Thursday, November 17, 2011

18th Century George III Wingback Chair Upholstering Project

I purchased a really fun chair--an 18th century George III wingback with exaggerated wings. The curves of the wings, seen from any angle, really makes this a wonderful chair.  So now my project is--what fabric do I select?   I could use it in 3 different living/family rooms.  Colors that would go are likely to be a neutral cream/tan, blue, or red..  The 3 rooms could be one that has a country french yellow toile drape in it, a family room with brown la declaration drapes, and a living room with a coral sofa, blue would be great in there.

Finding an old chair made me wonder what it may have been upholstered with originally.  After hunting around, I found a reference Judith Miller made in one of her antique guides.  She says that originally these chairs were upholstered in grospoint or petitpont needlepoint.

So I started my hunt for pictures of what a wingback chair from the 1700's would have looked like.  There's a website called that had this example. (See link below to read more)

Wing Back Chair

This beauty is on Ist Dibs - (click on the link to view ad.).  Interesting floral pattern.  Sort of a Jacobean influence?

Ist Dibs Chair $18,000
Another wonderful example with large bold flowers:

George II Walnut Chair, circa 1730.  Christies
More of those wonderful bold flowers.

I went to my favorite website for pictures, Liveauctioneers (yes I got permission, ok to use if I put in a link), and found this --and subsequently went to the Bonhams website.  Again, a lovely floral needlepoint.
Fantastic chair from a Bonhams auction - photo
So I checked out a few English antique websites and found more floral needlepoints.  I'm assuming that the backs may be replaced?
Wakelin-Linfield Antiques had this chair.  They said it is a George I period chair with most of it's original needlepoint
A 1750's chair with later 1800's needlepoint.
Notice the background color is different from the other examples.
Not liking that.  At auction.

WING ARMCHAIR CIRCA 1715 - ($62,500) Christies.
Hmm.  An interesting departure from the other florals.

I thought that I'd check out what museums have, and found this at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. -- An American chair.  I totally love this back.  The front is interesting, a geometric patten.  Date:  1758.  I find that fascinating.

Fantastic needlepoint on the back of a chair, dated Newport 1758
at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 
Front of 1758 Chair at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
The back reminds me of a needlepoint sofa-back - I'd just love having something like this.  Don't you just love this.

Here's another to die for chair with a price tag equivalent to a few houses in Iowa:

Christies Auction Nov 2010 Sold for $113,000
From the Christies catalog:
CIRCA 1720 
With associated gros and petit point needlework, the back with a panel depicting a maiden by a well, surrounded by trailing foliage and flowers, the sides and back with plain cotton, on shell carved cabriole legs with pad feet and leather castors, some reworking to the needlework, the back seat-rail replaced, restorations to the ears of back legs

Check out the detailed stitching.

CIRCA 1720 
Upholstered in associated 18th century close-nailed gros and petit-point floral needlework, the back and seat depicting classical figures, on cabriole legs with pad feet
Christies Auction Nov 2010 $55,000
Here's one in an upcoming auction.  I have to say this is what I think most motifs are, although most of what you see is floral, I suspect that many I see in my price range (ok, not in my range, but ones I am able to see) may be later than 18th century.

Christies Nov 2011 Auction
With associated 18th century figural needlework covering, the back legs later and oak...

ANYONE READING want to buy me a christmas present? !!

Judith Miller said most of the antique chairs would be figural or I assume she meant like these scenic.  I do love the huge flowers.  Given the age of these pieces, can you imagine how bright the chairs really were?  If you think about the times, I'd like to sit by the fire, curtains pulled, dark rooms, most likely, to stay warm in the winter.  A bright color would be needed, don't you think?

So now that I've seen all these fabulous examples, needlepoint that is only 100 years old just doesn't have the same look: 
This French chair with needlepoint looks like a later design.
It is circa 1900 from

So how has the design community reacted to wonderful old needlepoints and tapestries?  We get stuff like this. YUK in my book after seing so many wonderful antique pieces.   

From Liveauctioneers.  Don't do this fabric.
There is another option:  Crewel fabric.  The chair below is probably the type of crewel that is available.

Chair from auction, probably not antique.
If you decide to go crewel, set the bar high.  Using a colorful crewel is definitely the way to go.  Often times the crewel is only used on the inside of the wing chair--I assume to save money as you can spend upwards of $500/yard for some of this stuff.
Read her fun article on wingbacks.
I spotted this on Ebay, one of my favorite dealers who carries textiles has this in her house:  She is spot on, having found a wonderful tree-of -life crewel fabric.  Don't you just love how the pattern fits on this chair?  Wonderful!  I would love to find something like this for my chair!
from a favorite eBay dealer:  rivervalleytextiles.  Click here to read her bio, and read about this project.  (Check out her listings, she has the prettiest pictures.  Plus  she gives you great tips on care and collecting of textiles.)

