Last weekend I went up Sebastopol, California to visit my friend HD and celebrate the birthday of my 89 year old friend Edith. However, I also had another reason. I was bringing HD a chair for his living room.
HD lives in a lovely small farmhouse, vintage 1920, that sits in middle of an ancient apple orchard. He has carefully updated the two bedroom house without changing its essential nature. He put real linoleum on the floors in the kitchen, breakfast nook and bathroom. Much like what was there originally. The wood floors in the rest of the rooms are original though they have been refinished. The kitchen still has the Wedgewood gas stove from the 50s when the previous owner updated the kitchen with this new one. Other than a built-in floor to ceiling bookcase in the dining room, insulation, new wiring and plumbing and a wood burning stove in the living room, the old house has been left untouched - its character intact.
HD is a collector with an eye for the spare. He has not overcrowded his house with stuff. He has selected carefully art work: both abstract and plein air, 30s pottery, kachinas, the most interesting lamps, in otherwords he collects with care not to overwhelm the simplicity of the house.
Early this year, HD reupholstered the old couch a friend gave him. He mentioned to me that he was going to reupholster his reading chair which he keeps covered with a striped blanket possibly from the 40s. It occurred to me that the chair I had just had reupholstered that was now sitting wrapped up in a blanket in my garage might be the perfect chair for his living room. It is vintage 1940s. A friend found it abandoned on a sidewalk in San Francisco. This is a common practice for those things that don’t sell at a weekend garage sale. They are left on corner with a sign tacked on saying ‘FREE.’
I did not see the chair in its original state. My introduction to it was when it was sitting in my friend’s bedroom, covered in Italian polyester the color of dried hydrangea leaves. Decadent New Orleans was the decorating style of my friend, B, and the chair fit perfectly into the dark gloom of her bedroom. She was the midst of taking an upholstery class and this had been her first project. She told me to sit in it and tell her what I thought.
Sinking into the down filled seat cushion, I leaned back. The down back cushion had an internal lumbar cushion that pressed gently into the small of my back instantly relieving the tension across my lower back and hips. The chair enveloped me, hugged me to it. All cares drained away. I was instantly in love! I told B if she ever wanted to sell it to please, please let me buy it from her. Apparently I was one of many who had said the same thing.
Three years ago, B lost her apartment of 37 years to a condo conversion. She began the process of downsizing and decided to sell the chair to me. I wrote the check on the spot and carted the chair home immediately. I put it in my den. It would be the perfect reading chair. I sat down in it, adjusted my reading lamp, put my feet up on the stool and started to read. The chair drew me down in to its softness and repose. Within minutes I found myself fast to sleep. This happened every time I sat in it. More and more I found myself reading in the living room in the less comfortable chair. At least I could stay awake.
Two years ago, I moved from my house into a condo, and began getting rid of furniture. However, not this chair. Its formal fabric did not go well in my new place so I asked B if she would be willing to reupholster it for me before she moved away to the South. She had decided she could not afford to live in the Bay Area anymore. She agreed and I found a green and white cotton fabric that fit the old chair very nicely. I also had the arm repaired. The dowel that held the upholstered arm to the back of the chair had been broken a long time ago before I bought it.
The month before B moved, she brought the chair with its new upholstery over and it took two of us to maneuver the chair down the hall and into its spot by the fireplace. That night, I turned on my reading lamp and settle into the chair. I opened my book. As I began to read the first page my eyelids grew heavy, by the third page I was dozing and, well, after that I was sound to sleep. And there I stayed until I heard Beansie, the tiniest of my three Siamese cats, clawing the back of the chair.
Suddenly awake, I jumped from the chair and shooed him away. To my knowledge none of the cats had ever clawed the chair before. Until now, they didn’t even sit in it because they didn’t like the polyester fabric which was slick and could be very hot in summer and cold in winter. However, this new pattern continued every time I would sit down in the chair. I would instantly fall asleep and Beansie would start in on the chair. The chair began to annoy me. I wanted to read, I didn’t want to sleep. So I moved to the sofa that was more upright and not as enclosing. This did not stop Beansie from going after the chair. Now sitting on the sofa, I realized I didn’t like the chair in the room. It didn’t really fit with the contemporary sofa and the Japanese antiques in the living room. I had ceased to enjoy the chair.
My grandson and I moved it into my garage three weeks after B and I had moved it in. In its place I put the rattan chair (which had been in the garage) that had the semi comfortable seat and back pillow. I bought this chair when I was in graduate school for my home office when I was reading all of George Elliot’s books for my orals. It was natural rattan in a contemporary design. It was a chair I could not fall asleep in.
HD loved the old chair the minute we took it out of my SUV. He loved it even more when we put it in his living room. It looked like it had always been in that lovely bright room with the windows which look out onto the orchard. I warned him the chair was seductively comfortable. He just smiled back at me as he sunk into its depths.
This week I got a postcard from him. It read:
Only one problem, all progress has ceased around my place – I cannot get out of my new chair! I love it!