Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bob's Your Uncle

At long last I am delighted to report that the great chair debacle has (almost) come to an (almost) satisfying conclusion.

For those of you just joining the party, read here for backstory.

For the rest of you…

After the chairs were declared permanently ruined, despite the magic that apparently exists in New York, the company indicated that they would of course pay for the chairs to be reupholstered. I indicated that I have a friend who does such work for a living and that I would like for her to do the job, and they asked for me to get a quote from her for the labor and to go in search of fabric.

Rachel agreed to do the project for 25% less than usual, 1) because it is me and she loves me and B) because she has known me as long as I have had these chairs and like me has always wanted them in a different fabric.

I then spent the better part of two days at seven different stores trying to find the right fabric. Genius designer Penny said I would want natural fabric, in a good warm neutral somewhere between oatmeal on the lighter end of the scale and camel on the dark. As we had already ordered a gorgeous chair from Pottery Barn in a dark chocolate velvet (sooooo yummy.) she suggested a flat, matte fabric…it could have a texture, but no velvets or chenilles and nothing shiny. It would need to “be friends” with all the other colors and textures in the room. I love the idea of my furniture being friends with each other.

At lucky outing number 7, Crate and Barrel, a very nice man named Nathan helped me find exactly what I was looking for. A basketweave cotton fabric in a warm oatmeal color, with a soft feel and matte finish. I put down a deposit on the sample to bring it home and see if it got along well with the other kids in the class. I was a little worried, as the name of the fabric is Dorien, which seems like the kind of name liable to get a kid beat up every first day of school for 12 years, and might possibly result in membership in the AV club or the chess team. But I brought Dorien home to see what happened. I draped him over one of the cushionless ruined chairs and watched for 24 hours to see how he behaved in all the different lights of the day and night. In bright midday, he was a source of reflected light. At dusk he mellowed, becoming a nice subtle backdrop to the embroidered pillows that live on those chairs. At night he deepened, becoming a solid grounding force in that part of the room. So far so good.

I walked Dorien around the living room to meet the others.

“Hello, dark green leather couches, so nice to meet you. When I lay on you, don’t we just look like a tree from a magical forest?”

“Goodness couch of vaguely lavender properties, exactly what color do you call yourself, and can you believe how well we complement each other?”

“Oh my, Oriental Rug of gargantuan proportions, did you know I would exactly pick up the color in your swirls?”

Dorien is a little bit of a suck up, but at least he didn’t eat paste or pick his nose, and he was generally well liked and welcomed by the rest of the room.

I called the chair ruining, I mean cleaning, company. I gave them Rachel’s generously reduced bid, and the name and information on Dorien. I was immediately rebuked that the labor costs were very high and that the fabric was too expensive when purchased retail. They informed me that they had found a local company who had given them a bid in their price range that included fabric, and that they would be in touch to meet with me. I was sad not to be able to give the business to Rachel, but just wanted the chairs fixed.

I received a call from Bob, a representative from a company that has been operating in Chicago for over 70 years. Bob informed me that he would come by to see the chairs and would bring fabric samples with him. I said my needs were very simple.

100% natural fibers, preferably cotton or linen or a blend therof, but wool also okay.

Neutral color in the oatmeal to taupe family.

No chenille, no shiny, no velvet, no microfiber.

Texture is good, but no patterns, not even tone on tone.

Bob said he would be over around 9pm. This seemed late to me, but it isn’t like I’m not awake.

He arrived at 9:30. He was approximately 1072 years old. I worried that a heart attack was imminent while watching him navigate the eight steps of my front stoop. He looked at the chairs.

“These are very good chairs.”

Well they were before they were tie-dyed orange.

Bob shows me three sets of fabrics. All three are 100% polyester. One is a chenille. One is a pattern. One is shiny. None of them are remotely Dorien. They are more of a Tawny, Amber and Charisma and while someone might ‘welcome them to the mainstage’ or plop them in an oversized champagne coupe filled with soap bubbles, no one was ever going to put them in my living room. The green couches went pale. The weirdly lavender couch shuddered. The Oriental Rug waved hello, but she’s easily distracted by sparkly objects.

