A Czech by birth, Walter Heller is a master craftsman. His roots are firmly anchored in his extensive European training which began as an apprentice saddler and tapiezer in Bavaria, Germany, at the age of 14. For over 40 years, Heller has been working with architects, project managers, interior designers and residential clients to produce upholstered custom furniture. His knowledge of antique furniture and his attention to detail is outstanding. Once I met him and his assistant, Nancy, I breathed a sigh of relief that my furniture and fabric were the hands of a master! Thank you Linda, Walter and Nancy!
Several years ago I found some wonderful Swedish antique furniture. It was covered in dirty muslin and desperately needed to be reupholstered.
Here is the bench, notice the tear on left side. The muslin was stapled on.
Two wonderful Bergere chairs - also notice the tear on the right chair and the awful stained upholstery fabric on the cushions. I also had two sweet Swedish side chairs which I did not take before photos of.
I searched for several years (really!) to find just the perfect linen fabric. It proved easy once I met Wendy Lewis of Textile Trunk. I spoke to her directly and mentioned I wanted hand woven linen, over a hundred years old, with a fine weave and soft drape- not nubby like like my grain sack pillows - more formal and soft. I vacillated on whether to have a grain sack stripe going down the front of the chairs, that is so popular these days, but in the end I decided to stick with what I am most comfortable with - the classics.
Wendy immediately sent me a few samples to review - each was more beautiful that one before. I decided on the gorgeous linen above. The seven stripes are just on the very end of the roll. The weaver most likely could not read or write and this combination of color, width and number of stripes was her signature. The stripes remain my favorite part of the roll and I intend to make them into small pillows to honor the time and effort put into this beautiful fabric by a unknown woman of long ago.
With such beautiful antique furniture and antique fabric that had touched such a sentimental cord with me, I was nervous to just let any upholsterer work on this project. What to do? I contact my bloggy friend, Linda Merrill of the famous Surroundings and The Skirted Round Table, for some direction. Another blessing, when Linda pointed me in the direction of Master Upholsterer, Heller Furniture. Above is photo of my Bergere Chair deconstructed.
Walter's knowledge was exceptional - he showed me the jute webbing under the chair. He mentioned that although jute was generally used in a chair this age, this jute had been replaced- and poorly done as it was too sparse and would not provide good support.
He also showed me the chair joints which were loose. This was caused by the stripping of the furniture. These pieces, he said, were clearly dipped in Lye. Lye is wonderful for removing paint quickly but it also dissolves the wood glue that holds these pieces together and ultimately loosens the joints over time. Walter was able to re glue and screw the joints to strengthen the chairs.
Here is the chair being covered,. Notice the top, front, back panel of the chair. The upholstery stuffing is bumping out or "crowning" here to create a noticeable arc of padding. This is the way the chair was intended to look. Better photos of this effect below.
Antique fabrics do not generally match exactly in terms of color but Walter was able to use different shades in different areas of the chairs to create a visually perfect match.
Here the seat cushions for the Bergere chairs are being crafted.
I had a limited amount of fabric. He was able to use the linen so conservatively that I had enough left over to make pillows. Amazing!
Walter explained that the best furniture has nailed muslin covering - if you see staples, that is a sign that the quality may not be the best underneath!
Here is the finished bench at Walter's Workshop. He had to rebuild the cushion and the effect is fabulous. Notice the two seams down the front of the bench, the match is incredible.
Nail head trim or double welting are traditional in Swedish Upholstery - I prefer the double welting - notice the attention to detail.
Here is the Bergere Chair finished in the workroom. This is a better photo to highlight the upholstery bumping out and "crowning" on front upper back panel of the chair.
Double welting detail
Amazing work on the sides and arms of the chairs
Here are my pieces waiting to be picked up
And here they are in my Conservatory - waiting for my final decorating touches!
The Swedish bench with gorgeous antique, original grain sack pillows by textile artist, Kym Fraser of Three Fine Grains.
One (of my pair) of sweet Swedish chairs in front of my Mora Clock (just a peek as I am working on an upcoming post about the clock)
Finding the right fabrics and upholsterer can be a daunting task, but when you put all the right pieces together you can re-create beautiful furniture worthy of another hundred years.
For more information on Wendy Lewis of Textile Trunk and her lovely antique fabrics click here. For information on Master Craftsman and Upholsterer, Walter Heller and Heller Furniture click here. Don't forget to mention you heard about them on Willow Decor.
(all photos property of Willow Decor and Heller Furniture and not to be used without permission)