Mad Men Chair – Part 2

I finished this chair a few weeks ago, but I’ve forgotten to take photos of the finished product. But first, let me define mid-century modern. For me, mid-century modern (or mcm) is hard to describe, but I know it when I see it. The term can apply to homes, furniture, architecture, even graphic design and fashion, popular among designers and cities across the globe from the mid 1930’s to late 1960’s. Mcm furniture can be described as crisp, with sweeping lines and sharp, geometric shapes. Before the 1950s, furniture was more elaborate and involved complicated lines and adornments, mostly adopted from common European furniture styles that were still being used centuries later. Mid-century designers were modernists, and their furniture embodied their ideas of the world and society. They valued simplicity and streamlined their pieces accordingly. Their designs were high-quality, often using materials that were uncommon for fine furniture such as teak, stainless steel, chrome, and bright bold colors. Want to see more styles? A quick Google search and you’ll see the most popular designs of Charles and Ray Eames, Arne Jacobsen, Mies van der Rohe, and Eero Saarinen. I’ll bet you recognize them, and you never realized the enormous impact their furniture has had on home and office design.


But back to my Mad Men chair. This blog post from yesterday showed the before, during, and even my inspiration photo for the finished chair. The hardest part was the upholstery. I tried to stay as true to the original upholstery style as possible, including making the cording around the top edge of the seat cushion and small pieces on each arm. Aside from a little simple sewing, it was a learning experience in how simple folding and a ton of staples in the right place can make anyone a professional in upholstery. The result? A really sleek and finished look.


The color is Varathane Dark Walnut gel stain, the first time I’ve used a gel stain. It didn’t get as dark as I hoped for, so I built the color up by reapplying 3 additional coats. Still a bit more wood grain showing than I hoped for, but I couldn’t get it any darker without losing the chocolate color. Then 3 coats of polyurethane in semi-gloss. Typically mid-century modern wood furniture has a matte or satin finish, but I used what I had on hand. And I knew I wanted it to have a strong finish to resist wear, so the step up in level of shine will be ok for me. Can you see the stitching on the seat cushion and back? It’s subtle, but the lines are there. It might be barely noticeable, but it breaks up the large surface of the seat and back.


The fabric was in the clearance bin at Joanne’s, I bought all that was left. It’s a tweed of some sort, reminds me of ground black pepper. It’s actually a bit darker in person than these photos show.


Seven (7) nail head brads just like the original also. Except they were gold/brass originally, but that color didn’t look right with the gray fabric. I found them in silver at a big box home store and I really like how they came out. You can see the seam on the back of the cushion in the photo above, but that’s exactly how the old one was done also. So that’s what I tried to replicate.


Of the 4 casters, they don’t all match. They are 2 and 2 of the same. You can also see in this photo that each leg has a dark brown cap, originally plastic, which I believe is meant to protect the legs when you set your feet on them. Two (2) were cracked and looked terrible, so I removed them during the tear-apart. I knew I would never find anything to replace them with, so I made new ones out of walnut stained with leather dye. They match is uncanny. You can see above one remaining that has the corner slightly broken off, but I chalk that up as character.

So here is where I started (almost, I forgot a true “before” photo).


And below is my new desk chair. You can see the stitched lines on the seat and back really well in this photo. And its comfortable, oh my is it comfortable. It wobbles a little bit because of the metal structure (which I did nothing but clean really well), and it squeaks a little, but overall its a very sturdy piece.


So let me add up my expenses.

$10   Chair purchase
$16   Fabric
$  9   Stain
$  5   Upholstery trim

$40   Total, and probably 10 total hours.

Not bad when other similar Paoli chairs are listed for $250, $275, $365, and up on such sites as Ebay, Etsy, and Apartment Therapy. Not bad at all.

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  1. #1 by Jane on March 5, 2014 - 12:07 PM

    I remember the day you bought this chair. It looks amazing, great job. Love reading your posts!

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