A frayed or unfashionable exterior doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the line for a well-loved classic. Christie’s Interiors teamed up with Beacon Hill and Martin Albert Interiors to put this theory to the test with the estate of the late Amy Perlin, who passed away in May of 2010.
Their results paid homage to Perlin’s collecting philosophies: “I like strong pieces that show their age” and “It’s all about line and proportion.” Christie's Interiors Sale took place last week, June 21-22.
Alexis Audette, Beacon Hill’s Director of Fabric Design, offered his expert advice about upholstery and slipcovers, and retells the process of restoring antique French chairs to highly desirable works of art.
CI: What excited you about these chairs and how did you know they were ripe for “reinvention”?
AA: I loved these chairs because of their beautiful lines. Because of their unusual small scale, the chairs can be used in a setting where space is limited, such as an alcove or a small bedroom.
CI: Tell us about the fabric you selected for the re-upholstery.
AA: We wanted a versatile look that could work well in a traditional or contemporary interior. Given the current demand for natural and sustainable materials, I selected Beacon Hill fabric's Natural Linen in a flax color called Linen. Certified organic, this beautiful Belgian textile has the necessary weight for upholstery.
BEFORE: Antique French chairs from antique dealer Amy Perlin’s estate, in their original condition.
CI: Why are slipcovers important, and what have you chosen here?
AA: Slipcovers are essentially “clothing for furniture.” They can lend a whole new personality to a room, to reflect a new season, trend or even mood. Of course, a more practical purpose is to extend the life of a piece of upholstery.
The short, corner pleated slipcover is a tailored and casually elegant design. I chose Laurel Stripe in Frost, a blend of linen and Egyptian cotton, which combines the texture, and strength of linen with the softness of cotton. The stripes are ideally suited to the small-scale chairs, and they help create an updated, contemporary look.
The more formal, traditional of the two slipcovers I call a “frog eye” design, referring to the decorative passamenterie that secures the pleat on the chair back and is repeated on the legs in the front. The fabric is a wool and linen blend from Italy called Ashland in a color known as Driftwood. Mixing wool with linen creates a more durable textile with a crisp, sculptural quality.
AFTER: Finished slipcovers in two different styles transform the chairs.
CI: How should one go about selecting a fabric?
AA: Seek expert advice. Interior designers have the training and experience to know what types of fabric and what colors and patterns will work best in your interior space. Another option is to seek advice from a good upholsterer.
Beacon Hill fabrics are sold exclusively to interior designers. We design singular and bespoke fabrics, and work with boutique textile mills around the world. We specialize in natural fibers, including silk, wool and linen. The designers who purchase our fabrics consider usage and the kind of frame to be upholstered, and also fabric weight and texture. An additional consideration is color and pattern scale and type. If the sofa will be used daily, they’ll choose a fabric with high durability. For a lighter look, linen and linen blends are durable and easy to clean. A more delicate fabric, such as silk, won’t stand up to daily use but is a good choice for a decorative bench or occasional chair.
CI: What do interior designers keep in mind when selecting slipcover fabrics?
AA: Designers have additional considerations when selecting fabric for slipcovers. The material must drape well over the upholstered piece, much like a coat or jacket. Slipcovers in lighter weight, made with more casual fabrics like linen or cotton blends, lend themselves to more relaxed living during summer months. Natural fibers, such as cotton or linen in neutral colors, are very much on-trend right now. Slipcovers can also provide a way to try out different motifs and colors, such as a bold bohemian ikat or a muted and romantic floral.
CI: What advice would you offer to someone preparing to embark upon an upholstery project of their own?
AA: To achieve great results, take the time to do the research, check references and select your upholsterer carefully. They should see your piece of furniture in person; if this isn’t possible, at least take pictures to show them.
CI: What advantages does this process offer over the retail experience?
AA: A custom upholstered piece is the equivalent of a couture gown, and participating in the creative process makes the personal investment even stronger.