Mad Men Chair – Part 1

That’s what I call it, because I am enamored with mid-century modern furniture as so often seen on the popular AMC television series Mad Men, set in New York City in the 1960’s. The fashion, the furniture, and the social context they build in this series had me hooked. And now I have my own Mad Men chair.

It was probably over a year ago, shopping with a friend at a nearby independent furniture store that I first saw it. The store was having a “retirement & going out of business sale.” Lots of new beautiful furniture, but even on sale it was all a bit out of my budget. First floor, upper floor, full of wonderful items to draw inspiration and future wants. But then the basement is where I saw it. A mid-century upholstered office chair, low to the ground and on casters. It just had “that look.” But it was broken, in the corner, and probably not supposed to be out where the shoppers could see it.

So I found the owner and asked her about it. She laughed. In a store full of deeply discounted new furniture, I wanted the broken old chair in the corner that was probably supposed to be in the trash a week ago and someone forgot about it. “Yep, that’s what I want!” I offered her $10, and the owner declared, “sold!”

Turns out once I got it home, it was a pretty popular chair made by the furniture company Paoli out of Indiana. The Paoli Chair (turns out they made lots of similar styles, all now very popular on Ebay). My chair even had the original label stapled underneath, dated 1963!

Unfortunately, I started taking it apart before thinking to take photos. Can you tell I’m not a professional blogger? Anyway, below is another chair just like it I found on Etsy (with a price tag of over $250!), but in much nicer shape.


Just imagine it all scratched up, with the armrests almost entirely worn of their color, and the upholstery so dirty you want to wash your hands after just touching it. And not yellow. The chair I bought is green, not yellow like the one above.


So here is the main body of the chair, seat removed, and starting to strip the finish.


I even took photos of removing the upholstery, to make sure I could re-upholster it the same way and get it looking as professional as possible.


I also saved the fabric. Why? I knew I wasn’t going to re-use it on the chair, but by saving the pieces I have an exact pattern of each piece to use when cutting the new fabric I plan to use.

Once the fabric and all of those staples were removed, I used a liquid furniture refinisher to strip all of the stain off of the chair Then I wiped the wood clean with mineral spirits and a clean rag. This cleans any remaining refinishing liquid off the wood. Then I let the wood dry completely.

Next comes sanding. You could tell where the old chair had constantly banged up against a desk or wall, it almost looked as if a dog had chewed on it. I knew I couldn’t sand those spots out completely without altering the shape of the chair, but I smoothed the spots over best I could. The rest of the chair needed just light sanding. A few spots will still show a little when it is re-stained, but that gives the chair character. It shows the piece of furniture has been used and loved before I came along. When refinishing furniture, I’m not trying to make a piece look brand new, but rather respect the craftsmanship and give it another life.

I’ll reveal the finished chair in the next post. But below is a very similar chair by the same company that I used as inspiration for the finished product.

Paoli in striped gray

I’ve always been a fan of monochromatic gray, and I think gray together with wood tones results in a masculine look. The gray fabric on this one is a little light, but I really like how the back rest and seat are upholstered with the stitched lines to give it a little interest. I’m not entirely sure how to obtain that effect, especially since I’ve never done anything more than a simple fabric covered board for a seat. But I strive for perfection, and I’ll post photos of the finished chair here soon, because it turned out great!

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  1. Mad Men Chair – Part 2 | Up and Adam [Ries]

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