My mom helped me with a reupholstering project this week. But this one has a backstory.
After he retired from politics, after decades as burgess and mayor of his town, my grandfather was superintendent of a state-run nursing home for the indigent elderly. The people who lived there had no other options. Few had any family willing to take care of them or even visit them. They had no money; in fact, in order to live there, they were required to turn over what little they had left. It could have been a sad, depressing place. But it was not. My sisters and I were small, but we loved visiting there.
Instead of running the home as a warehouse for people waiting to die, my grandfather reorganized the place to bring dignity and joy into the resident’s lives. He made sure everyone had at least a little bit of spending money, and arranged for bus trips to town so they could shop, even if it was just for a pack of gum or a book of crossword puzzles. He carved up part of the grounds into garden plots for any residents who wanted one, and provided seeds, tools, and physical labor so they could grow what they wanted there. Several of the women loved to bake; he gave them access to the kitchens and whatever ingredients they requested. My sister and I loved to sit on stools in the kitchen, making pies with them. He brought in a family friend who was a hairdresser so the women could have their hair done if they wanted to.
And he provided a workshop, tools, and wood to a man who was actually the staff handyman, but who was also an experienced woodworker with nowhere to pursue his passion.
I don’t remember the man’s name. But he built various tables, chairs, and desks (I have one of his desks in front of me now). And most memorably, he built sturdy, oak stools based on a simple but elegant design. Some had hard linoleum tops, while others were upholstered with bright red or green chenille. The small stools were roughly a foot high, some of them square and some rectangular. Others were barstool height. And some were chair height.
In addition to the small desk, I have at least three of the little stools around the house, and one of the barstools. And then there is this larger one, as you see in the photo, suitable for use as an ottoman or piano bench. This stool is more than 60 years old, and still as sturdy as ever. Until this week, it even had its original upholstery, bright red chenille.
For years, I’d wavered about whether to reupholster the stool. The chenille was original, stretched over the cushion by the hands of that elderly craftsman I vaguely remember from when I was a small child. But bright red chenille does not match anything in my house. And after sixty years, it was frayed and worn.
I decided to do it. My mom was here for Christmas, and unlike me, she has upholstery experience. So we bought some fabric, and over the weekend, she recovered the old stool. And here is the result. I wish I’d taken a “before” shot, but I didn’t think about it until it was too late. So you’ll just have to imagine this with a slightly ratty but still vivid red fuzzy-ish cushion, instead of the new blue and green paisley pattern. The red is still underneath the new fabric, so we haven’t destroyed history; we’ve just recovered it.