There’s a chair in there…somewhere

Posted on November 1, 2015 | 2 comments

liz gannon chair-small

Artist Liz Gannon with the wreck of a colonial chair she picked up in Camperdown for $20 and is now restoring.

By Carol Altmann

Broken and musty old chairs might be at the, err, very bottom of the furniture food chain but to some people they are almost a living thing waiting for love.

Artist Liz Gannon is one of those people and while she is not a trained furniture restorer or upholsterer, she loves the challenge of bringing a faded beauty back to life using what skills she has with textiles.

In her Allansford shed right now are several works in progress, including a battered but charming colonial arm chair that she picked up from a salvage store in Camperdown for $20, much to the amusement of the shop owner.


“It was hidden under a pile of books, buried almost, but I could see the lovely curl of an arm in there,” Liz recalls.

“When I asked the guy how much it was, he picked up another chair nearby and I said, ‘no, not that one, that one,’ and he looked at me like I was mad and said, ‘what, that old thing?” she laughs.

chair unmasked

Peeling back the layers. Pieces of new fabric have been laid over old as different sections of the chair have worn out. Image: Liz Gannon.

Once the chair was retrieved from its book burrow, Liz gave it the “fresh fruit” test where you “squeeze it gently, and feel for the lumps, bumps and bruises”.

The chair is covered in “bruises” from an unknown provenance, but you get a sense it could tell a thousand stories.

A closer inspection reveals layers of fabric that have been stitched on here and there as various sections have worn through from hundreds of hours spent supporting arms and bottoms.

Tiny tacks, now well rusted, still try to hold it all together, but in some places resistance is useless and the stuffing has broken through, revealing a mix of coarse, coconut fibre and horse hair.

It is impossible not to look at this chair and wonder how many different souls might have taken rest in its arms.

“It is in very poor condition, but it doesn’t matter if it is old or crusty, it is still beautiful and not something that is just reproduced a thousand times over,” Liz says.

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Coconut fibre, horse hair, hessian…you name it, this chair has got it.

This will be the fifth arm chair Liz has restored as a hobby and potentially the most difficult because of its age and “broken bones” that may require the help of a woodworker.

One of her most recent projects was recovering a mid-century lounge chair in Fletcher Jones fabrics that was snapped up as part of the Fabrication II auction held by The Artery.

Her first project, however, remains her most precious.

It was an old Jason recliner rocker used for many years by her late grandmother, Rita Owen, who taught Liz how to sew. After Rita’s death, the rocker sat unused and disintegrating in a garage until Liz decided to try her hand at putting it together again.

“It was all ripped and torn, with bits of foam hanging out of it, but I remember my grandmother using that chair and it was terrible to see it like that,” Liz explains.

liz gannon teatowel chair

Rita’s rocker: her grandmother’s old chair (see inset) is now the tea towel chair that reflects different parts of Liz’s life. Image: Liz Gannon.

Liz literally dissected the old fabric from the chair to “see what bits went where” and recreated the pieces using vintage, souvenir tea-towels.

Each tea towel represents a part of Liz’s life, including the year she was born and her childhood love of horses, through to the various cities and towns where she has lived.

After 60 hours of painstaking work, the discarded wreck again has a beating heart.

While Liz is a hobbyist compared to professional furniture restorers such as Be Seated, in Portland, her shed is fast filling with new projects and a few commissions from friends.

“It has got to the point where friends are now picking up things for me in the hard rubbish collection, because they know I would love it,” she laughs.

Bluestone is keeping an eye on progress with the Camperdown chair and will be sure to upload some photos of the finished product.

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  1. Lovely article about a wonderful woman – it seems Liz Gannon can take on just about anything! (And I think she should pull together an exhibition based on those photographs of old, musty chairs & their inner workings!) Can’t wait to see how this chair turns out!

  2. I was lucky enough to snap up Liz’s chair at the recent Fabrication II auction – just want to pass my thanks on to Liz! I am one very satisfied customer, I absolutely love my chair, and everyone who has seen it is in awe. Looks amazing, is super comfy and is such a lovely piece of FJ history to have in my lounge room.

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