This was one of those unbelievable restorations of a horribly beaten and butchered piece. Pierre and I just couldn’t believe how badly this piece had been treated, and modified.
We knew when we looked at it that something was wrong with the back, because it wouldn’t normally be scalloped at the top without some kind of piping, ribbing, or buttons, but you won’t believe what we found underneath.
QUICK NOTES: This was an extreme and expensive restoration, and as such, we documented all the repairs. That said, I trimmed down several hundred photos to the following 62. We hope that this will serve as a good example of our skills and love for antiques.
The owner loves antiques, and doesn’t mind some wear and tear, but these scratches will be touched-up (not refinished).
First sign of trouble on this piece was the way that the gimp (decorative trim) was applied to the arms. It’s crooked and it just doesn’t quite look right. It also covers some of the carving on the top of the arms.
Here, a LOT of the wood is covered-over by the fabric and gimp.
Here, for some unknown reason, they had installed 2 identical top fabrics. You can see the damage to the front arm.
We knew this piece had been butchered and modified when we removed the back piece and uncovered carved wood pieces and older upholstery sections.
A very poor repair to a broken carving (the back side):
When we uncovered the arm(s) we discovered more carved wood elements. This style of shallow carving with scallops, dots, and straight (often ribbed) mouldings (like the front rail) are typical of Eastlake style pieces (1880-1900).
When we peeled-back the newer upholstery from the back rest, this is what we found! The original rust red upholstery (stuffed with straw and cotton) and still intact. You can see the ribbing pattern, and we found a few small pieces of the original decorative cords.
The broken (and horribly stapled) carving:
This next photo shows the settee in “as close to original” shape as we can get (the seat has been redone previously). It would have been quite a beautiful piece in the deep rust red.
Some of the damage:
To cover over the original arms, a previous upholsterer added wooden blocks at the back of the arms (glued and nailed in place):
At this point, we contacted our client, and discussed what should be done with the piece. This was going to be an expensive project, but luckily he wanted to have it fully restored, therefore we continued to work on it.
The spring ties were still in good (usable) condition, but the entire piece would need to be knocked apart for the repairs, so they had to be removed.
Doesn’t this just make you want to cry?
Some of the wood rails were so badly damaged that we had to cut-away and reglue some new wood to the tops.
Lots of tack and staple holes under both arms into the decorative wood (they didn’t need to staple here).
All these staple marks should have been in the rough wood at the top. This is just awful.
The back legs were the most damaged, since a lot of the fabric panels got tacked here. There were also chunks of walnut missing, and large screw holes.
The entire back rail was crumbling and horribly butchered. We ended up having to completely replace it.
More awful “repairs”:
Once the settee was apart, all the holes were puttied (this may look like Bondo, but it’s wood filler).
Here is one of the arms after repairs and sanding (the front was left with the original finish). You can also see a patched wooden block (small rectangle on the left).
All the other parts were treated similarly, either with filler, or carefully cut, fitted, and sanded patches in walnut. We used a combination of stains, lacquer, touch-up markers, and tinted lacquers to blend all the repairs together as much as possible.
A close-up of the arms.
The back was assembled first, because it had a lot of pieces that needed clamping.
Fully restored frame after re-assembly:
You will note the replaced wood on the front rail (top part in light brown), as well as the touch-ups to the decorative carving.
Broken carving after repairs.
Note new back rail.
Here’s the new back rail, in solid white ash (the original was Elm, which is hard to find, but very similar to ash):
First layer of burlap:
First stuffing in place (straw) and hand stitched:
Second stuffing (straw & cotton) and muslin rough cover in place.
Original back stuffing in place with rough cover.
Ribbing and buttons.
Restoring the arm tops, using horsehair, burlap, and cotton.
And finally, the completed settee (with nearly a month’s worth of work on and off):
Notice where the gimp is placed – NOT on the wood.