a short story about a chair

Back in 1978 or so, I worked with a guy named – well, I will just call him Gary. Gary Berlin. That sounds like someone I would have been friends with in Grand Junction. For some reason, I was talking to my friend about my obsession with having a Bentwood Rocker. I thought these chairs were so unique and had a very interesting history.

In 1860, a German craftsman named Michael Thonet created the first bentwood rocking chair by steaming pieces of wood to effectively shape the rocking chair’s rocker into its graceful swoop.

It just so happened that Gary had one left behind by a former girlfriend and for a mere $25, it could be mine! I didn’t even have to see it. With a quick swipe of the pen, I handed him a check and Bob picked up the rocker and delivered it to me within a few days. It is not a stretch to say that my sweet husband was not at all impressed with this strangely shaped piece of furniture with it’s heavy coat of black enamel paint and somewhat shabby appearance. I, on the other hand, was smitten. Love at first sight, you might say.

Robin Bentwood Rocking Chair | Pepper Sq | Buy Furniture Online
NOT my chair, but a depiction of what
it would have looked like in pristine
shape – which it was not.

The paint was chipped and the cane was loose and discolored. It was a very lovely mess. But it was my mess!

After looking at it for a few months, I decided it was time to take action. Bob and I took it all apart carefully noting which screws went where and mentally picturing it being put back together. We spent weeks sanding the old enamel until the chair pieces were all back to their original virgin wood. I took the back and the seat to an upholstery shop and explained how I wanted it done. I picked an ivory with flecks of brown heavy nubby fabric (very popular in the late 70s) and left those two pieces in their capable hands. Bob and I spent the next few weeks painstakingly staining each separate piece of the chair a dark walnut and the week after, coating each piece with a glossy polyurethane. Probably took a month or two to get it all done with waiting for drying times in between coats. After retrieving the back and seat from the upholstery shop, we took on the task of putting the chair back together – no easy feat as we tried to remember how it all should fit. But, fit together it did, and when it was done; our very first real project together was a success. Not perfect, but perfection was not the point.

And so, here it sat … I mean rocked. For over 40 years. That is, until I was inspired by my pre-pandemic vacation with my sister, Robyn, in Italy. Ten glorious days in a surreal trance seeing the sites; listening to the sounds of a beautiful language; drinking in the colors and the atmosphere of it all. I was browsing on Etsy looking for some unique fabric for making lampshade designs for my Etsy shoppe – http://www.on2ndStreet.com (insert shameless plug here) and when I ran across some beautiful fabric that reminded me of Italy, my mind immediately turned to my Bentwood rocker. Well, when I get something in my head, I just cannot let go until I get it done, and I found myself ordering the fabric. Even though the seller lived out of the country, I received my shipment quickly with two masks and a tote bag – all expertly sewn and enclosed as a “thank you” for purchasing the fabric.

Step 1 was to partially take the chair apart to begin recovering the seat with new foam and batting so that I could use my gorgeous new fabric and piping. After the seat came out so well, I started on the seat back. The back of the chair had 2 sides – the back that you see from the back view of the chair and the front of the seat back where one rests one’s back while sitting in the chair. The back came out perfectly with a thin piece of foam and then the fabric. The front of the seat back was not so easy. It looked okay, but I didn’t like how thick I had the foam and some pleats around the corners and I preferred it to have it flat. I do not plan on recovering the chair again in the future, so I wanted it to be perfect. A local upholstery shop answered the call and worked it in to their busy schedule. Tucson folks, if you find yourself needing a reliable and affordable upholstery service, contact Unique Upholstery on Speedway.

And I am so obsessed with the new look of my vintage Bentwood Rocker.