Furniture Detective: Elaborately carved chair may be one-of-a-kind

Readers learn about the identity of a chair and how to combat mildew, from the Furniture Detective.

Q I need some information about a chair that we purchased at an estate sale. We have taken photos to a local high-end dealer and they have told us that this may be a one of a kind Rococo. Since the photos were taken we have had the upholstery removed and sent the piece out to be professionally stripped. When the chair came back to us, along with the upholstery that was removed, it consisted of some very old padding and also horsehair.

My husband and I have looked in just about every book and we cannot find any piece of furniture

Carved chair

Elaborately carved chairs like this one from HI-ART of Chicago, were often one of a kind works produced in the early 20th century. Submitted photo

that has as much intricate carving on it. We thought that perhaps you might be able to tell us something about this chair. “HI-Art Furniture, Chicago, Illinois” appears on the inside. Our research then leads us to a book written by Sharon Darling on the history of Chicago furniture and that is as far as we have gotten. Please help us to identify this piece. Thank you for your time.
— K.D., Westmont, Ill. 

A Sharon Darling’s otherwise excellent book, “Chicago Art, Craft & Industry, 1833-1983” strangely has no reference that I could find to HI-ART. However I was able to find a company trade catalog from the 1940s available online at http://www.coastside.net/msinfobooks/furnxtc1.html. The intro to the catalog lists HI-ART as “Manufacturers and Designers in Latest Creations of Period Parlor Frames. Exclusively Designed and Styled by Experts”. The catalog features upholstered furniture with fancy wood frames in a range of traditional styles. This includes French Regency, Hepplewhite, Louis XV, Sheraton, Duncan Phyfe, etc. Plus, it includes settees, side and wing chairs, sofas, stools and benches, screens, beds, chaise lounges, etc.

I believe your chair is earlier than that although it surely is 20th century, probably 1910-1925. Darling’s book points out that there were a number of “carving” shops in Chicago from around the turn of the century to mid century. These shops turned out frames and components for other manufacturers. She notes since much of the work was hand done at that level by European trained craftsmen. This speaks to many of the pieces becoming one of a kind, and never exactly duplicated. Your chair could be one of those. I am surprised that the loose cushion in the chair was not filled with down. Many upper end pieces of the early 20th century used down in cushions.

I hope you are able to find a quality upholsterer who can duplicate the button tufting in the back of the chair.

Being Mindful of Mildew

Mildew is a topic that comes up repeatedly in inquiries, but I don’t publish information about nearly as much as the question is posed.

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Q I have an old three drawer chest I picked up last year, about 75 years old, at an Amish furniture auction in Pennsylvania. It has been partially refinished but there is mildew in the drawers and I can’t get rid of it. I don’t want to use anything too harsh because of the dovetailed drawers. What can I use? It’s so hard to find deep drawers in new furniture and this is a nice old piece except for the black mildew and musty smell. It was stored in a barn.
— D.O., via e-mail

A Trying to eradicate mold and mildew, which are living organisms that thrive on moisture, by wiping them with plain water, does no good. Neither does just wiping them off with a dry rag. Oil-based furniture polish is also ineffective (that’s a subject I will address another time). You have to chemically kill the organism and the best way to do it is with household bleach.

Put a capful or two of bleach in a quart of warm water and wipe down the entire piece, bottom, back, drawers, inside and out, the whole thing – all over. Dampening a rag or cloth with bleach mixture is important, as is wearing adequate gloves. Work outside if possible. Let the chest and its components dry separately overnight and repeat the process. Air the components in the outdoors, in filtered light or warm shade. Circulating fresh air will help dispel any lingering odor.

The bleach in that concentration will not harm the old finish and will not influence the dovetail joinery if it is otherwise in sound condition.

More About the Furniture Detective

Furniture Detective by Fred TaylorFor more information: Send your comments, questions and pictures to Fred Taylor, PO Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423 or email info@furnituredetective.com. Visit www.furnituredetective.com and check out the new downloadable “Common Sense Antiques” columns in .pdf format. Fred’s book, “How To Be A Furniture Detective,” is available for $18.95 plus $3 shipping. Fred and Gail Taylor’s DVD, “Identification of Older & Antique Furniture,” ($17+$3 S&H) is also available. Send checks or money orders to Fred Taylor, PO Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423. For more information call (800) 387-6377 (9 a.m.-4 p.m. Eastern, M-F only), fax 352-563-2916, or e-mail info@furnituredetective.com. All items are also available directly from www.furnituredetective.com.

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