Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Preserving History: A restoration story

The recent exhibition at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts "Napolean: Symbols of Power" got us to thinking about a restoration and reupholstery project we did last year for the Shirley-Eustis House Museum in Roxbury, MA.

These beautiful Empire era pieces were in desperate need of careful restoration and it was very important that any repair work be undertaken with the greatest thought and knowledge of historically accurate methods and techniques.

Once stripped, it became apparent that a previous upholsterer had altered the frame and harmed the structural integrity of the sofa.

The antique sofa from the Shirley Eustis House was originally constructed with three evenly spaced hardwood bars from side to side. These “stretchers” fastened the front of the frame to the back, providing stability and strength to the frame (see red arrows on Figure A). Next webbing was applied on top of the frame from front to back and woven through side to side. The next step was to cover the webbing with a layer of horsehair topped with a layer of cotton for padding and covered with fabric, creating the decking for a cushion. (See Figure B) Next a loose cushion was placed on top of the decking.

At some point in the past the sofa was reupholstered. Whoever performed the work cut the stretchers out, added wood to the underside of the frame (see green arrows on Figure A) to which was covered with webbing. Springs were used to form a fully upholstered seat, eliminating the cushion. This frame was not designed to handle springs, and the jerry-rigged method by which it was altered left the frame weak and subject to damage, which is exactly what happened.


Figure A

Figure B

Figure C

Walter, in consultation with furniture historian Edward S. Cooke, Jr., editor of Upholstery in America & Europe from the Seventeenth Century to World War I, (Norton, 1987) came up with the recommended repair work on this beautiful piece.

Stretchers were once again built into the seat and new wood was applied to the sides and back for structural integrity.

New webbing added to the seat and arms.

The seat and back are padded with cotton and horsehair, just as it would have been when new. A new cushion is made, also using cotton padding and horsehair.

The finished sofa - back where it belongs!

We want to thank the Shirley-Eustis House for entrusting us with the repair of these beautiful pieces of furniture - and history.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Media Talk: This Old House

This Old House Newton Project - image courtesy of, photo by Anthony Tieuli

Heller Furniture has been tapped to create a custom kitchen banquette and several box cushions for the latest This Old House project in Newton, MA. Walter Heller and Tommy Silva meet to discuss the kitchen built-in banquette.

This beautiful old Victorian is a beehive of activity as they prepare to finish up the project in the next couple of months.

Watch the webcam and get a sneak peak!

For more photos of this amazing home - check out

Project interior design Abbey Koplovitz of AbbeyK, Inc., who brought us into the project, is showcasing this renovation on her blog On Interior Design. She includes images of her design boards and fabric samples and other interesting tidbits about the project.

And finally - the hardworking homeowners - Paul Friedberg and Maddy Krauss - are blogging on their experience here on Old House My House. Lots of interior shots are available!

This Old House Newton is currently airing on PBS stations around the country. Check your local listings and check back here for updates on our work on this exciting project!

Beacon Hill Trunk Show

We hosted a very fun designer event and luncheon yesterday. Devin Arbabi, sales rep for Beacon Hill / Robert Allen fabrics showed us their new fall lines of fabrics and trims. They are really beautiful and her enthusiasm is catching!

Thanks to all of the designers for taking time out of your schedules to come over and spend time with us and a big thanks to Devin for all your hardwork as well!

Slip on a slip cover

Here is a recent project just completed in the workroom. These slipper chairs were treated to fresh new fabrics and pillows.


After (note, pillows actually for sofa)

Well tailored slipcovers can be the perfect option for furniture that is still in good shape structurally or if you want to be able to change the look with the seasons. A well made slipcover such as this is not necessarily a lot less expensive that a full reupholstery job, however. It takes a lot of hours and fittings to get the size just right. The desiger was able to specify such detailing as a banded hem and inverted pleats in a contrast color. Even the direction of the small stripe was discussed. A lot of work, but, as you can see, the outcome can be fabulous!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I'm ready for my closeup, Mr. Heller

Heller Furniture was tapped to make this beautiful upholstered headboard for the production of the new movie "The Women" , which is currently filming in Boston. Based on the Claire Boothe Luce satirical play about the idle lives of wealthy women and divorcees, the all-woman cast stars Meg Ryan, Candice Bergan, Eva Mendes,Annette Bening and Jada Pinkett-Smith.

The classic 1939 movie version starred Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer and Rosalind Russell.

Of course, we don't know which character will be lounging in the bed, but my bet is on Meg Ryan, the sweet but not that sweet woman who loses her husband to the conniving Eva Mendes, only to win him back. Much of the 1939 movie was set in this characters' bedroom.
We'll just have to wait and see. The movie is set for a 2008 release.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Green Sofa - When what is old is new again

Why a green sofa?

The craft of custom upholstering gives you the choice of owning furniture that is comfortable and aesthetically pleasing, yet insures that you are surrounding yourself with materials that are healthy for you and the environment.

