Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My Swedish Furniture Makeover

Several years ago I found some wonderful Swedish antique furniture. It was covered in dirty muslin and desperately needed to be reupholstered.
Here is the bench, notice the tear on left side. The muslin was stapled on.
Two wonderful Bergere chairs - also notice the tear on the right chair and the awful stained upholstery fabric on the cushions. I also had two sweet Swedish side chairs which I did not take before photos of.
I searched for several years (really!) to find just the perfect linen fabric. It proved easy once I met Wendy Lewis of Textile Trunk. I spoke to her directly and mentioned I wanted hand woven linen, over a hundred years old, with a fine weave and soft drape- not nubby like like my grain sack pillows - more formal and soft. I vacillated on whether to have a grain sack stripe going down the front of the chairs, that is so popular these days, but in the end I decided to stick with what I am most comfortable with - the classics.

Wendy immediately sent me a few samples to review - each was more beautiful that one before. I decided on the gorgeous linen above. The seven stripes are just on the very end of the roll. The weaver most likely could not read or write and this combination of color, width and number of stripes was her signature. The stripes remain my favorite part of the roll and I intend to make them into small pillows to honor the time and effort put into this beautiful fabric by a unknown woman of long ago.
With such beautiful antique furniture and antique fabric that had touched such a sentimental cord with me, I was nervous to just let any upholsterer work on this project. What to do? I contact my bloggy friend, Linda Merrill of the famous Surroundings and The Skirted Round Table, for some direction. Another blessing, when Linda pointed me in the direction of Master Upholsterer, Heller Furniture. Above is photo of my Bergere Chair deconstructed.

A Czech by birth, Walter Heller is a master craftsman. His roots are firmly anchored in his extensive European training which began as an apprentice saddler and tapiezer in Bavaria, Germany, at the age of 14. For over 40 years, Heller has been working with architects, project managers, interior designers and residential clients to produce upholstered custom furniture. His knowledge of antique furniture and his attention to detail is outstanding. Once I met him and his assistant, Nancy, I breathed a sigh of relief that my furniture and fabric were the hands of a master! Thank you Linda, Walter and Nancy!

Walter's knowledge was exceptional - he showed me the jute webbing under the chair. He mentioned that although jute was generally used in a chair this age, this jute had been replaced- and poorly done as it was too sparse and would not provide good support.
He also showed me the chair joints which were loose. This was caused by the stripping of the furniture. These pieces, he said, were clearly dipped in Lye. Lye is wonderful for removing paint quickly but it also dissolves the wood glue that holds these pieces together and ultimately loosens the joints over time. Walter was able to re glue and screw the joints to strengthen the chairs.
Here is the chair being covered,. Notice the top, front, back panel of the chair. The upholstery stuffing is bumping out or "crowning" here to create a noticeable arc of padding. This is the way the chair was intended to look. Better photos of this effect below.
Antique fabrics do not generally match exactly in terms of color but Walter was able to use different shades in different areas of the chairs to create a visually perfect match.
Here the seat cushions for the Bergere chairs are being crafted.
I had a limited amount of fabric. He was able to use the linen so conservatively that I had enough left over to make pillows. Amazing!
Walter explained that the best furniture has nailed muslin covering - if you see staples, that is a sign that the quality may not be the best underneath!
Here is the finished bench at Walter's Workshop. He had to rebuild the cushion and the effect is fabulous. Notice the two seams down the front of the bench, the match is incredible.
Nail head trim or double welting are traditional in Swedish Upholstery - I prefer the double welting - notice the attention to detail.
Here is the Bergere Chair finished in the workroom. This is a better photo to highlight the upholstery bumping out and "crowning" on front upper back panel of the chair.
Double welting detail
Amazing work on the sides and arms of the chairs
Here are my pieces waiting to be picked up
And here they are in my Conservatory - waiting for my final decorating touches!
The Swedish bench with gorgeous antique, original grain sack pillows by textile artist, Kym Fraser of Three Fine Grains.
One (of my pair) of sweet Swedish chairs in front of my Mora Clock (just a peek as I am working on an upcoming post about the clock)

Finding the right fabrics and upholsterer can be a daunting task, but when you put all the right pieces together you can re-create beautiful furniture worthy of another hundred years.

For more information on Wendy Lewis of Textile Trunk and her lovely antique fabrics click here. For information on Master Craftsman and Upholsterer, Walter Heller and Heller Furniture click here. Don't forget to mention you heard about them on Willow Decor.

(all photos property of Willow Decor and Heller Furniture and not to be used without permission)


  1. Wonderful and informative post! Your Swedish furniture and antique linen is exqusite! Thnak you so very much for sharing this with us! I look forward to learning more abou the Mora clock. Take care, Laura

  2. Gina - so glad you used Walter and it all came out so beautifully!

  3. Wow - loved seeing this post! I always have so much admiration for people who are so skilled at their profession. Your chairs look great! I can't wait to see your upcoming post.

