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The Evolution of a Mid Century Sofa

099_mid-century-vancouverFor 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.

The original Craft Associates catalog page showing the 2010-S sofa.

The original Craft Associates catalog page showing the 2010-S sofa.

 

Poor Grover in his derelict state. :(

Poor Grover in his derelict state. :(

 

Not pretty.

Not pretty.

 

The stuff of mid century nightmares.

The stuff of mid century nightmares.

 

The top is done!

The top is done!

 

That fabulous Pirelli webbing!

That fabulous Pirelli webbing!

 

Almost there! No arms, no legs, no button tufts, and no pillows - but the worst is over, yay!

Almost there! No arms, no legs, no button tufts, and no pillows – but the worst is over, yay!

 

Finally finished! Grover is all settled in at his new (temporary) home at The Fab Pad!

Finally finished! Grover is all settled in at his new (temporary) home at The Fab Pad!

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RosalindaJuly 30, 2014 - 8:37 pm

This is incredible. Great eye!

Possibly The Most Unusual Mid Century Dining Set You Might Ever See

mid-century-vintage-willett-trans-east-dining-setOnce upon a time (1934), in a land far, far away (Louisville, Kentucky) a man with the whimsical name of Consider H. Willett founded the Willett Furniture company. Consider’s goal was to create quality furniture using fine materials – and create he did! By the 1940′s Willett Furniture was the largest manufacturer of cherry and maple furniture in the United States. They were highly successful at the time, and became known for their more traditional pieces which often featured turned “rope” like detailing. In the mid-1950′s, they produced some more modern, simple pieces, as exemplified in their Trans-East line.

The Trans-East incorporated Oriental style, Scandinavian influences, and just a little bit of Shaker. It is this combination of styles, pulled off so successfully, that makes this furniture line exceptional. Whoever was responsible for this design was, in my opinion, a genius – challenged with designing furniture using a little from so many styles could have been disastrous, but instead, they came up with a marvel of furniture engineering.

Each piece is made completely out of solid cherry wood, and since Consider was a stickler for details, each piece was hand-sanded no less than 7 times, and waxed with their unique patented finish 5 times. One piece of furniture could take 6 weeks to make, and at the height of their popularity Willett’s customers were waiting up to a year for their furniture orders. Take a look through the photos I’ve posted here and you’ll see why – the detail and attention to design is everywhere!willett-trans-east-dining-set-vintage

Each chair strut and leg has an added “cap” carved out, and the spindles taper more thickly at the bottom, rather than in the middle. The front legs are splayed, where as the back legs are not. The seats are carved and shaped in consideration of both aesthetics and comfort (and they are indeed amazingly comfortable!) The spindles are set in a curved arrangement, so as to better mold to the back. And finally, the back rail has the neatest up-turn at the ends, highly indicative of that Asian influence.

The table has it’s own special features too. Being a gate-leg style with two wings, it boasts a total of 8 thick legs, which are embellished with brass at the top and interestingly tapered outwards towards the bottom – looking at them I am strongly reminded of the temple gates in Tokyo. While the table had the option to add a leaf in the middle, my research has indicated that when sold as a set, the table was included as is, with the four chairs (one with arms and three without). A leaf and additional chairs were apparently optional extras.willett-trans-east-table

In case you couldn’t already tell, I am beyond excited to have here at The Fab Pad a full dining set from Willett’s Trans-East line! I have hand-waxed it myself using Antiquax (refinishing these pieces is a no-no because of the original patented finish that was applied) and it is now so shiny that the wood has almost a 3-D quality (Consider would be proud, I think)! It is a highly unusual set, and I doubt I will ever see another one – they are not terribly common in the United States, and probably as rare as a Sasquatch in Canada. Everyone who has seen this set has admired it for it’s beauty, now it just needs the perfect home to show it off! Come and check it out during store hours – it’s here and available for $1295 for the set.

Glamourous, Glorious, Glass!

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Oh how I LOVE mid century vintage glass!!

From Murano to Holmegaard to Chalet, I have yet to find a piece I didn’t enjoy or appreciate. Mid century art glass appeals to me above all others, likely due to the organically-influenced style evident in almost every piece. This style came about partially because glass-blowing in itself is an organic process, and also because biomorphic shapes were turning up everywhere in the mid century, in kitchen gadgets, lamps, furniture, and more. Add a vibrant retro colour to the glass and you have a true piece of art.

A good part of the intrigue with vintage art glass is identifying it! Many pieces are not marked, and cannot often be identified with complete accuracy on visual inspection only. However, there are distinctive looks to various regions which are a great place to start in the identification process.

Scandinavian glass tends very much towards the free-form, biomorphic style. Colours range all over the map – there are pieces in solid, bright colours, as well as clear pieces with colour added (see the green and purple striped vase, upper left – quite likely a Kosta piece by artist Vicke Lindstrand). I particularly love the bold blue asymmetrical bowl, by artist Per Lutken for Holmegaard (first in the third row above) – this piece is so simple, but the asymmetry adds an intrigue and elevates the glass to a new artistic level. Bonus points: this bowl appears in Don and Megan Draper’s apartment in the “Mad Men” TV show – look for it near their front door planter box!

I also have a weakeness for Italian glass, particularly Murano bowls and glass goblets. I’m not sure what it was with Italian glass makers and goblets, but 90% of the time, a fancy vintage glass goblet will have come to you courtesy of Italian artisans. One of my favourites so far is the trio of ocean blue glass goblets (above in the bottom row, right corner). The colour on these pieces is difficult to describe, and is best appreciated in person. I love the twisted stems and the ripple through the cup – it looks exactly like flowing water (again, that organic influence!) I am also quite taken by vintage Murano pieces, particularly those incorporating a bit of sparkle! This “sparkle” is usually one of two materials, either aventurine or goldstone. Aventurine is naturally occurring, whereas goldstone was created in the 1600′s (thanks Wikipedia!)

Not to be outdone by the Scandinavians or Italians, many glass delights were also created in Canada, America, Czechoslovakia, and beyond. Chalet, a popular brand in Canada, tends keep it simple with free-form shapes in solid colours and without additional embellishments. American glass borrows from all types of art glass, ranging from ornate to basic. And Czech glass often invokes cut glass details, adding hard-edged depth to otherwise curvy pieces.

I have an awesome selection of mid century vintage art glass here at the Fab Pad – add to your collection, or pick one up as a gift for someone special! Your perfect piece is waiting…:)