquire not just one, but *three* of Saarinen’s Executive Arm Chairs, with coveted and rare bent wood legs! Oh boy oh boy oh boy! What’s a girl to do?!

Well, for starters, agonize for hours over which fabric to choose, while your upholsterer rolls his eyes every time you say “I’ve *almost* decided!” for the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth time. Fabric choice is super critical when dealing with chairs like these, which are super, uber, special. Why so special, you say? I’m glad you asked!

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So epic was Saarinen, he was on the freakin’ cover of TIME!

Plain and simple, Saarinen was an architect and furniture designer of epic proportions. After leaving Finland, he met Charles Eames in the 1930s, and the two became fast friends and designer compatriots. Together, they created molded plywood chairs for an organic furniture design competition in 1940 – and of course, they won first prize. Indeed, an organic feel would characterize Saarinen’s entire body of work, from buildings to coffee tables. He drew his inspiration from his peers, the landscape around him, and old fashioned geometry, all while creating furniture that was utterly beautiful and sublimely comfortable at the same time.9098fcb85409bd135e09406489ba830e

Throughout the 1940s, Saarinen continued to collaborate with Eames, as well as developing his own designs, and during that time he also met Florence Knoll of Knoll International. FloKno (can I call her that? Let’s just go with it, shall we?) invited Saarinen to join Knoll and over the next decade or so, created some of the most iconic chair designs ever made, including the 70 series collection, of which the Executive Arm Chair is a prestigious member. The 70 series also included an Executive Chair without arms, additionally both chairs had the option for chrome legs, and later, chrome legs with caster wheels. The bent wood legs were less common than the chrome legs (for reasons unknown) which makes the ones here at The Fab Pad more valuable. 😉th_9a2ff6c1b1b7ef36f1bf9fa6b0b12194_1344634745ES-6

While the Executive Arm Chair is perhaps not Saarinen’s most famous design (that distinction would be shared between the “Womb” chair and the “Tulip” chair/table) it is extra super special for a couple of reasons. One, it was designed by Saarinen (duh! Isn’t that enough? Yes, but wait – there’s more!) Two, it was the first chair ever made out of fiberglass. Like, ever. In the world. Maybe even in the universe. Saarinen chose to use a molded fiberglass shell for the back/arms to allow for greater flexibility and comfort. Sometime later (some research says late 1960s?) Knoll switched to a molded polyurethane shell instead of the fiberglass. Guess which ones we have here at The Fab Pad? If you guessed the original fiberglass version, you get a gold star!

This brings us full circle back to the revival of these gorgeous, iconic chairs. For starters, 65-year-old rubber foam and long term exposure to air don’t mix, and the foam had changed to the consistency of cement astronaut ice cream dinosaur fossils – it was as hard as a damn rock. Clearly this was not suitable for sitting on, so this gal decided to take on a bit of the work herself and scraped off all that nasty foam. After the first one I was highly regretting this decision (surprise! It wasn’t as easy as I’d anticipated) but persevered and eventually emerged victorious in the epic struggle of Girl vs. Foam.saarinen_comp

After scraping the shells clean, I returned them to Upholsterer God Gary at Brighouse Upholstery and thus began the fabric selection. After much anxiety and nervous cold sweats, I committed to a high quality, lightly textured fabric, somewhere between a slub linen and soft denim in feel, in three complimentary colours: sky blue, steel blue, and…lime? mustard? celadon? Uh, greeny-yellow. You get the idea.

Knoll Executive Arm Chair, reupholstered.

Absolutely. Glorious.



In a process that I can only assume involved spells, magic, and fairy dust, Gary transformed my chairs into works of art with curved and sculpted foam, piping, and top stitching awesomeness. Behold, a masterpiece lives again.

These chairs are the perfect option for lounging, dining, or just for sitting in to make you look super cool. (Look at Eero in this pic, he was one slick dude). You can have your very own Executive Arm Chair for $1295, or buy two for $2395, or heck, get all three for $3495.

Eero Saarinen in Womb chair.

“Yeah I’m Eero Saarinen. Just chillin’ in my Womb chair, which I INVENTED. No big deal.”

