Perhaps you remember that scene in “Shallow Hal,” when Gwyneth Paltrow, as Rosemary, sits down and the chair collapses, and Hal, Jack Black’s character, can’t figure out why. (A consummate skirt chaser looking only for gorgeous babes, Hal is hypnotized into seeing women’s inner beauty when he’s trapped in an elevator with motivational guru Tony Robbins. Hal doesn’t realize that Rosemary weighs 300 pounds.)
One morning I sat down in a sweet little cane-bottomed chair and suddenly found myself flat on the floor.
The destruction was considerable. It was a humbling event, to say the least.
But I wasn’t ready to part with that chair. I’d found it long ago in one of those back-road, “antiques”-but-mostly-junk places in Vermont and bought it for a song. It has a little, somewhat uneven cutout design in the back; I’m not sure how old the chair is, but it’s clearly handmade.
Years ago Richard Mohr, owner of Furniture Clinic in East Hartford, expertly reassembled several nesting tables for me. They had belonged to my great-grandmother but were completely in pieces.
Fearing it might be a lost cause, I brought him the broken chair.
As it turned out, my chair repair was pretty easy, he said, probably just a “3” on a scale of 1 to 10. And the cost was modest — though probably more than I’d paid for the chair in the first place. No matter.
In business since 1974, Dick — and production manager Mike Cichowicz, above left, who did the work on my chair — said most of the cost of fixing it actually wasn’t in the woodwork but in replacing, and then darkening, the cane seat.
“I’ve had some disasters in here,” Dick said. “But there haven’t been many pieces we can’t repair — if it’s worth the price. Often people think it’s impossible.”
And there hasn’t been much that Dick and Mike haven’t seen. The shop is filled with wood furniture in need of surgery, major and minor, — from fire damage and water damage to broken spindles and badly chipped veneers — or just a facelift. One armoire had a top ornament that had been held in place, rather precariously, with sewing needles. Wire springs on an upholstered piece needed replacing, and Dick said they were using aluminum crosspieces.
“Sometimes you just have to think out of the box to figure out how to fix them,” Mike said, adding that their motto could be: “Yeah, we can figure out something for that.”
A major problem with wooden furniture from the 1920s and 1930s is that furniture makers had started to use synthetic glues, rather than horse hide glue, the advantage being that it was quick-setting. But it can dry out and crystallize.
Particularly in winter, Dick and Mike explained, furniture can get loose because the wood shrinks and that can break the glue joint. (One false move, and you’re flat on the floor.)
One precautionary measure you can take is to rotate chairs through the seasons — in other words, don’t leave that older rocking chair by the fireplace all winter.
Dick made one jesting remark that is worth taking seriously: “We tell a lot of people that if they try to fix it themselves, the price is doubled.”
The Furniture Clinic is at 212 Brewster St. in East Hartford. Call 860-569-8655860-569-8655, go to http://furnitureclinic.webs.com/ or email email@example.com.