1950s French armchair, reupholstered in Zimmer & Rohde fabric, images courtesy of osimodern.com
By Rachel Keeley
Mid-century chairs: contemporary upholstery
The past few years have seen a resurgence in iconic prints and modernist designs that have become synonymous with the 1950s, as fabric houses revisit their archives and, with the aid of digital printing, reissue patterns that celebrate abstract shapes and organic forms. These prints, whether used alone or in conjunction with the growing range of sophisticated textural weaves available, are being applied creatively in the upholstery process, helping to establish a recognisable trend when it comes to contemporising mid-century chairs.
Mid-century chairs: colour-blocking
Although favoured textile manufacturers continue to offer sumptuous wool and wool-rich fabrics in a multitude of colourways, when it comes to re-upholstered mid-century chairs, there has been little deviation from the muted palette traditionally associated with this era. However, imaginative upholstery such as colour-blocking – the combined use of contrasting or complementary colours and/or prints on different elements of a piece – or the use of modern crepes and bouclés, can instantly lift a mid-century chair into the 21st century.
Mid-century chairs: piped seams
Yes, mid-century chairs lend themselves to being ‘customised’, for want of a better word. The ‘blocking’ technique provides endless possibilities, from covering the arms and inside back in one colour, and the seat or seat cushion and outside back in another, to adding subtle interest by using pattern on a small element of the chair while finishing the remainder in a solid colour. The use of contrasting or complementary piping is also popular. The technique of joining or concealing seams with a length of fabric-covered cord is nothing new, but with clever combinations of pattern, texture and colour, the piping shows off the curves of a mid-century chair or places emphasis on its angles and lines.
Mid-century chairs: contrast buttoning
From an aesthetic point of view, however, not all mid-century chair shapes lend themselves to, or indeed require, piped seams. This may account for the fact that modest pieces are often finished in solid blocks of colour, which have been offset with contrasting surface buttoning – sometimes in a complementing tone, sometimes with contrasting bursts of colour, or even with a printed fabric combination.
Mid-century chairs: giving new life to 1950s seating
Fad or fashion, the contemporising of mid-century chairs through upholstery fabrics has, in recent times, become somewhat commonplace. It is difficult to ascertain whether this considered shift away from the more traditional approach is being driven by a new breed of Mid-century Modern enthusiasts, imaginative dealers or creative upholsterers – or a combination of all three.
On a personal level I’m not really one for trends – this season’s must-haves soon become last season’s has-beens – but I can’t help but like the distinct colour combinations, eye-catching patterns and inspired fabrics that are being used to give new life to 1950s seating. But there is of course a limit to all of this, and that for me is the design classic. If you were to ask me whether I’d want, say, my imaginary ‘Papa Bear’ chair spruced up using a newly reissued Atomic print, I would answer firmly in the negative. Hands off. No way.
Rachel Keeley is the founder of beautiful interiors blog Haussmith
For more from Rachel Keeley, see Artek Stool 60: Reinventing a vintage classic and The Mid Century chair: collecting on a shoestring and Ercol: the revival of a vintage Windsor rocking chair
Rachel Keeley regularly contributes to our MidCentury print issues