If you ask me, no home is complete without a statement chair. It’s a chance to add colour, style and a touch of your personal flair. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a treasured piece that’s been handed down through the generations. But if not, well, why not find one! Vintage markets, online auction sites and even charity shops are great places to look. And I’m going to tell you which are the all-time best examples to hunt for!
1) The Parker Knoll
Sometimes seen as a ‘safe’, even slightly ‘dull’ furniture choice, the Parker Knoll takes on a whole new, stylish edge when you team it with a daring fabric choice. I’m almost certain I’ve been commissioned to reupholster more Parker Knolls than any other furniture brand and the quality and craftsmanship of these well-made chairs and sofas is always top notch. There are loads of Parker Knoll styles, but of them all, The Statesman is my favourite. It’s a rock and swivel chair that’s so iconic.
Part of the appeal for me is in their versatility. As an upholsterer, I can do almost anything with them and I’m never afraid to experiment with a whole range of colours and patterns and prints. Established over 150 years ago by cabinet maker Frederick Parker, the company is known for being exquisitely comfortable and remarkably good quality. Rarely do I have to do any repairs on a Parker Knoll – even on a sofa which might have been sat on for over 50 years. Lots of people have fond memories of growing up with a Parker Knoll in the house and while it’s a nostalgic brand, the designs are still relevant today. The huge amount that have passed through my studio proves I’m not the only person who loves them.
2) The Ercol
I’m a total fan of the mid-Century modern revival and there aren’t many manufacturers who capture it as well as Ercol. Created by Lucian Ercolani in 1920 and still going strong over 100 years later, it’s a brand that has won awards not just for its designs, but also its sustainability and environmental innovations.
Celebrating the beauty of wood is a key feature in all of Ercol’s designs with elm, ash, beech, oak and walnut from naturally regenerative forests all featured in its range. As a company, Ercol perfected the art of steam bending wood in large quantities during the 1940s and it’s these elegant curves that can still be seen in its most widely recognisable designs today.
“If you see a vintage piece of Ercol online or at a vintage market, snap it up quick!”
I can’t lie, sanding an Ercol back to its bare wood is a tricky process, but always worth the effort. And while maybe not known for its comfort, Ercol’s furniture is unrivalled in the refined and dainty visual impact of its delicate spindles, tapered legs and simple lines. If you see a vintage piece of Ercol online or at a vintage market, snap it up quick!
3) The Chesterfield
This iconic sofa is one of the most recognisable pieces of furniture in the world. Believed to date back to the 1700s, the style got its name from the fourth Earl of Chesterfield. It’s said the Earl wanted somewhere for gentlemen to sit without creasing their suits, so he employed a local craftsman to come up with a solution. The result is a luxury (usually leather) structure with deep seats, a low back and high arms. Supportive and comfortable, it’s an incredible feat of furniture engineering.
The deep-set buttoning which has become a feature of the Chesterfield didn’t come about until the Victorian era, but it’s one of the biggest upholstery challenges today. Reinstating a fully buttoned seat back in leather is a task we can all dread, but while it’s complex and time-consuming, there’s still nothing quite as satisfying as transforming a statuesque Chesterfield to its former glory.
Timeless and distinguished, it’s a design that has remained versatile and popular, I just love a Chesterfield, so much so that I have a neatly proportioned version in my home. Quite simply, it’s one of those rare pieces of furniture that will never go out of style.
4) The Napoleon
These French-style chairs are based on a design made popular during the reign of Napoleon III. Elegant and versatile, my heart skips a beat when I come across a chair like this. Even more so when you find a pair! They can take almost any fabric or print and the end result is always stunning.
Don’t worry too much about the condition of the wood. Aside from live woodworm, which is a problem, we can sand back, polish up and even paint the wood to make it magnificent once more. One thing to bear in mind is that there are loads of reproduction versions of this style of chair. I’m not suggesting you’re going to come across an antique or an original but do be cautious of some of the more modern pieces that be below par in terms of quality. Better to have a wreck that can be rebuilt than a poorly built chair that won’t stand the test of time.
5) The Papa Bear
Originally designed by the interiors icon Hans J Wegner, this chair literally looks like it wants to give you a huge bear hug. My upholstery journey started with Mid-Century furniture and I still have a real fondness for this era of design. I admire most styles associated with this period of time, but always look for an original rather than a replica due to the unmistakeable beauty of the teak wood.
Top of the list of Mid-Century design for me is the Papa Bear. I absolutely LOVE it. Yes, you can get similar styles but nothing is as smart and iconic as this particular chair. Built with a solid wood frame and a slightly reclined angle designed for relaxation, this a super comfy as well as handsome-looking seat. Wegner believed that modernism and ultimate comfort could live together side-by-side and there’s no denying that this 1950s design was ahead of its time. In fact, its name comes from its playful design, with the arm rests designed to resemble the arms of a bear, with their paw-like solid wood detailing at each end. The result when you’re sitting in one of these is that you feel wrapped up and hugged from either side.
Simply gorgeous from every angle and such a multitude of options when it comes to upholstering, just look at it! I’m on the hunt for one myself actually, so while I 100% recommend seeking out one of these, I hope I spot it first!
Do you have a design classic than needs an update? Drop me a line for an initial, no-obligation quote by filling in the online contact form. Alternatively, you can email me directly at email@example.com or call me on 07764 182 783.
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Based in Sunbury-on-Thames, I work with clients across Surrey, London and nationwide.