Sunday, December 29, 2013

How to update an old reclining chair

It's an epic family battle cry heard throughout America:  "NO, you may NOT get rid of my old recliner!  You may think it's ugly, but it's the most comfortable chair in the house!"
Got one of these??  Keep reading!!

Image screengrabbed from this interesting blog.
In most cases, it's the husband who issues this edict in response to a wife who is trying desperately to bring their home décor into the 21st century.  But in our case, it was me, the wife, who wanted to keep a chair over the protests of my husband. 

It looks like I stole it out of a mid-90's RV - the style just doesn't go with anything else in our house.  But I wanted to keep it because it had been my nursing chair and therefore it has sentimental value (and I breast-fed my little one for more than two years, so that's a lot of sentimental value).  Unlike many new mothers, I opted for a rocking recliner rather than one of those glide rockers you see in many baby nurseries (the glide rockers which are now even more out-of-style than rocking recliners).    
I chose as generic a fabric texture and color as I could back in 1998 when I special-ordered this chair for myself, generic so that it would stand the test of time.  But now it's almost 16 years later and this pinkish-brown tour bus upholstery just wasn't cutting it. 

"I hate to break this to you, honey," my husband argued as we were deciding what to do with the recliner, "But your nursing days are over!" 

"All the more reason for me to keep my chair as a memento!" I shot back humorously. 

And thus began my epic search for a solution by which this chair could be sufficiently modernized. 

Here's a design hint for those of you who are faced with a similar predicament:  As a first step, go to your manufacturer's web site and search for your own model of recliner, because chances are they still sell the exact model or something almost identical to it, no matter how old it is!!  These chairs are as enduringly popular as they are unstylish, and a lot of them haven't changed significantly in fifty years!!   And the benefit of going back to the manufacturer's site is that you can use their internet widget to "try on" different updated upholsteries before you go shopping for your own, and by that method, you can at least narrow down your design direction.
Screengrabbed from the manufacturer's website:  Oh my gosh, look!!  That's my very same 16-year-old chair still being sold today!!  I'm not going to name the manufacturer for fear of attracting the wrong kind of blog attention, but it's one of the major American retailers.  From messing around with their website, I was able to determine that I probably wanted a visually-disruptive geometric pattern which draws your attention away from the fact that the macro-lines of the chair are very dated (in my opinion).  This upholstery pictured above, which was one of over seven hundred!! offered by the manufacturer, was not "it", but it gave me a sense of what to look for. 
As I mentioned in this prelude post where I described my upholstery-shopping process, there's an unwritten design rule which says that you are allowed to have one outrageous piece of furniture per room, for the sake of not taking your design too seriously.  I had already decided on an artistic approach of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" with respect to my recliner.  There was no way for me to pull off a trompe l'oeil that would disguise what this chair really is, so I decided that I might as well just run with it and make it as quirky-fun as I could.

This was the upholstery I chose through the process described in this post
My husband was skeptical and wanted for me to first return to the upholsterer, which was Perfect Windows on Fondren Road in Houston, and buy one full yard of this so that we could wrap the chair and get a better sense of what it would look like.  But it's a bloody 72-mile round trip to that store and it's an arduous drive through Houston traffic to boot, so what I did instead is scan my swatch and cobble together this color print-out.  The colors never came through the scan properly, but it was good enough to get a feel for a larger piece of fabric. 
Trying it on.  There was one thing I noticed right off the bat: 
The circle motif was working well with other elements in the room, especially the floor poufs (this pair came from Target and they have apparently been discontinued, but they are reproductions of this extraordinary design classic).  Floor poufs can be used as foot stools or extra seating and they generally look cool even when they're not performing a specific function.  The polka-dots in the upholstery coordinated well with them, repeating the same circular design element convincingly. 
And here is the money shot!!  The finished product!! 
You'll notice that, in showing you this updated recliner, I placed it firmly within the context of its specific room.  If I had showed you just a standalone polka-dot chair outside of a finished setting, you would not have gotten a realistic sense of its potential. 

You'll also notice that, as eccentric as this upholstery choice is, I have strictly abided by the primary unbreakable rule of interior design:  Cross-referencing, which HGTV designers tend to call "repetition". 

The circles appear everywhere: 
  • In the recliner polka-dots.
  • In the shape of the Bolga basket.
  • In the little slate sofa table holding the entertainment system remote controls.
  • In the floor pouf.
  • In the lamp base and lamp shade.
  • In the tall wooden bowl hand-carved by local artist Dale Hooks, the bowl sitting on the TV console. 
The colors also repeat everywhere:
  • The yellow in the background of the recliner is repeated in the foreground couch cushion and in the basket.
  • The turquoise is repeated in the two small pillows in the basket and in the lamp base and in other elements not visible in the photo above.
  • The forest green is present in the cushion placed on the recliner and it is also the base upholstery of the couch.
  • The drapery, pouf, slate sofa table, and couch cushion are all the identical shade of charcoal.
  • The TV console, the weaving in the basket, and the small buffalo figurine are all the same vivid rust color. 
Not only did I abide by those rules, I actually tweaked the balance of our great room to better speak to the new recliner.
I changed the upholstery on one pair of couch cushions to exactly match the creamy yellow background of the recliner, in order to tie it into the rest of the design.  This also serves to improve the relationship between the couch and my collection of Bolga market baskets which are hand-made in the African nation of Ghana.  Can you believe that I actually found this Bolga basket that has both turquoise and forest green in it??  And I didn't find that one on the internet - I bought it at Erma's Nutrition Center in nearby Nassau Bay!
I got a basket-weave-ish upholstery pattern for the updated couch cushions, to match the Bolga baskets, because the details really count, especially in more eclectic designs.  This material came from Hancock Fabrics in Clear Lake
Anyway, here's the before-and-after comparison:
Is it a runaway smash hit?  Nope - it can't be by definition because the chair is an old recliner - but I think the new look works much better in the space. 

I dedicate this post to the designers of HGTV whom I've heard say (tactfully, out of respect for their advertisers) that an old recliner cannot be successfully integrated into an updated design because these chairs are just too far off the modern-day mark in terms of style. 

I realize that this is a matter of taste, and it's certainly not an easy process, but I think it can be done, and I think my example proves that. 

And this is actually an important issue because many people have imperfect health or suffer from disabilities, and they have a genuine physical need to keep a reclining chair in their homes.  If you are partially or wholly house-bound because of a physical limitation or family circumstances such as intensive care-taking duties, it's often even more important to you that you have cheery and updated décor because you are forced to look at the interior of your home for so many hours each day (I speak from historical experience - that's what got me interested in interior design in the first place).  Don't assume that you have to live with a recliner that you find to be ugly or hopelessly outdated.  From the superior comfort of your recliner, jump on the internet and start pecking away at the available websites to see what you could potentially achieve by updating your upholstery.  Stick rigorously to your own design palette, but have fun with it.  The results might pleasantly surprise you, as they did me.

And oh, as for my husband?  He's not thrilled with the result because he's not thrilled with the chair itself, but he admits that this re-upholstery job is an improvement. 
Home sweet home.  I ordered it 16 years ago to fit my smaller body, because most recliners are so large that they swallow me up.  It still fits like a glove.  It's a glove with a quirky face-lift now. 

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