What is “comfort”? It varies from person to person. The perception of comfort changes with the use – what we find comfortable in a dining room or office or formal living room is not at all comfortable in the great room or media room. The style and sizing of the piece as well as the materials used all need to work in harmony to create a truly comfortable –really livable - piece of furniture.

There is no doubt - all of the options and benefits of a custom upholstered piece of furniture come at a higher up-front cost. But like our ancestors, shouldn’t we get back to the mind-set that furniture is meant to last a lifetime?

It is becoming more apparent that the chemicals that allowed for less expensive woods and materials to be used in our homes and furnishings have come at a long term cost – to our health and even to our pocket books. Overtime, many people have experienced an overload to their immune systems causing, among other things, higher rates of allergies and asthma in children. Additionally, products made from lower quality materials have a much shorter “shelf” life than those made from the old school methods. It’s hard to imagine that much of what we purchase at retail today will become tomorrow’s antiques. Yet, it is the antiques in our homes that are actually the “greenest” products we own. Made prior to the “chemical” revolution, antique furniture and rugs, made with all natural materials such as silk, cotton, wool, hardwoods and vegetable dyes, have lasted longer and are ultimately less expensive to the pocket book and the environment over their lifetime.

The Green Sofa by Heller Furniture is based on a design by Benjamin Thomson, FAIA, renowned architect and founder of Design|Research, Cambridge.

Available exclusively through Sedia, Inc. Boston.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Mohair Wing Chair

This wing chair was recently recovered in a luxurious russet colored mohair.

Mohair is shorn from the Angora goat. No to be confused with an Angora Rabbit, the angora goat is thought to originate from the mountains of Tibet making their way to Turkey in the 16th century. Until 1849 the Turkish province of Ankarra was the sole producer of Angora goats. Charles V is believed to be the first to bring Angora goats to Europe. In 1849 Angora goats made their way to America as a gift from Turkey. Today South Africa and the United States are the largest mohair producers, with the majority of Amerian mohair being produced in Texas.

Mohair is composed mostly of keratin, a protein substance similar to wool. Mohair is one of the oldest textile fibers in use. It is both durable and resilient. It is notable for its high luster and sheen, and is often used in fiber blends to add these qualities to a textile. Mohair also takes dye exceptionally well. Mohair has great insulating properties, making it warm. It is also durable, moisture-wicking, stretch and flame resistant, and crease resistant. Mohair increases its diameter with the age of the goat, growing along with the animal. This means fine hair from younger animals is used for finer applications such as clothing, and the thicker hair from older animals is more often used for carpets and heavy fabrics intended for outerwear.

Furniture upholstered with mohair fabric is undeniably beautiful. One needs to take care, however, with how it will be applied. Because it's so thick, it is best to use mohair on pieces that have basic tailoring - such as this chair. Mohair would be a poor choice for anything with skirting or gathers.

Even the welting is usually done in a different material, such as the leather shown on this piece. (Welting is the cording that runs between joined pieces).

It's always important to remember that not every fabric will work for every job. When in doubt, ask a reputable upholsterer for his or her advice. They've generally seen it all and can help you steer clear of disappointment.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Carved Furniture Program

In addition to custom furniture and reupholstering of antiques, Heller Furniture offers a carved furniture program. There are many styles and size frames available which are then upholstered in the fabric of your choice. From a single accent chair such as this lovely bergere chair covered in embroidered linen, to a set of dining room chairs - there's something for everyone with this option!

Frame images courtesy of Ressler Importers, Inc.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Preserving Family Memories

This sad looking chair was actually a cherished family piece, as it belonged to our clients' Grandmother. At some point in its long history, it had been treated to an at home upholstery job. As you can see, time had taken its toll and this little antique chair was in need of some major TLC.

All the webbing and padding was replaced and the original springs were cleaned and tightened.

We refinished the woodwork and re-covered it in a classic style fabric. And now our clients have a lovely piece that will be able to take center stage and honor their family memories in style!

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Media Talk - Heller Furniture in Patriot Ledger

click image for readable view

Valerie A. Russo included Heller Furniture in today's "In the Shops" column in The Patriot Ledger. Click here to see how this beautiful sofa was made.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Anatomy of a Custom Sofa

Hot off the workroom floor is this lovely custom built sofa. This piece was made to the exacting specifications of a successful Massachusetts designer and her equally exacting client. This piece was designed to be used as a banquette for the table in the clients' newly renovated kitchen. Set within a niche and a curved shelf, the sofa was templated on site so that it would fit perfectly within the space.

Here are some images of the making of this lovely piece.

Spring coils are attached to a base of strong webbing for a supportive and comfortable seat.

The springs are then hand tied together . Wrapped coils are applied to the back as is coconut fiber - an all-natural product - for padding.

The fabric - in this case a soft tapestry chenille - is applied. The skirt is fully lined, the arms well padded and comfortable and the back is tufted.

Although this piece of furniture was designed to fit into a niche, it will be usable for years to come in any location the homeowners look to put it.