We had the opportunity to conserve a wonderful Eastlake style sofa-bed by A. Hansen Co., Chicago, Ill. Our clients have restored a wonderful Victorian in NE Portland, and this sofa-bed will grace her office. It was thought the piece lived near San Francisco for much of its life and sediment found in its interior collaborates this information.
We are going to document this piece informally, as it is an unusual piece that students of furniture, design, and conservation will want to see. Not only is it interesting from the standpoint of conserving both sofa and mattress, but it also is an excellent example of American manufacturing from that period.
This piece will be utilized again, and so it is both a conservation / restoration project. There are things we would not do if this were a museum piece which would never be sat upon, but the structural stability of the piece must be considered when repairing for use. Therefore in the overall course of the restoration, Mitchell will occasionally create a fix to a problem inherent in the original design of the piece.
We photograph our pieces before and after, and when the project is completed you will find detailed images posted on our website.
We began with Excavation. The sofa-bed had to be opened and closed as the excavation was performed, which is why you will see it shown that way from one image to the next.
We began by removing the front tassel fringe, exposing the carved front rail; we will not be replacing the fringe, which was not original.
Opening the piece to remove what we now know is the second show cover, Mitchell pulled the second show cover back to reveal a damaged frame. The second upholsterer tacked beyond the upholstery margins in an effort to save time, damaging the frame.
The second show cover was loosened for removal.
Closing the bed, the second show cover was removed from the seat and arms.
In order to circumvent traditional upholstery procedures the upholsterer applying the second generation show cover blanket stitched the fabric to the original seat foundation beneath the inside arm.
To excavate the inside back, we started with the outside back.
The outside back was never intended for show, which was typical of parlor pieces manufactured for the new middle class market during the last half of the late 19th century. The frame was unfinished and the outside back show cover was crudely tacked into place. Once the show cover was removed, below, the frame construction and the under-structure was visible.
Tipping the sofa-bed on its back to allow the inside back excavation to begin, we saw the underside for the first time exposed, above.
The piece is cumbersome. Due to its many flexible joint tipping was avoided until absolutely necessary.
Second show cover was lifted as the gimp is exposed, and we see that the inside back panels are the only segments where the last upholsterer removed the first show cover. Mitchell surmised this is because it simply was too hard to tack into the tack-strip with the original show cover in place.
The size of the tacks used in this piece were over-scaled throughout, even for muslins and scrims. Both generations of upholsterers used #10-12, and occasionally #16, when typically tacks used would have been #2-6. This caused extreme wear on the frame. Below, the detail of the tack-strip tells a story to a seasoned and well trained upholsterer. Indiscriminate tacking, along with soft wood species and seasonal moisture exposure, contributed to the destruction of tacking strips and seat base joinery, necessitating the replacement and refitting of the front seat upholstery frame and back tack strips (which will be seen in blog post #3, Repair.) This will be the first of the restoration changes we are making for structural integrity.
Despite what I know about good and bad upholsterers, I am sorry that they removed the first upholstery on the inside back, as we might have seen the entire original show cover. However, below is a glimpse of how the piece originally appeared. You can also see the inside back pods. We found stamped writing on the ticking which later we will reveal.
Mitchell carefully removed the outside back, cutting twines and lifting burlap, webbing and stuffing. All reusable internals will be cleaned and carded for reuse.
Mitchell deployed the bed in order to excavate the mattress. The mattress will be cleaned, restored, and replaced with a new ticking. Above, a glimpse into the internals, and below, the ticking removed, exposing the Spanish moss.
Tacking margins (wooden tacking strips) were virtually nonexistent on this piece causing the upholsterer to “toe-nail” tacks to hold the show cover and foundational materials into the frames side vertical walls. This caused degradation to the side aprons as well as failure to the mattress show cover. We decided to properly engineer the interior of the mattress in order to resolve these issues and preserve the frame walls from improper tackings. This change is not something we would do on a piece that would not be used.
Mitchell lifted a corner for a peek at the layers of the mattress pad, which he will gently lift and roll, below.
During the excavation of the mattress, Mitchell wore a mask because of the amount of dust, sediment, and debris. We were glad he was wearing one because of more serious concerns, which will be evident soon.
The mattress pad was rolled, to be conserved later, and we the burlap deck, springs and webbing, for both the mattress, the seat, and the inside back, was exposed, below.
Side view. The bed elevation pitches slightly tilts because long ago someone removed the rear wheels.
The deck pad was removed, and we found mold under the main frame or central section of the sofa-bed! Oddly, it had no moldy smell, and we originally thought it to be dust, as often you smell mold before you see it. This was thick and damp. The mold had to be thoroughly removed before proceeding. We vacuumed the mold, then used a 10% solution of bleach to kill spores. The vacuum also has to be thoroughly bleached after we were finished.
The piece was again closed and placed on its back. The inside back pods were removed. The tack strips were so undermined they need to be replaced.
How did Mitchell know the show covers are the first and second ever placed on the frame? By counting holes in just one area. Below, Mitchell mapped the secondary show cover holes on the front apron frame in chalk, and then mapped the holes from the red velvet tacks with the holes on the frame, matching each to the tack pattern and accounting for each in that one area. . There are no additional holes to be found, therefore it is safe to say the red linen velvet is the original show cover, and the blue mohair frieze velvet is the second generation show cover.
The front apron band was removed as well as the hair beneath.
We began to notice problems in the frame itself, shown by the warping and lifting of parts of the frame which would not have done so under normal circumstances.
The arms and seat were excavated, beginning with the show cover loosened, and then again the piece was set upside down and the outside arms were excavated.
We found a 1941 penny embedded. Finding things is sometimes extremely rewarding, however, no California gold found YET.
Inside arms were excavated next, with the seat deck.
Lifting the scrim, we expose the layers of the deck below.
Twine was cut, and the hair pod was removed. All these materials will be cleaned and reused; this is both a green practice and saves historical information.
The deck pad was so dirty Mitchell vacuumed it before removing it.
All ties were easily snipped, and arm pods and deck pod were lifted.
Springs were exposed. This was a four-way spring tie, below, and the original springs can be reused.
As Mitchell works, he makes notes, and sometimes makes notes on the frame using artists tape, which does not leave behind glues.
Arriving at the final stages of excavation: springs and webbing were removed.
The webbing and burlaps were too old to be viable again, however, in a museum piece which is not sat on, these items are reused if they are not detrimental to the life of the sofa-bed. Occasionally reinforcements are installed over original items if necessary in a museum piece. But this sofa-bed will be used; we will take samples of the original items along with the report to be set aside for historic purposes, and a time capsule will be placed within the sofa-bed.
The frame was fully excavated and ready for repair.
Go to the next posting in the series on reparation of the sofa bed in two parts: East Lake Sofa-Bed Upholstery #2A: Repair.
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