For nearly a year, “Grover,” as this sofa is affectionately known, languished in my storage locker – propped against concrete walls, sandwiched between vintage art and teak table tops. Patiently, Grover waited for the day he would be restored to his original 1960s glory. Dear Grover, that day has come.
When I originally picked up this poor,
beat to hell overly-loved sofa, I have to admit – I had no idea of it’s provenance. I only knew that I instantly loved it’s fabulous mid century styling – the low curved seat, the equally curvy back, the nubby little walnut arms – and I had to have it. It was only months later, upon closer examination and research, I realized it was a design of American furniture genius, Adrian Pearsall. This sofa was his model 2010-S, an incredibly rare piece he made for his Pennsylvania-based manufacturing company, Craft Associates. Possibly one of Pearsall’s most iconic and best-selling designs is the “gondola” sofa, of which there are several variations, all reflecting the innate long and tapered look of the Venetian boat. By contrast, for whatever reason the 2010-S was not a huge seller at it’s inception (according to my correspondence with Jim Pearsall, Adrian Pearsall’s son); and thus today, there are apparently no current examples of this model. Oddly, the matching chair known as the 1717-RC, evidently did quite well as there are plenty to be found online. Despite hours of Googling, I was unable to find any reference to the 2010-S, save for the original catalog page (shown below). Indeed, Grover was as rare as a snowstorm in the Sahara.
With this new-found knowledge of Grover’s provenance, I was even more inspired to restore this exceptional piece in a way that might make Adrian Pearsall proud. I took the sofa to my upholsterers extraordinaire, Brighouse Upholstery in Richmond – they’ve been in business since the days when this sofa was just a twinkle in Pearsall’s eye, and the fine craft of upholstery has been passed down through the family ever since. Thinking they had seen everything, when I delivered Grover I was amused that his derelict state was still able to elicit a chuckle from the brother/sister duo who run the shop. They certainly had their work cut out for them.
Below you can see a couple of photos showing the various stages of Grover’s resurrection. The curved frame (which I was told would be extremely expensive and difficult to construct today), was built in a sandwich style to hold the webbing in place. After 50+ years of exposure to air and probably pot smoke (hey, it was the ’60s, after all), the original webbing had sagged completely and become about as crispy as a potato chip. The foam had begun to disintegrate, and of course the fuzzy fabric showed that many derrieres had sat upon Grover over the decades. Possibly most heinous of all, the original walnut legs with casters had been replaced with ghastly block legs, reminiscent in shape to a country outhouse – and similarly coloured.
And so, the work began! Grover was stripped of his moldy old skin, dusty innards, and brittle entrails, and bit by bit, was made anew. You can see in the photos below one of the most important stages, replacing the webbing. This isn’t just any old webbing, this is the primo stuff – Pirelli rubber (yes, the tire manufacturer). Next came high quality foam, and what I’m guessing were hundreds, probably thousands of upholstery staples, followed by the brand new freshy-fresh upholstery fabric (which I spent entirely too much time selecting). Grover’s T-Rex-like stubby walnut arms were detached from their wood dowels for refinishing, and vintage wood was sourced to create new legs closer to the originals.
Finally, it all came together: the arms were re-attached, as were the legs. It was at this point we decided to make a slight change to the original design and forgo the caster wheels on the legs. In the 1960s, this was certainly practical – wheels made it easy for Betty Draper-esque housewives to move these beasts around for vacuuming the carpet, which graced nearly every room of the typical 1960s home. However, today many households have opted for hardwood or laminate, so casters are no longer necessary and probably even a bit dangerous. So plain legs it was! The requisite six tufted buttons were also added to the seat, and with that, the transformation was nearly complete.
Lastly – the toss cushions. Yet another fabric decision, but fortunately this one was easy. Brighouse Upholstery, having been around since the ’60s and having an especially thrifty matriarch in charge, have a wonderful stock of *new* vintage material. From this selection I chose a funky flowered print in coordinating tones to the sofa, combined with retro chocolate brown and burnt orange. The pillows now have two sides: one with the groovy retro print, the other with the matching sofa fabric.
This evolution has been an interesting and fun process, as well as a fascinating insight into the construction and craftsmanship of mid century furniture. Sometimes I like to imagine what Pearsall was thinking when he designed this piece: was he inspired by the curves of the Lehigh River in Pennsylvania, where he designed and built his own home? Or maybe, as a trained architect, his inspiration came from the grand gothic arches of old Penn Station in his native New York? Whatever it was, his brilliant creativity lead to some of the best designs of the mid century, and I am honoured to have the opportunity to restore this amazing piece and present it in my store.
If you would like to purchase this sofa and have your very own Pearsall, it is available for $3195. It measures 86″L x 37″D x 29″H.