“Bob, I really want a natural fabric, and not chenille, not velvet, not pattern, not shiny. Basic cotton or linen with a little texture, in a simple oatmeal color.”

Bob requested that I get him a sample of Dorien for him to source and left. Luckily he made it to the bottom of the stairs without breaking a hip.

The following week Bob called to say that the sample I had sent had arrived and he would come by that evening to show me some new samples. Jen was scheduled to be over for our usual Wednesday girls night, and was excited to meet Bob, since she had no idea who Fyvush Finkel was, and therefore cannot picture him.

Bob was scheduled to come at 9pm. He arrived at 10:30. Which I have to assume was way past his bedtime, and he was probably missing curfew at the Home.

Bob showed me two sets of fabrics. One was a cotton duck that was sort of like that canvas they put on outdoor furniture. The other was 100% polyester. And shiny. And patterned. It took me all of one minute to reject them. Jen agreed with my assessment. Bob got testy.

“You have to be flexible, these are very good fabrics, much better fabrics than then one you sent me. And this one (the polyester) is washable and fire retardant.”

I take a deep breath, having been taught not to disrespect my elders. Or Methusulah’s elders.

“I appreciate that, Bob. However, this is a home with no children or pets or smoking. I don’t need them to be washable and fire retardant. I need them to be beautiful.”

“I have put these fabrics in homes on Lake Shore Drive.” Well, yes. In 1944.

“I want to find a good match for the one I sent you.”

“I’ll keep looking, but you need to be flexible, I have a very limited budget, and I have three people looking for your fabric, and I am just trying to prevent this from going to Court.”

Court? Now this is a legal matter, my dislike of plastic fabric? “Bob, you should not be in the middle of that, all you need to worry about is the fabric.”

“I have more samples in my car, if you want to come look.”

Bob’s car looks like someone backed up a dumptruck full of sample books and let it rip. No organization, just a pile, nearly up to the roof, of hundreds of sample books. After ten minutes outside trying to look through them by the dim light of his car, I gave up and requested that he simply try to find a good match for Dorien.

Jen was apoplectic when I returned from my visit to sample book purgatory. She couldn’t believe he was so dismissive and insulting. I sighed. It was a process.

After a third nocturnal visit from Bob, who I was now sure was a vampire or some other creature of the night, where he once again brought me man-made shiny fabrics that would survive a conflagration, insulted my taste, implied that I was unreasonable, and discussed the imminent law suit should I not cooperate, and told me that the only reason he bid the job so low was that he thought the cleaning company wasn’t good at what they do and he could smell oodles of such business, I called the company back. I would need a cash settlement, as I was not comfortable with Father Moses of the Polyester Cult removing my chairs from my home.

Turns out, after two months of dealing with me (and Bob) they were ready to cut a deal.

Tune in later this week to find out how even this went all catawampus, and why my chairs are STILL not reupholstered.


  1. Holy Christ! Oy! Remodeling/redecorating is really enough to put anyone in the loony bin at worst or make you an alcoholic at best. Just to make you feel better and less alone about your upholstery nightmare, I would regale you with the horror stories of having our living room furniture reupholstered last year during our remodel, but I have mostly suppressed the memories in a bid for self-preservation of my psyche.

  2. I had a very similar experience with a couch -- though, the company ultimately decided to replace it rather than deal with me, and the reupholstery. It was an absolute nightmare, and I haven't eaten General Tso's chicken since ...

  3. GARSH! What an upolstery nightmare of polyester proportions! I hope you get the final outcome you're looking for...and sooner rather than later. Enough is enough!

  4. A lawsuit being brought upon the customer...? Just because you don't want some crappy fabric?WTF! If anything you'd have the right to sue because they damaged your property. Man, sounds like these people are a pain in the balls to deal with. I'd just get new chairs!