It all starts in black and white

From Utilitarian to Upholstered: Two projects

Lovely, textured, upholstery weight fabric in simple-but-charming black and off-white irregular thin strips.

#1: No longer the platonic task chair of task chairs

I’ve had in my possession for ages this born-of-the-homogenized-industrial-age office task chair: just a metal-framed black chair on wheels, now a bit crooked and broken, certainly uncomfortable, and frankly, pretty sad looking. Really it couldn’t be more non-memorable. When I took it with me to move in with my now-husband, no one from my old house missed it. In fact when I mentioned to my former house-mate one day that I had snagged it, it took a minute for her to recall what chair I was talking about, at which point she responded: “oh yeah, I think that chair may be been my mother’s once upon a time.” This is a chair no one could care about.

The chair, now with a worthwhile story

But now that chair has its own story, perhaps worth of a bit of attention. I used that chair at my desk for some time, and I relied on it heavily when I badly fractured my ankle and was working from home. It was particularly useful for navigating around the apartment my husband and I shared at the time, pushing off with my good leg and rolling around backwards. Finally when we bought our house I spent the money on a good office chair; and that ugly boring task chair has been sitting in front of my sewing machine ever since.

As it turns out, the sad little chair has been pretty useful in its current location. The seat height is stuck at its lowest setting, which happens to be just the right height for my sewing table, and having some wheels is great when I’m at the machine’s mercy and need to grab something quickly. However, looking at it a few weeks ago, I thought, man, that thing is ugly. Not just overlook-it ugly, but “why is that thing there?”-ugly. And then it occurred to me how easy it would be to reupholster, to lift it from it’s plebeian assembly-line design to something pleasing and refreshing.

So that’s what happened. The details of how it was done are forthcoming.

Close-up of seat

A lovely, textured, black and off-white striped upholstery weight fabric, picked up for next to nothing from a fabric shop that was going out of business a number of years ago, brought a bit of charm to that tired chair. I thought might want to spray paint some of the metal frame where the paint has worn off, but ultimately decided that the new upholstery makes such a difference that it does an excellent job of distracting from the frame’s wear. Additionally, I often feel in re-purposing (or “up-cycling”, the more trendy term I am hearing lately) an item, there’s something aesthetically pleasing about finishing the item in an imperfect way, leaving at least a hint of it’s former undesirable state.

I don’t have a “before” picture of the chair, but as it was so unmemorable, it doesn’t really matter: just think black and dumpy-looking. In any case, the final product is now much more comfortable and looks rather cute I think!

#2: Crafty craft carts

That fabric inspired another improvement in my office-slash-craft room. If you’re anything like me, you really despise purchasing new items for more then they’re worth. After all, there’s enough material junk in the world; why should I reward some manufacturer with my cash for something that is badly designed (and therefore doesn’t meet my needs anyhow)? If you’ve ever been in the market for storage units for craft material, you’ve probably been frustrated to find that decent, even mildly-aesthetically-pleasing craft carts or storage drawers are really hard to find. You can spend mega-bucks on plastic or MDF drawer units – usually low quality and terribly ugly. For some time I was making due with some crappy plastic file drawer units (the first time they were loaded up all the wheels collapsed) that seemed to only encourage me to not put things away.

One of three bad pictures of finished cart

Not too long ago I had purchased drawer units (part of the Antonius laundry series from Ikea) for our laundry area in the basement, and I’ve been happy with them as far as function and construction (and they’re not expensive). At some point it occurred to me that they would make decent craft carts as well. I needed them to roll under my craft table (another hacked product and a story for another time), and I was able to purchase them in a size that work for that. Additionally the modular design provided options for drawer sizes and types, and they could be used with or without wheels. After all the time I spent looking for something that met my craft-cart needs, I’ve been fairly happy with these units, however they still left a lot to be desired in the aesthetic category and a bit in the functional category as well. The drawers are plastic (the other option being wire cage), and the frames are a very utilitarian metal (not terrible really). Choices for the tops of the carts were either white laminated or “beech” laminated MDF, neither of which are attractive in my opinion and clashed obscenely with my décor. The only functional problem with these units was that they allow dust in enter the drawers – in my laundry room this is not an issue because the drawers are used for sorting dirty laundry – but as craft carts, dust entry needs to be prevented as the drawers hold fabric, knitting projects, paper, etc.

With flap up

Once again, upholstery (if that’s even the right term here) was the answer! First, I “upholstered” the tops of the craft carts using the same black and off-white striped fabric as the task chair. I was pleased to be able to work with the amount of fabric I had left, as the chair and carts are in the same room. No foam or padding involved; I essentially just wrapped the tops like you would wrap a present, though some sewing was required (how-to details are forthcoming). The second part of the project was to drape the carts kind of like you would a table with a tablecloth. However I did not want fabric bulk at the corners as it would get in the way of what is already a tight space, so instead I created rectangular flaps for each side of the carts. I no longer had enough of the striped fabric; instead I used off-white, cotton fabric with a linen feel, salvaged from an ancient tab-top curtain (originally from Ikea again – probably everyone has had one of these their lifetime). The flaps provided that the lines of the carts remained clean, and allowed me to lift the flaps from two sides to access the drawers (which open from both the front and back – another function that was a requirement for my craft table). Making these flaps in such a way that they could hang on the carts was kind of project in itself, (and retrospectively I probably could have designed them in a way that was much easier to put together); the details of that are hopefully forthcoming. To finish the carts I just added some black satiny ribbon (salvaged from an old skirt), to each corner to tie the flaps together. (I could have gone whole-hog and put zippers at each corner, but that would have been way too much work.) All I have to do to access the drawers is untie the ribbons and lift the flaps.

Under the craft table

The finished product is by no means perfect, both because I’m far from even a decent seamstress, and because I really didn’t care for them to be perfect; but still it’s an improvement I’m very happy with!


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