1890s Turkish Couch wins 2013 IAA award

Buckminster Upholstery

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This project won an Award of Excellence in the upholstery category of the Industrial Fabrics Association International's International Achievement Awards (IAA).

This 1890s Turkish couch was introduced to me in the early 1980s when a friend purchased it from an antique shop in Omaha, Neb. It was in original condition but badly worn and beyond any kind of normal use. Tufts of leather were broken away, exposing horse hair padding along with being "chapped," dry and dirty. The exposed wood finish was in remarkably unblemished condition but was dull and cloudy. Rather than stripping and refinishing, I chose only cleaning and waxing. There were several structural repairs to address. Stretchers had pulled apart and many "scab" blocks were missing. Portions of carved lion's mane had separated and fallen off in storage. Frame repairs were done using animal hide glue. The original springs and corrogated support wires needed to be disassembled, polished clean and clear-coated with lacquer. The deck and edge wires needed to be replaced utilizing one of my many custom wire bending jigs. A duck cloth foundation was stitched to the springing and marked out with the button placement. Calculating and laying out the tufting was very exacting, along with cording and serpentined banding.

After 20 years of admiring this couch, my friend and I struck a deal and it was mine. Having to take on a couch this complex with no paycheck to back up the time spent spread the job out several years. I had to work on it a week now and then, sometimes pushing it aside a few months or a year. All told, this took several months of work to complete, putting in literally hundreds of hours. Counting and making the buttons alone was a task. Every fold is filled with horse hair, taking small tufts at a time to carfully shape the leather. The diamond tufting alone took weeks of work. Serpentined banding can take an hour to complete just a few inches. Two regulators are used to divide the opposing folds in the leather while tufts of hair are tucked on either side to create the "serpentined" effect. The original craftsman utilized many very short scraps of leather and made a somewhat sloppy banding. I trued up the cording lines and folds, making the banding much nicer. Attention to nail trim placement was another area of improvement over the original craftsmanship. Approximately 25 pounds of hair was used in filling the couch.

I have a friend that often says "an artist always erases his work." There are a number of things I see that I'm critical of, however the average person sees a piece of furniture like this as a whole. They don't see a crooked fold or shallow diamond like I do. That said, having as many years experience working on this type of upholstery, and in view of the original craftsmanship presented to me, I feel in many ways this is better than new.

Project details

Company: Buckminster Upholstery
Location: Falls City, Neb.

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