Chelsea textiles makes a dynamite option  $510/yard wholesale. 
Ochre with flower & fern

OK, so I don't have any connections to get crewel on the cheap, haha.  So what other fabrics are an option?

After checking out all those wonderful English chairs, I thought I should check out what you see on American chairs.   I immediately thought of Colonial Homes, and how you saw two things:  plaids or damasks.  Talk about two extremes.  Both are really strong statements, I think...  Here are two plaid examples:
This is actually more historically correct--most of the chairs did not have a cushion, and if it did,
it was a thin cushion.
Another example of a blue plaid chair.
Probably more historically correct - no bottom cushion, according to other reading.
Then I read that they sat on plump pillows.  HMMM,  this is confusing.  What do you think?.
(FLAT CUSHION DIVERSION)  Here's another chair with that flat cushion.
This chair is interesting--it has the flat cushion.  The photo is a bit blurry--
I can't really tell if it is a tapestry or chinoiserie fabric.  Bonhams auction  

So I checked out alot of photos on historic wingbacks in the U.S.  There are alot of beautiful chairs at Winterthur, the White House, and Blair House --it seems as though damask is what is used on these expensive chairs.  I looked around on the internet, and found these beautiful chairs.

Interesting UK website 
Isn't the chair above really awesome looking?   I think the yellow fabric really looks the best, but I am pretty gutless when it comes to using yellow.  Coral would work better for me than yellow.

The same website has all kinds of interesting wingbacks.  I thought it would give me a good visual of what a pattern damask would look like.  

Interesting channel back.  I like the soft colors.  Cut velvet is something that is actually "antique".  
Of course if I do cut velvet, only $500/yard (guess) Lee Jofa will do.
Le Notre from Lee Jofa
But what if it winds up looking like grandma's velvet from the 60's?  OK, back to damasks.

Killer green chair.  But how would it look in a room? I really love many shades of green,
but this one I think would whack me over the head when I walked into a room.
Ist Dibs
I actually love this bright chair.  Great pattern.  I think the damask pattern needs to dominate the back, don't you?
These chairs are so big, it needs a big pattern.
Ist Dibs
I thought about blue.  This one is too baby blue, I'm thinking an indigo blue.  However, I am showing this one because I like the large cartouche on the chair back, works for me.

Or you could go conservative cream:

A fabulous period chair.  Very formal.
Ist Dibs
Of course, my version would be less pricey than $30,000
OK, another rule, give up the arm covers.  I have never liked them.   No, I don't care if the chair gets dirty.   The big problem with damask is that the "authentic" looking stuff is silk.  I am way past doing chairs in silk, unless they're a little chair that I'm just going to look at, and never sit on. (had to qualify that)

For those who were looking for wingbacks, and got stuck reading my blog, I'll throw in some current chairs on the market, that aren't museum repros breaking the bank:

Hollyhock has this one:
I don't think I'm in a "busy pattern" mood.   Could be fun in the right room.  
Jacobean fabric.  I always like the free flowing vines on Jacobean fabrics.
  Chair on

Below is one from Anthropologie.  It made me think, toile!
So of course I had to grab a Charles Faudree book and see what he likes.  

Plaid -hmmm.  Country French?  or too early American?  

Pierre Frey Petit Parc fabric.  A nice rich bold color.
Look no further than the front cover of Charles Faudree's book.
I think this is a Groves Bros fabric.  I sent away for samples.

I don't really like all toiles.  I'm not really liking the chair below, I don't know why it seems flat to me.

Red or blue would work very well as an option for my chair.  This pattern below is lovely, very Fortuny-like.

A nice large pattern works best on such a large chair--don't go for a wimpy cartouche!
Not sure if I like the look..............

Bright red pattern. The larger the pattern, the better.
Aspire Auctions
I do like this red pattern better.............

So what would you do.  My chair is like the one above.  I'm getting fabric samples.   Stay tuned.  Feel free to chime in on opinions.   I'm just so paranoid after the 80's and people putting huge floral patterns on everything...but I don't want plain linen, don't want country check, don't think I want velvet, saving that for the moss green upholstery job on the sofa.  I wish there was something out there that has the feel of the fabulous old needlepoints, but it doesn't seem to exist.  I would love that!

What would you pick?


  1. I am a new follower of your blog, one of my passions is making antique 1:12 scale furniture and I also do petit point in that scale. The chair from the Metropolitan museum is one of my projects in the near future, it is such a gorgeous chair. I love all the embroidered ones, thanks for sharing.