Extreme Makeover – Teak Credenza Edition

031_feb-2015-mid-century-vancouverAll of the pieces we get in here at The Fab Pad need some kind of TLC, but some need a little more love than others. And some need a A LOT more than a little. Like this one…

Feast your eyes on Exhibit A, if you will. This poor little teak credenza had obviously had a rough life (I’ve added some comments to the photos, with what are the most likely guesses as to how the various damage may have been inflicted upon this innocent piece of furniture).

Now I’m rarely intimidated by a refinishing job, but I have to say, this one made me pause. It had the trifecta of restoration needs: dry, faded, stained, flaky wood, large chunks missing, and badly done repairs. It would need…(drum roll)…an Extreme Makeover!!

Firstly, I assessed the bad repairs which would have to be fixed. The main one was a broken door pull, which had evidently snapped off and been very poorly re-glued. And by “poorly re-glued”, I mean it looked like a chimpanzee on LSD had done it (which is actually not altogether impossible in the 1960s.) After carefully removing the pull, which was cocooned in an excess of glue, I decided that the best way to fix it was to sand the back of it to remove all the jagged bits and glue blobs, and then sand the door to remove all the stuck-on bits of it. This would shave a few millimeters off the overall depth of the pull, so I would do the same to the other one on the other door so they would match. I’m pleased to say that this worked beautifully!

Next, I began sanding the entire piece. My weapon of choice is a Makita orbital sander, a trusty little fellow that has been reliable and efficient. Since the wood was so incredibly dry, a finer grit would be in order to start with – I used a 120 sanding disc, then proceeded to a 240 to smooth it all out.

After sanding, it was on to fills. The main problem area was a very disfigured corner on the left side of the credenza, which I’m sure could have only been done by a velociraptor. This corner was no longer a corner, in fact, but a raw, jagged, diagonal edge – about as pretty and refined as a Sumo wrestler in a tutu. With a magical product from Mohawk Finishing called an Epoxy Stick, I was able to reform the corner and mold it over the damage. This fabulous Play-Doh-like substance becomes rock-hard in minutes, and can be sanded and stained as needed. Once dry, I sculpted it to a perfect corner shape.

At this point, it was time to do the first coat of oil-varnish. I like a marine-grade oil-varnish by Sikkens called Cetol Marine Light. This oil-varnish has almost no tint to it, thus the natural wood colour shines through. As an oil-varnish, it locks into the grain as it stains and seals it. 24 hours later, it was time to move on to the next step.

This was the tedious, yet artsy-fartsy part – using graining pens to draw in grain over the fills. Remember our chewed up corner? I used five different graining pens to continue the existing grain over the plain fill colour, blending it to make it as invisible as possible. This process was continued over all the various other areas which required touch-ups. The entire piece then got another coat of the Sikkens oil-varnish.

Finally, once the two coats of Sikkens were done and dry, I finished the entire piece with Howards Restor-A-Finish poured onto #0000 Superfine steel wool. This takes the “burr” off the oil-varnish, creating a smooth finish and restoring the shine to the wood. I then put the pulls back on the doors, re-installed the doors, did any final touch ups, and – voila! Extreme Makeover – Complete.:)before-after-teak-credenza4before-after-teak-credenza2before-after-teak-credenza3before-after-teak-credenza

Solid or Veneer, Oh Dear!

Recently, a customer asked me about a teak credenza in the shop. It went something like this:

CUSTOMER: “Beautiful piece! It’s solid teak, right?”

ME: “Nope, it’s veneer, with solid teak handles and a few solid teak parts.”

CUSTOMER: “Oh! Really?”

ME: “Yes. 90% of Danish teak furniture is veneer.”

CUSTOMER: “Oh”. (sad face)

What I should have said then was “Turn that frown upside down, lovely customer! No need to be sad about veneer!” – but unfortunately, I was low on my daily dose of caffeine and somewhat high on varnish fumes and the ol’ brain just wasn’t working that fast. So now, with ample caffeine and no varnish fumes to be found, I am writing a blog post about everything you wanted to know about teak veneer furniture but was afraid to ask.:)

Let’s start with a basic truth: *MOST* Danish teak furniture is a veneer over other hardwood/plywood/particle board – and by “most” I mean 90% of mid century pieces. And by pieces, I mean those with large surfaces – tables, credenzas, etc. (chairs are always solid wood because the pieces used to make them are small). Indeed, there were a few large solid pieces produced by designers like Peter Hvidt and Finn Juhl, but the vast majority of designers (including those considered “high end”) used teak veneers. Why oh why did they do that?

