Wednesday, November 3, 2010
When Home is... an old Armchair
If you had to give a piece of furniture in your home a name or personality, what would you choose? What piece of furniture is imposing enough to be singled out?
For Pip Robb, owner of Armchair store, it would – obviously – be an armchair. In her life as an interior designer she found herself constantly searching for armchairs for clients; a statement piece for their homes.
Never able to find the right armchair in the right fabric she would often end up finding old armchairs and have them restored and reupholstered. Having always loved armchairs and buying her first one as a design college student, it wasn’t long before she realised she wanted to open up a store based around this particular piece of furniture.
Three years ago she opened Armchair and today remains passionate about chairs from all different eras. ‘Often it’s the shape of the chair I love; shape can be truly beautiful.’
Finding the chairs involves trips into the country, auctions and second-hand stores. It might take a while before the right fabric comes along to give the chair a second life in a new home; ‘I get quite attached to them as they are around for a while. I don’t recover them straight away until I know what personality the chair is.’
Pip likes to give her chairs a completely new life so a fussy chair might end up in a plainer fabric while a retro chair may be given a floral makeover. ‘I’ve recently bought a chair for myself and it’s still in its original vinyl. I adore its shape, it’s very round, retro and vintage with gorgeous lines. I can’t upholster it until I find the right fabric and that may be a while. I want this chair to stay forever so I will probably end up choosing a plain colour to make it more versatile.’
Once the chair is in its new fabric, Pip is ready to name it. ‘All our chairs have names. I started by giving them numbers and it seemed wrong. They have too much of a personality to just be a number.’
As well as thinking about the new life the chairs are given, Pip is constantly reminded of their old life and their original homes. ‘When the chairs first come in they all have a different smell. Some smell like mothballs while others might smell like lavender. Some have scuff marks on the legs; others are filled with horse hair. I’m always thinking about who the previous owners were and the rooms the chairs have sat in for years.’
‘One chair came in all torn with writing all over it; it had been in a uni student's home and I wondered about all the things it had seen and been through. Another chair had a plaque with a person’s name on the bottom of its leg. It had come from a nursing home and obviously its owner had brought it from their home when they moved in. I couldn’t upholster it for a long time and eventually I took the plaque off as I had to take away its old life completely before I could give it a new one.’
After being reupholstered, Pip feels that the chairs really do have another chance with another family. ‘People get so excited and passionate about the chairs so it’s nice to think it’s going to be loved in a new home.’
Customers will also come back to tell Pip about how the chair is enjoying its new home. ‘A husband and wife came in to buy a chair for their living room soon after they married. A year later they were back, pregnant and looking for a chair to use in the nursery. Once the baby was born they came back to introduce me. I love that the chairs and this store are becoming part of a family story and history.’
For Pip and her partner Andrew, it is objects that create their sense of home and continue a family story. ‘We’re renting but it feels like home because it’s the objects we have that say home to us. We’ve inherited most of our objects from our parents. I have a bookcase I grew up with and Andrew has an armchair given to him by his grandparents.
I have a collection of jugs I use every day – for flowers or to serve on the table – and that reminds me of my mother and grandmother. I still use a bowl my mum used for serving salads when I was a child. You need lots of those things around to remind you of where you came from.’
And there is still that armchair waiting for its chosen fabric.
For more information about Armchair, visit the website here.
401-405 Pacific Hwy
Crows Nest, NSW
Monday - Friday
10:00am - 6:00pm
Saturday - Sunday
10:30am - 4:30pm
All images ©Pip Robb