  4. Ooooh Gina - what a post. Your furniture, first of all, is amazing. The time and thought that you put into bringing it back to life, and the right way, is unbelievable. It's so romantic and such a tribute to that lovely furniture. I love Wendy, she is fabulous, and the fabric you got from her is beyond words. The explanation of the stripes, and the fact that you are going to use that piece of the fabric in honor of the unknown woman - seriously teared me up.
    Your furniture is stunning, and I love how many people's talent and love went into bringing it back to it's glory - and more. Stunning.
    xo isa

  5. Gina,

    I am soooo green with envy! These are gorgeous and cleaned up so well! I know you will enjoy for many years!

    Blessings to ya!


  6. They look gorgeous! The fabric looks great on them, you must be so happy to have those beauties at your home!

  7. Gina- they are absolutely gorgeous and I'm so glad you walked us through this transformation completed by a true craftsman. I'm SO jealous of your treasures and they look lovely in your conservatory. Can't wait to see your finishing touches on the room.
    Great post.

  8. Oh what a joy to see such a beautiful transformation. Such beautiful fabric and such master craftsmen. Thank you for such an informative post... a wonderful read over my morning coffee!!A-M xx

  9. All gorgeous!! That bench I would love to see it in my entry hal!!! Wonderful!


  10. What a wonderful makeover.

    Do you know of anyone who refinishes in the Swedish whitewash look? I don't want "faux-finish-painters" who are hiding under every rock. I want the real deal. I'd love some suggestions in that area.

  11. MMW,
    I am so sorry but I do not know anyone specifically. I do think a good faux painter could probably give you the look you are hoping for

  12. An answer to prayer, that's what this post is! I have 2 bergere chair frames and am going to upholster them but it is the first project I have attempted from the frame up so have scoured the local library, internet etc looking for help, all to no avail. Thanks to this post I will have a good idea where to start and although the end product will most certainly lack the precision and expertise of your own, they will bring much satisfaction. Thanks so much.

  13. Gina, thanks for ruining my night. thanks.
    i am so jealous i am green right now!! it is so gorgeous! wow! what furniture, what a master upholsterer. you did a wonderful job - I want that furniture! will you send it down to me tomorrow, por favor?

    seriously - it is absolutley gorgeous!!!!

  14. Wow! They turned out so beautifully. It was certainly worth the years of waiting to find the perfect fabric and upholsterer. Well done. The attention to detail is meticulous. I admire your vision and patience.

    Karen @ Elderberry Street

  15. Beautiful and classy, just the right touch! A tribute to Antique Swedish design at it's best.

    What a great upholsterer.

    Says Ingela from Sweden

  16. exquisite pieces and such fine detail.

    if i had my own showroom and had to pick a particular case good to specialize in.

    it would be CHAIRS.
    i think chairs determine the personality of a room.


  17. *** Absolutely stunning!!! (And I think I am greatly "IN-LIKE" with your most TALENTED UPHOLSTERER!!!

    Just beautiful & sooo full of "personality"!
    Linda in AZ ***

  18. Wow that chair looks gorgeous, nothing like what Ikea makes :). I must say, the work on that furniture is outstanding and just makes you want to sit down in that comfy looking chair and read a good old book by a fire in your fireplace. What a dream...

    Thanks for the post, Ella

  19. Hi Gina,
    I enjoyed this post so much. What gorgeous furniture and what beautiful craftsmanship of the reupholstering...I think it is easy sometimes to be so excited in wanting something to be put in a room but seriously this was so worth waiting for and let's face it any linen is so beautiful. Gotta love linen!!! Thanks for sharing and I can't wait to see the story of your Mora clock - 'cause I couldn't help but notice the gorgeous wreath on the front of the clock.

    Have a great day and take care.

    Love Janine
    Tasmania, Australia

  20. So...
    I just found your blog today and already I hate you. ;) I mean that in the nicest way possible! You have the furniture of my dreams. I have been doing Swedish Country in my house on the cheap (and I mean CHEAP cheap) for the past 6 or 7 years. I have maybe 3 pieces in my house that are about half as fabulous as the pieces you blogged about today. And to top it all off, you have a Mora clock?!?! It is the one tangible thing I want more than anything else in this world. You are one lucky lady!
    Seriously, you have found a devoted reader in me!

  21. Can I just tell you, I am in LOVE with every piece of furniture you have shown!!! Your whole blog for that matter :) I'll definitely be back to this lovely blog of yours!!

    :) T

  22. What an amazing transformation Gina! And your Conservatory is the perfect place for these pieces to be 'resting' gracefully in. I wander if the craftmanship the like of Walter's is being carried on by Gen Y, it would be a tragedy if it wasn't.
    Millie ^_^

  23. I must say its really nice. It looks comfy too.

  24. Love that swedish style furniture. What a great job he did.

  25. Things that make you say " ! W O W ! "

  26. Wonderful to find such beautiful pieces and someone with the skill to do them justice.

  27. I love everything about this furniture. THIS is my style of furniture and why I am such a fan of your blog. The pieces look beautiful and I am absolutely in love with 3 Fine Grains. The real deal is too expensive for me, so I have to hand paint my own to look like these pillows. Thanks for sharing...I've drooled all over my laptop.

  28. Hello! You've done such beautiful job with your chairs. Please allow me feature them in blog this Sunday. Thank you! Best, Vanessa

  29. I am soooo green with envy! These are gorgeous and cleaned up so well! I know you will enjoy for many years!

    Blessings to ya!


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