Well – a number of reasons. In the 1950s, particle board was new and innovative. It presented a versatility to furniture manufacturers not previously available – now they could avoid issues often seen with solid wood, like warping and separation. Particle board stayed flat, and and it wouldn’t crack like solid wood potentially could. From a design perspective, beautiful patterns could now be created with book-matched veneers, a look which has become synonymous with mid century Danish furniture. Was it less expensive? Sure it was. But it was used because manufacturers and designers rightfully believed it was superior, or at least as good as, solid wood.

Having said all that, there are many more solid wood pieces to be found from North American manufacturers of the era. Solid maple, cherry, and oak can be found in Canadian and American designs, and I can tell you from experience that most times, there are cracks and separations to be filled. However, the bonus is that they can be sanded until the cows come home, without the danger of exposing plywood/particle board, as with veneer (although mid century veneers are much thicker than modern ones).

So how do you know which pieces are solid wood, and which ones are veneer? The good news is that it’s usually pretty easy to tell! Solid pieces will have a continuous grain right over the edges; meaning the grain you see on the surface, curves and continues over the edge of the piece. If the piece is a table, look underneath to see if the grain matches the grain on the top – if it is an exact match, it’s solid – but use caution: many Danish manufacturers veneered both the top and underside of a table, so it can be tricky to tell the difference. You can also look at the edges of the table – if they are finished with strips or pieces of solid teak, then the main surface area is almost definitely veneer. Manufacturers used solid teak at the edges of a table to hide the end of the veneer and the substrate on which it was glued – so this is almost always a tell-tale sign. And of course, if there is a mirrored, book-matched pattern of grain across a large surface, it can only be created with veneer; pieces lacking this mirrored look are quite possibly solid wood, which uses separate pieces of wood pressed together side by side, thus creating a non-repeating grain.

Be aware that many, many times I have seen teak furniture described as “solid teak” on Craigslist and other resale sites, and I can tell from one glance that it is veneer. I believe the seller is not intentionally misleading anyone, but has been lead to believe that all pieces from the era are “solid wood” – this is a common and typically innocent misconception, which highlights the importance of knowing what you’re looking at before handing over your cash.

The bottom line is that when it comes to veneer or solid wood, one is not better than the other; both have advantages and disadvantages. In my humble opinion, the most important aspect to consider when purchasing a piece is, does it speak to you? Is it aesthetically pleasing? Will it work with your other furniture? And of course, from a technical perspective, it’s good to confirm that the piece is in excellent working order as well as structurally sound. Solid or veneer, a mid century furniture piece is a great investment, and will bring you enjoyment for many years to come.:)

A pictorial review of what we’ve learned:veneer-vs-solid-2veneer-vs-solid-1

josh lathamJanuary 29, 2015 - 6:14 am

Well said !! Great info !

Boxing Day(s) SALE! 50% off Vintage Lamps, Art, Jewelry, and More!

boxing-days-saleThe Fab Pad is having a huge Boxing Day(s) Sale! All mid century vintage lamps, art, and jewelry will be 50% off for THREE DAYS ONLY – December 26, 27, 28. Open 12pm-7pm on Fri, 12pm-6pm Sat/Sun.

There will also be major reductions on select furniture:

Johannes Andersen coffee table, completely refinished, Royal Copenhagen tiles, 1960s – $495 (original price $995)

Peter Hvidt/Orla Molgaard-Nielsen Folding Solid Teak Side Table, refinished, a rare designer piece! – $895 (original price $1595)

Tarm Stole Solid Teak Sofa, new upholstery, foam, and webbing, 1960s – $1095 (original price $1795)

Solid Elm Matching Side Tables, refinished, made in Canada, 1950s – $295 / pair (original price $495)

Set of 4 Danish Teak Chairs by ArtFurn, reupholstered, interesting and unusual design details, 1960s – $495 / set of 4 (original price $695)

There will also be special prices on overstock pieces – retro stool, $10, teak coffee table by Trioh, $40, all Christmas ornaments 50% off, and more!!

N e w s l e t t e r
F a c e b o o k
T w i t t e r