Staff photo by Joshua Curry
Lynn Harris of Abracadabra recovers a chair for a client in her downtown shop after making a few minor repairs to make the vintage piece sturdy and usable again.
The magic of refurbishing, refinishing and reupholstering is in the air. Reviving old furniture or repurposing furniture to fit into a new space is becoming more the trend, said Lynn Harris, local furniture magician and owner of Abracadabra Decor, which she founded in 2006.
Harris is known as a purist in the field, reupholstering pieces from the inside out by fitting them with springs, and padding them to either match or imitate the original stuffing. She refinishes the framework as well to either mock its original form, or to create a new look altogether by staining or painting it to fit into its new home.
“These days, unless you buy really expensive pieces,” Harris said, “most new furniture won’t last. It’s made with … white pine, plywood or cardboard.”
Such furniture has a lifespan of five to 10 years. Solid Oak furniture of the 20th century can be expected to last 100 years or more.
The in with the old and out with the new philosophy that is emerging during this era of frugality allows for a lot more than saving money, Harris said. Refurbishing furniture gives homeowners an opportunity to explore their creativity by redesigning furniture to fit their needs.
“Not every antique is valuable,” Harris said. “Sometimes it’s just old.”
Most furniture made before the 90s is going to be solid oak, Harris said. She advises that if and when such furniture is handed down or seen in the trash heap, it be kept.
“Well-loved pieces can be revamped and loved all over again.”
Choosing fabric alone can be both thrilling and challenging. Trends are overrated when it comes to upholstery, Harris said. “It’s so house-specific,” she said. “In older homes with an antique theme, people usually choose the brocades, damasks or silks with either traditional floral patterns, stripes or tone on tone patterns.”
In homes with more modern decor, recovering antique furniture in more coeval fabric can renew dated pieces.
“Painting frames gold or silver and covering cushions with matching fabric has become popular, especially at the beach,” Harris said.
Harris said outdoor furniture can be completely transformed by adding a nice, bright, Sunbrella™ fabric that is completely water-resistant and won’t fade as easily as other outdoor fabric choices.
Her shop is crowded with pieces in progress. Couches are in full recovery mode, being transformed from plaid plainness to an elegant, pale yellow with a loose, wispy design running the length of the fabric. Antique and vintage chairs alike are covered, cut, trimmed and lined to perfection. Harris said there’s a lot more to reupholstering than putting a piece of fabric on furniture. She hand-ties all springs and the webbing that connects them to the frame. The re-tying process alone can take up to two days.
Harris uses a 1950s Singer sewing machine, an old Defiance Button machine and dated tools. She said she sticks to the old way whenever she can for good reason.
“Things used to be made well. They were made to last,” Harris said.
Curtis Martin, of Martin Custom Woodworking and Antique Restoration, has been restoring furniture and working with upholsterers in the Wilmington area for 15 years and in Greensboro for 15 years before that. Martin said business has really picked up in the last couple of years. “People are being more economical,” he said.
Martin works closely with several upholsterers in town and says that it’s usually a team effort. “When we’re commissioned to build furniture, its more of a communal design,” Martin said. “We work with designers and upholsterers to make sure that it all comes together.”