Beneath a makeshift covering of raw canvas, straw stuffing and upholstery tacks, the bones of the sturdy antique wooden chair were well-preserved. Gentle sanding, a cherry stain and a coat of varnish were enough to revive the surface. The original seat was missing, but the holes around the rim of the frame called for hand caning.
A detailed and fascinating "How to Cane a Chair" video on Youtube convinced me that it would be wise to find an expert to do the caning, particularly since this was a round seat, not a square one. Enter Frank Holland the Chair Man.
|Frank examines our chair and dates it circa 1880|
|Frank's chair museum|
- Woven cane originated in China, where it was first used for armour and shields.
- Early examples of caned furniture have been found in Egyptian tombs. There's an amazing tamarisk chair with a caned seat in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York that dates from ca.1550-1425 B.C.
- Portugese caned chairs were introduced to England in the 1660s when Catherine de Braganza married King Charles II. (She also introduced the custom of tea-drinking.)
- Upholsterers unsuccessfully petitioned British parliament in 1689 to ban the import and manufacture of cane furniture in England. They claimed that 50,000 people in the upholstery and woollen trades had lost their jobs due to the popularity of cane chairs.
- In British India where hot, humid weather often rendered upholstery mouldy and moth-eaten, cane was considered a more sanitary choice. Planter's chairs were a standard item for the colonial veranda.
- Cyrus Wakefield, a Boston grocer saw piles of rattan discarded from Chinese shipments at the wharf and envisioned a way to recycle it. He established the Wakefield Rattan Company in South Reading, Mass. in 1851 and invented rattan webbing which reduced the labour involved in hand woven cane seats.
- The Thonet Chair No. 14 won the gold medal for design at the Paris Exhibition of 1867. With its cane seat and bentwood back, it became a classic bistro fixture and is still described by designers as "the chair of chairs."
|Rocking chairs from Quebec|
We admire a Quebec rocker, an Eastlake chair with carved decoration and a late Victorian era caned beauty with walnut frame.
|Regency style chair with tapered legs|
A week after our visit to Frank's studio, the chair is back home filling an empty spot in our foyer near the front door. This is where an essential Canadian ritual takes place, the winter dance of changing footwear as needed for indoor and outdoor conditions. The rescued chair is not just a decorative accent piece, it restores a sense of balance and grace to an otherwise awkward moment.
|Handsome caned seat|
NB: Instructions for do-it-yourself chair caning are outlined in this blog by B.J. a multi-talented handyman.