The Chair, Before
I may still be a fool, but my money and I are not soon parted. Throw in the complementary but not always copacetic taste of my wife, Lorraine, and it took us more than a year to agree upon a living room chair. (Don't even ask about the lack of a floor lamp -- that's an ongoing 18-month debate.)

We found the winner in the deepest basement recesses of Horseman Antiques, a four-floor, overstuffed shop anchoring the Antiques Row section of Brooklyn, N.Y.'s Atlantic Avenue.

Another chair sat upside-down atop it, like a kid doing a headstand. I removed it, and was delighted to find that what looked like a simple seat was instead a rocker.

Throw in cool orange fabric and Danish modern styling that we both dug, and, well, I called over a salesman to haggle.

It didn't last long. "The Scandinavian stuff is going like crazy," he said. "And they made such great oranges back then." Confirming our good judgment alone would have sealed the deal, but when he dropped the price from $325 to $285, my alligator arms stretched all the way to my wallet.

Even in the murky light we could tell that the chair needed a stern cleaning, and its foam padding had lost some firmness. (After 40 years, what hasn't?)

Still, the chair debuted to rave reviews among our friends. Ours was a happy collection of furniture.

Restoration Calls

In retrospect, I think the chair knew my anal retentiveness would get the best of me -- that after cleaning it to no improvement and endlessly shifting to try to mold my padding to its padding, I had designs on an overhaul.

Maybe I'm just paranoid. But one afternoon, rocking away while making some conversational point to my friend Glen, I had that sick, helpless moment when I knew I had literally reached the tipping point. Time stopped, and then my head conked the floor.

Nothing was injured but my pride, and Glen got a good laugh at my expense. The chair had won this battle, but I would win the war. I resolved at that moment to have it refurbished to perfection, no matter the cost. Yes, I was that mad.

I called Boerum Hill Restoration (718-243-1972), expecting to be told simply to bring in the chair and pick it up a few days later.

Not so fast: The owner, Norman Benjamin, redirected me to venerable Zarin Fabrics , established in 1936, in Manhattan's Lower East Side.

There, Lorraine and I would purchase the desired replacement fabric after measuring the chair to determine the needed yardage.

Using a tape measure falls just within my admittedly limited DIY capabilities, and I took the dimensions to the store to meet Lorraine on a handsome late Friday afternoon.

I arrive early, and as it turns out, the measurements were unnecessary. Zarin Fabrics has a book of sample chairs and how much fabric should be required. Our chair most closely resembled a chic Mies van der Rohe. Inside, I had a smug little smile.

Zarin Fabrics is to fabrics what Wal-Mart is to pretty much everything else. There are rows after rows of spooled fabric in hundreds of colors and types: corals and checks, purples and prints. And all the shoppers have English accents -- plumy tones must make it easier to convince potential clients of your taste.

Like shag carpeting, solid orange isn't as popular now as it was in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the options were limited to about five. I was armed with my digital camera and kept viewing a picture of the chair as reference.

By the time Lorraine arrived, I'd chosen a favorite, a $40 per yard chenille. Now there's a sentence I never thought I would type.

Unlike President Bush, Lorraine isn't a decider. She's more of a reservationer. When unconvinced, she casts doubts without being an overrulerer. She worried that maybe my orange was a bit peachy and that the material didn't have quite the pleasing pebblyness of the original fabric.

I couldn't decide whether it was emasculating to have Lorraine question my taste in fabric or just the opposite.

But, for whatever reason, when we couldn't agree upon a replacement, I put my foot and my credit card down, and we walked out with $130.15 of textile in a plastic bag. We returned home and put the fabric atop the chair. It was a hell of a lot more orangey -- not peachy (I'd never admit that), but sherbety. Anyway, we were already halfway there.

Let the Upholstering Begin

I then brought the chair and the fabric back to Boerum Hill Restoration.

Benjamin has owned the store since 1978 and seen the neighborhood change more than once. In the past, this area was almost all antique shops; it later turned toward modern furniture, and now it's evolved again, to restaurants and clothing boutiques. "It used to be, 'Let's go do Atlantic Avenue.' People would spend the whole day here," says Benjamin. "The Internet and eBay have affected the business. There are maybe six of the original old guard still around."

Work in Progress

His business is split more or less evenly between restoration work and vintage office furniture such as roll-top desks and stackable barrister bookcases. "I call it turn-of-the-20th century Ikea," Benjamin says of the latter. "It's all modular."

The workshop is in the basement of the building, and Benjamin employs a freelancer from the Bronx named Geraldo the Upholsterer. I didn't get to meet him, but he does great work. That was my second thought when Benjamin finally showed me the made-over chair.

My first thought? Orange sherbet city! But, back to the work: stunning. The buttons and piping were perfectly recreated. The padding was a pleasing balance of plush and firm.

For $250, I felt like I had a brand-new old chair.

Upon returning home with my prize, I ran into a neighbor in the hallway of our apartment building. She cooed over the chair.

"Is it orange enough?" I asked with a laugh. "I don't know," she said. "How orange is it supposed to be?" Touche. The chair was officially a conversation piece.

My neighbor added that she and her husband were just talking about restoring an old chair of their own, and asked for Benjamin's contact info. I was a trendsetter.

Lorraine was on the living room couch when I brought back the new chair. "Wow," she said. "They did a great job. I love it. I mean, it doesn't go with anything, but we knew that."

I told her that a new rug might do the trick. Give us another two years and we'll have it. Three, tops.

The Chair, After















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Evan Rothman is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. A former executive editor at Golf Magazine, his work has appeared in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Esquire, Men's Journal and other leading publications.