The Magic of Reupholstery: A Family Living Room Gets New Life

Watch as Ardmore, Penn. upholstery studio Chairloom transforms a family of five's vintage pieces into a custom living room set.
By: Jeanine Hays
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Photo By: Leon Shipp Belt ©Copyright 2014, Leon Shipp Belt

Photo By: Leon Shipp Belt ©Copyright 2014

Photo By: Leon Shipp Belt ©Copyright 2014, Leon Shipp Belt

Photo By: Leon Shipp Belt ©Copyright 2014, Leon Shipp Belt

Photo By: Leon Shipp Belt ©Copyright 2014, Leon Shipp Belt

Photo By: Leon Shipp Belt ©Copyright 2014, Leon Shipp Belt

Photo By: Leon Shipp Belt ©Copyright 2014, Leon Shipp Belt

Photo By: Leon Shipp Belt ©Copyright 2014, Leon Shipp Belt

Photo By: Leon Shipp Belt ©Copyright 2014

Photo By: Leon Shipp Belt ©Copyright 2014, Leon Shipp Belt

Photo By: Leon Shipp Belt ©Copyright 2014, Leon Shipp Belt

Photo By: Leon Shipp Belt ©Copyright 2014, Leon Shipp Belt

Photo By: Leon Shipp Belt ©Copyright 2014, Leon Shipp Belt

Photo By: Leon Shipp Belt ©Copyright 2014, Leon Shipp Belt

Photo By: Leon Shipp Belt

Photo By: Leon Shipp Belt ©Copyright 2014, Leon Shipp Belt

Photo By: Leon Shipp Belt ©Copyright 2014, Leon Shipp Belt

Photo By: Leon Shipp Belt

Photo By: Leon Shipp Belt ©Copyright 2014, Leon Shipp Belt

Photo By: Leon Shipp Belt ©Copyright 2014, Leon Shipp Belt

The Right Upholsterer

A name, a website, and a business card. That was all that Chairloom co-owners Molly Andrews and Tracy Jenkins were armed with in 2006 when they challenged themselves to create a one-stop outlet for high quality, affordable furniture reupholstery. Eight years later the duo's Ardmore, Penn., upholstery studio is the go-to resource for breathing new life into vintage pieces. With Alika Potts rounding out the team, Chairloom has grown beyond its original collection of six reupholstered chairs to fill an entire showroom with fabrics, samples and projects at various stages of completion. Their most recent mission: to reupholster an entire living room set for the Finch family — a family of five — and their two pets.

The Right Pieces

"The clients for this project are local to Philadelphia and they had come to a point in their lives where they were ready to refurnish the living room in their house of two years.

The Living Room Suite

They had a sofa that needed reupholstery that they had received from neighbor's yard sale and a pair of chairs that had belonged to the client's grandfather. They also adopted a chair from Chairloom," Andrews shares, "An unusual arm chair that was one of our favorites."

Unique Textile Options

In the Chairloom studio, clients can search the latest John Robshaw, Hable Construction, and Virginia Johnson fabrics for the perfect color and feel to add to their pieces. "The armchair that we added for this family was sanded and reupholstered in a patterned John Robshaw for Duralee textile," says Andrews. The chair was one of the studio's numerous "labor of love" projects that are sourced by Chairloom to be offered to clients for "adoption."

A Wealth of Samples

Chairloom's creative trio prides itself on having the right fabrics readily available for clients at all times. "The combination of textile appreciation for artists such as John Robshaw, Hable Construction and Virginia Johnson, and a love for interesting yet affordable antique vintage furniture was the reason Chairloom began," remarks Jenkins. Years of experience matching pieces with patterns has given Andrews and Jenkins and eye for creating the right connections.

Choosing The Right Fabric

For choosing the right fabric for pieces, Andrews and Jenkins advise first considering the piece and what it will be used for. Accent pieces that get minimal use are perfect candidates for a handprinted textile. For pieces that must withstand day-to-day wear and tear, there are an abundance of gorgeous and extremely durable textiles to choose from, proving you don't have to sacrifice design for function.

A Curatorial Eye

A visit to an upholsterer can be an overwhelming process. Getting started with the right piece and the right fabric can be difficult if you don't know which one to begin with. These are often the kinds of questions asked by customers, and over the years the creatives at Chairloom have become uniquely qualified to offer good answers. "Our design philosophy and personal aesthetics touch every aspect of Chairloom. We don&'t push our personal taste on our clients, but our taste is very much a part of our company DNA — we don't keep samples of textiles or stock furniture unless we find them to be both beautiful and of high quality," says Jenkins.

A Fabric Consult

Andrews recalls,"The client invited us to her newly painted living room for a color and fabric consultation. We followed that with a meeting in our showroom to look through textile options." This initial conversation is key to the success of each piece, ensuring that the final design fits the client's vision.

Color Choices

When reupholstering a set of pieces, such as this living room ensemble, color is always an important consideration. For this project, the Finchs opted for a navy blue and light gray color palette for the makeover of their five pieces. "Our curated selection of textiles helped our clients find what they were looking for. They knew we would have some exciting options for them and came open to suggestions." Once the fabrics were decided, the next item to consider was the state of the chairs.

Yard Sale Finds

"This yard sale sofa was quite tired and in need of new cushions at the very least," says Andrews.

Saving Heirloom Details

"The pair of family chairs were a reupholstery must,"; Andrews mentions. "The clients opted to replicate the nail heads on these heirloom chairs, as well as the button detail and elaborate stitching."

Structural Upgrades

With springs in need of repair and torn fabric, this side chair was in need of some structural upgrades to keep it intact. "The client must think about use, comfort and durability, as well as style they like. We recommend that every piece be structurally sound — we have found several lovely pieces that we passed up to do structural flaws. The whole point of this work is to breathe new life into great old pieces that have everything going for them except, perhaps, an unfortunate outer layer."

The Upholstery Process

When it comes to giving vintage furniture a new lease on life, the structural aspects are as important as the fabric. There are any number of details to consider when choosing the finishing for an upholstery project.

Tools of the Trade

For the pair of side chairs, brass nail heads were used to match the vintage nail heads that adorned the pieces prior to reupholstery. Batting is used to stuff and repair any seating issues. And clients can even choose new legs or wheels to reinforce seating.

The Big Reveal

The gray and navy color palette connects all five distinct pieces. The end result is a curated, coordinated living room suite.

A Transformed Living Room Set

A good upholstery project will result in both form and function — the arm chair is both beautiful and durable.

Blue Velvet

The tufted chairs have been given new life in a thick, blue velvet. At Chairloom, the tufting and nail head finishes were reconstructed to retain much of the classic feel of each chair while updating them with a new color and beautiful fabric.

Attention to Detail

A perfect reupholstery means getting the details just right. Here, the same gray-and-white fabric on the seat was used to create piping to define the chair's edges.


Stitched welting on the newly-neutral sofa was purposefully done to create a long-lasting piece that will stand up to daily use by children and pets.

Happy Clientele

For the team at Chairloom, a successful result means a satisfied clientele, In this case, that means a happy Finch family with a beautiful new living room. "We believe that a client's personality and taste should drive the design process," says Jenkins.

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