She was the ultimate experiment, as Eliza Doolittle to Henry Higgins. My mother and I scoured the local used furniture shops for a piece that would serve as a fitting subject to transform from rags to riches. In one particular shop, in a dimly lit and crowded corner, I saw a top rail peeking out from underneath a mound of books and what-nots. I climbed through and over obstacles of other wanna-be projects to make my way to her. I uncovered her seat, and she seemed to gasp for air if she’d been holding those things for a century.
I tipped her from side to side. I pushed down on her seat. I wiggled her frame. (She was probably feeling a little assaulted by then.) She seemed solid enough, and the only noticeable and significant repair would be her arm that was breaking out of its socket. I made an offer to the shop keeper for only a little less than the tagged price; it was accepted. And she was mine for a pittance.
We began the work by peeling off the layers. This sometimes reveals intriguing answers to its past or exposes hidden treasures. Nope. We discovered that this chair really was just an ordinary old chair with no secrets, except two.
She coexisted with at least one cat – evidenced by the dried hairball in the crook of the seat and arm. Secondly, she had been reupholstered one other time in her life as indicated by numerous patches of petrified wood filler, scarring of hundreds of nail holes, and painfully awkward steel braces that – although intending to stabilize her – were actually causing her front legs to slip out of joint.
Typically, you work your way down to a structurally sound point and rebuild upon that. In this case, the more we stripped, the more we had to strip, and it became necessary even to pull apart several weak joints. After such a delicate operation, we were left with a pile of bits and pieces as well as a huge dose of discouragement. But! We can rebuild her!
And we did.