Before & After: Shaking Up a Shaker Rocking Chair

published Mar 12, 2016
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(Image credit: Submitted by Jenn)

Hidden among many other obscure objects at a garage sale in Princeton, New Jersey, this bentwood rocking chair sat dressed in black paint and heavy black leather upholstery attached with large tacks. At the time, I couldn’t place where this piece had come from. It wasn’t a Thonet chair, but it had the similar features and was certainly older. As I continued to look at it, the colors and materials looked so heavy on such a small, slender frame. It begged to be refinished. So I thought what the heck and bought it for for $25.00.

(Image credit: Submitted by Jenn)

After some initial research on my new project, I figured out it is a 1860s Shaker rocking chair from the Ohio/Kentucky area. This heritage is where a lot of the design inspiration ended up coming from. The deep roots in craftsmanship and natural materials are two elements that can be hard to come by today. Knowing this, I wanted to make sure that I could nod to its heritage but also bring it into a modern home.

First things first, removing the upholstery and stripping paint. Stripping black paint is not an easy task. It took time and effort. It took a lot of sanding, but luckily my good friend commands a workshop. I did the heavy sanding while she helped with final detail sanding. She’s a rockstar to say the least.

Once it was cleaned up and “naked”, I was faced with the decision of how to dress it up in a modern way. After 2 years of indecisiveness, I chose a large weave pattern and purchased the leather. Once I had my materials I wanted to work with, I cut paper strips into roughly 3.5″ wide strips to lay it out on the framing. This template proved to be the best advice that I received from a friend.

Now came the tricky part. Determining how to keep the leather stretched around the frame without structurally damaging the aged wood. After a lot of sketching and testing, I found a way to loop leather strings through the leather strips and around a wooden dowel to form a modern corset. After the weave was in place and all of the strings were pulled tight, I finally sat in my new-ish rocking chair with a smile.

Thank you, Jenn! You can see more of Jenn’s project on Behance.