Avoiding a Bad Leather Day

My recent purchase of an L. & J. G. Stickley model #497 heavy armchair, which is called a Morris chair with a fixed back, prompted me to seek out a local upholsterer experienced with leather. In an effort to provide her with a photograph of what the new seat and back cushion should look like, I consulted a number of reference books and auction catalogs. To my amazement I discovered how few reupholstered pieces actually duplicated the look of the original Arts and Crafts cushions.

Here, then, are a few tips to make sure your new upholstery looks as Arts and Crafts as your chair:

1. Find photographs of the original form in a reprint catalog or museum publication. Make copies or even enlargements to show your upholsterer the details of an original Arts and Crafts cushion.

2. Avoid excessive use of ‘cording.’ This is an actual cord often sewn into every seam. While it can be found on some Arts and Crafts cushions, it generally is only on the sides of a seat or back cushion. Most often, the front of a seat cushion featured a ‘waterfall’ effect wherein the top and front were a single piece without any seam to rub against the back of your leg (see photos).

3. No ‘rabbit ears’ on back cushions. The top of the back cushion should be tucked at the right and left hand corners rather than meeting in a point.

4. No over-stuffed cushions. Too many upholsterers will simply cut a piece of foam to the desired dimensions, then jam it into the upholstery cover. The result is either a cushion that looks like it was cut on a table sawn or pumped up like the Pillsbury Dough Boy.

5. Finally, while I don’t have any firm historical basis for this, consider a color other than brown. For Craftsman homes, Gustav Stickley recommended “a color scheme such as Nature herself would use — the varying tones of green [and] deep russet.” Every Arts and Crafts leather cushion I own is some shade of brown, but I picked for this chair an upholstery leather dyed a Grueby green.

As Stickley also wrote, “colors may be used and combined so that there is neither monotony nor discord.”

I hope this helps!

– Bruce

Top Photo: A correct “waterfall” effect for a leather seat.

Lower Photo: Too much cording and too over-stuffed!