What makes an heirloom chair an heirloom?

I have two rowdy boys at home (three, if you count my husband)

Occasionally, they get railroaded into delivering furniture, or making buttons or carrying home a freebie that mom spotted on the curb.


But in general, upholstery is my thing, not theirs. They don’t care what color the sofa is, or whether it has coil springs. They stubbornly refuse to get excited about the 3# foam in our cushions (how can you NOT be excited about 3# foam????)

But recently, I noticed that my son had dragged a chair out of the attic (um, we all have have chairs in the attic . . . right??) and kind of made it his own.

Now let me tell you about this chair:


This chair is the most unremarkable piece of furniture we own. It’s possibly the most unremarkable vintage chair in the world –  which is partly why I bought it.

This little skirted, attached cushion number is EVERYWHERE. I don’t know if they were breeding when people weren’t looking, or if you got one free with every marriage license in the 1960’s or WHAT but it seems like everyone owned some variation of this chair at some point.

So you see them all the time at garage sales and thrift stores and they tend not to get much love. So I bought it for two reasons:

  1. ‘Someday, I’m going to reupholster that, maybe change the back style, just to show consumers that ANYTHING can be updated, you just need a bit of imagination.’
  2. It was the last day of a rummage sale and this sad, lonely chair had been marked down to $2. I knew darn well that it had a 99.9% chance of ending up in a landfill if I didn’t adopt its ugly arse.  Every upholsterer must eventually learn that you cannot personally save all the furniture . . . but I was new in the trade, and didn’t (yet) have a house stuffed with projects.

So I dragged it home, stashed it, and forgot it. . .

. . . Until my giant teenage son dragged it out.


Now this was very strange. It’s way too small for him. It didn’t have a cushion (who knows where THAT went??) so he used a random scrap of foam for the seat. And the very groovy orange velour was dirty and utterly threadbare.


But HEY! Sometimes, love is blind.

So for whatever reason, he’s suddenly kind of sweet on this chair. And I’m kind of sweet on him being sweet on this chair.

I don’t know how other moms of teenagers feel, but I realize my days with Noah are slipping away. He’s racing towards adulthood, and all the adventures that begin at 18. And I’m super excited for him. Of course! But also . . .  I miss him already.

In the blink of an eye, you go from shoulder back rides in public to “can we just meet in the parking lot after the concert?” (I had the audacity to KNIT at his choir concert – OH MY GAWD parents are so embarrassing)

I showed both my sons a Facebook article stating that women need to be hugged daily for their health. Now, along with my morning allergy pill, I get a very obligatory “hug for my health”

Shameless, I know.

And this year’s been extra tough with my opening a new shop. The biggest sacrifice has undoubtedly been less time with my kids, time that is all too fleeting under the best of circumstances.


So what can I say? I got kind of excited about a project with my teenage son.

“Noah,” I said. “Do you want to pick out fabric and we can reupholster that over the summer?”

“Yeah, that would be cool” (COOL!!!!)

Then he picked out a super soft, super green, super VELVET fabric from Barrow:


I haaaaaate working with velvet. Hate, hate, hate. You can’t fold it. Can’t regulate it. You can’t steam or hammer the heck out of it (two things I rather enjoy doing.) It misbehaves terribly at the sewing machine. Basically, you can’t look at it wrong or say mean things to it without regretting your decision.

Velvet is a princess.

So I tried to talk Noah into something else, enticing him with photos of bold weaves or crazy geometrics. Nope!!!! He’d picked his pony.

Some clients just insist on being difficult.

Noah has torn back plenty of projects for me, so he had the chair apart in no time. After Steve Cone and I dragged it around to a couple upholstery masterclasses, we got to work!


In addition to tearing back, Noah webbed and burlaped the frame, put in buttons, cleaned up the mess, and moved the chair whenever I needed it moved. Mostly, I worked on the chair, and he worked on other shop chores.


You may be wondering why I didn’t painstakingly guide my teenager through doing this project for himself. Good question! Good reasons: 

  1.  Princess velvet. If he’d picked any of the fabrics MOM advocated for, he would have sewn welt cord and done some cutting, stapling, etc. But velvet is not a good learning fabric for a 15 year old student (or anyone in their right mind)
  2. Attached cushion??? Mitered nosing??? Curved T-cushion from scratch??? Tough project!!! I look forward to helping Noah upholster his first chair. But this ain’t it, kid, this ain’t it . . .
  3. Noah didn’t want to REUPHOLSTER A CHAIR he wanted A CHAIR REUPHOLSTERED. And would-be students take note: those are two VERY DIFFERENT THINGS. I like teaching students who come ready to learn. It’s awesome, and I think I’m pretty good at it! But making my kid learn something he’s not especially interested in learning? Ugh. We do that at home.  I’ll fight about math homework and how to load the dishwasher –  I don’t feel a pressing need to pick a fight about easement cuts.

And really, I was cool with it.  At 15, I had no interest in learning upholstery (or anything else, actually) from my mom. Maybe someday he’ll ask to learn . . . and maybe he won’t. When he’s ready, I’m ready.

In the meantime, it was a huge help to have him tear back my next client project and knock out a bunch of shop chores.

IMG_6719 2

It was a long, lovely day in St. Paul.

Noah gets dragged into helping with all kinds of things at the shop, and into more things at home BECAUSE of the shop – and he’s surprisingly good natured about most of it. He’s helped me make instructional videos, and create a YouTube Channel. He’s my number one go-to for getting something torn back quickly and properly. He does more housekeeping than me, keeps the lawn mowed, takes his little brother to the library, and helps out his grandparents and aunts. When I go for a run, he often greets me outside with a glass of water as I stagger home. I’ve never asked him to, he’s just nice. I didn’t mean to go Full Mom on the blog, but what can I say?  He’s a good kid: Funny, thoughtful, empathetic. He reminds me that teenagers can be really great.

Before Noah put on the burlap, we left a note inside the frame.

IMG_6669 2


I don’t know where this orphan came from, but I quite like the idea of Noah playing video games in some little old lady’s (now green) chair – bet she didn’t expect that!  I would never have chosen this chair for him – but to quote a book you should read:

“… isn’t it always the inappropriate thing, the thing that doesn’t quite work, that’s oddly the dearest?”

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

Who knows what will happen to this chair? I’d love to think that Noah will cherish it for decades, dragging it to his first apartment, fighting with his wife about whether it should stay or go . . . Very probably, he won’t – it might just have been a fun summer activity, and I’ll consider that  time well spent.

But maybe, just maybe, there will someday be bedtime stories in Grandpa Noah’s scruffy green chair.

An heirloom is defined as, “something valuable that is passed from generation to generation”  Furniture is usually considered valuable because it is old, rare, or exquisitely crafted. But what chair is more more valuable than one infused with memories?

Sometimes, the strangest things become heirlooms. Those are my favorite kind.

IMG_6685 2

And what about my other son? Did he feel left out? Well, as luck would have it, he’s laid claim to the little love seat we carried home last month – and if you thought green velvet was a wild selection, just wait until you see what Ian picked . . .

IMG_6741 2

But THAT is a blog post for another day . . . .

The velvet we used on Noah’s chair comes in a wonderful selection of colors – you can browse them all on Barrow’s website, or at the shop. (And if you want me to reupholster your chair with it, I promise to only say bad things about velvet in my head)

If Ian’s fabric is more your style you can see the full repeat online at Greenhouse Fabrics 

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: