To Pick a Colour…

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One of the joys of working with antiques is seeing a piece transform and come back to life, all with a simple change of upholstery.  It is incredible to see how much a chair’s carved or gilded appearance can be enhanced with the right colour fabric.  We thought we would share two examples of chairs we reupholstered to show you just how effective this simple change can be.

Back in the eighteenth century, the role of the upholsterer was just as valued as the work of the cabinetmaker–and in some cases, the upholsterer’s work was more important.  The upholster would take into account a number of aesthetic factors, including colour, texture, and pattern.

While it is always an antique dealer’s dream to find a chair with its original upholstery, this is often an elusive goal.  Due to wear and tear over the years the upholstery is often replaced.  Therefore, there is no conflict of interest in replacing more modern upholstery with the selection of your choosing.

A Pair of Gainsborough Chairs: From Black to Yellow

This attractive pair of library chairs, also known as Gainsborough chairs, are very well proportioned with the generous breadth of the seat and shaped back.  The carved mahogany details, including the carved roundels on the hand rests and square channeled and beaded front legs, give life to the frames.  Here are the chairs shown in black moire.


A pair of George III period mahogany Gainsborough chairs upholstered in black moire, Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection

Moire refers to fabric with a wave or watered appearance and has been used throughout the Georgian era in silk for dresses, trimmings, and upholstery.

The simplicity of the black textile provides a contemporary look to the chairs and allows the carved details to stand out.

Following a more traditional approach, we upholstered the Gainsborough chairs in yellow damask.


A pair of George III period mahogany Gainsborough chairs upholstered in yellow damask,  Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection

Along with red, green, and blue, yellow was one of the most popular colours to use in interiors both for entire room schemes and specific pieces of furniture.  Damask is a woven fabric featuring a continuous repeating pattern that was highly valued in Georgian England.

The yellow brings out the golden hue of the mahogany while also providing a greater contrast between the frame and the upholstery.

A Pair of Giltwood Armchairs

While the previous example focused on a pair of chairs in mahogany, our next example focuses on the upholstery on a pair of giltwood chairs.  With giltwood pieces, we want to highlight the golden hues as well as the carving of the frames.

This pair of giltwood chairs from our archive is fantastic: the chairs embody the taste and style of leading Georgian cabinetmakers, Ince & Mayhew.  The shield-shaped giltwood frames are surmounted by tied ribbons that elegantly cascade down the frame in a naturalistic manner.  The seat is centred by a sunflower and surrounded by a fluted frieze , and the legs are similarly fluted.  The overall silhouette of the chairs is harmoniously balanced with the sweeping curve of the arms and the back legs.

So the question is: how to upholster the pair?  What if you had to choose between red and brown?


One of a pair of George III giltwood armchairs attributed to Ince & Mayhew upholstered in red moire, Mackinnon Fine Furniture Archive

The regal nature of the red moire makes it an obvious choice to enhance the richness of this pair of important chairs.


One of a pair of George III giltwood armchairs in the manner of Ince & Mayhew upholstered in brown damask, Mackinnon Fine Furniture Archive

Brown damask, although it may not be an obvious choice, does a fantastic job at making the gilding stand out and highlight the decoration.

Ultimately, the choice is entirely personal.  Fabrics should be chosen to complement the chair as well as their intended interior.  With so many fantastic modern fabric houses, picking fabric can be an adventure: both for you and your chairs.


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