  2. I have no idea! So many options! But I agree one gets spoiled by the old needlepoints and then all the newer pieces look and feel kinda cheap....I will say that I adore Charles Faudree and I love the fabric on the chair on the front cover of his book. I don't think you could go wrong with it JMHO *winks* Vanna

  3. Hello Simone,
    I'm glad you enjoyed my post on chairs with "ears". My favorite of those above is the Bargello one from the Metropolitan. I especially like the exaggerated curves of the legs. Thank you for referencing me. Please come visit again.
    Sami Pat

  4. Love this project I feelthe same about these lovely chairs.............I have upholstered three of them, my own, and am now down to the last two and I love doing it. xx

  5. Some people would disagree on the looks of winged chairs, there are cheap ways on how they can be improved. Of course, not all of them are customized or upholstered. Some people acquire them as part of family heirlooms. For that it means that the design would still be antique or old.

  6. Well I think after reading your post/blog you know a great deal more than me on wingback chairs, I was lucky enough to receive two chairs from my grandmothers estate. however I know little to nothing about the chairs only that when I was little I was allowed to only sit in them on Sundays and Grandma and me would have tea. Is there anyway of finding out more info on these chairs they have been recovered I believe because I can find no identifying marks on them.. any help would be greatly appreciated.... Sincerely Angela~

    1. I am no expert, but I am sure a quick look at the chair, proportions, legs and whether there is horsehair,etc. in thei chair could help indicate some age. Wingbacks have been reproduced alot, and an upholsterer would probably be able to tell you something about the age, whether 100 years old or 30.

  7. Hi, great group of wingback chairs and was very helpful to me.
    Thank you for putting in so much time.
    I recently found this chair in it's original horsehair filled condition.

    I live on a low budget income and I am trying to decide if I should part with this chair,
    or commit to spending a low budget refurbish to save it for the next generation.
    This material I found online.
    This fabric is only $15 a yard.
    Am I committing a crime? Or do you think this is a worth while project.
    I would greatly appreciate any constructive help or comments any of you might have.

    1. Hi Dan,
      I think the chair is wonderful. It has great lines and I hope you got it. On the fabric. It looks like a modern version of the old Jacobean needlepoint and would look nice on it. A lot depends on where the chair is going, I always try to talk people into doing plainer fabric on upholstery and accenting with prints. The reason is--would you be tired of the print in 5 years? 10 years? My worry always is that the old pieces take alot of abuse being reupholstered over and over again, so my best advice is select the fabric very carefully!

  8. Hi Simone, thank you for your response.
    I do still have the chair and I purchased 10 yards of material.
    from JoAnn's fabric,of a better quality than the last sample.
    Of course the Wife hates it,reminds me of The tree of life fabric.
    A new question, until I get around to upholstering the chair
    It smells,and AM NOT EXAGGERATING. I found it in a
    carriage house of an old mansion here in PA. The horsehair
    and materials smell and have me in the dog house with the wife.
    In your opinion what should I DO?
    Most of these I see for sale are stripped to the frame
    If I take lots of photo's can or should I do this ?
    Will this lower it's value or sale appeal? Should I save everything.
    As I said in my first writing I was injured and on a limited income.
    My hope and plan is to keep this chair and let my son's
    fight over it.But I want to keep it at it's highest value for the next guy
    I talked to Tom Swenke Auction's,as he had a frame for sale and he
    said it is a circa 1810 made in New Hampshire.Rago said New England.
    If I strip it will a chair like this have a Maker's Mark?
    Thank you again ,any help is appreciated. This site is a great help. DAN

    1. I'll tell you what I would do, but you should probably consult with a professional, take this as a personal opinion only. I had the same problem with a chair. I removed all the fabric, the cotton batting, down to the horsehair. I aired it out in the sun for a few hours every day for a couple of days and it took care of the odor that was left. I kept the horsehair, but replaced all the rest and the webbing. Fabric tends to keep the odor. Of course the upholsterer always likes to use the old fabric as a pattern, so don't toss the pieces! (I suppose you can start with placing the chair - fabric and all - in the sun!)

  9. Barbara, October 7, 2013 8:36 PM ET

    I am trying to identify an antique chair, although I was told it was George the III or V, it is heavily carved, dark wood, cabriolet legs reflected in the arms scrolled, petit point upholstery is a fairy tale with a girl & boy dancing around or in front of a tree, is colorful and a unique tossel fringe around the seat. I think it looks German.

  10. Pick something you like and enjoy. I vote for chartreuse green damask.

  11. It's a beautiful chair and would look lovely with any quality upholstery options; you can bring out its antique look or its traditional look or even give it a contemporary look - much depends on what it is going to be 'sitting' with and what your preference is for! Just go for what you & your family love the most and ignore other people's choice, after all it has nothing to do with them what you choose!