Recently, I’ve been on the hunt for the perfect statement armchair and on my travels I discovered the beautiful work of Laura McEwan and Katie Blume. As the replica furniture debate rumbles on, in Lismore NSW, the duo otherwise known as Flourish & Blume, are breathing new life into truly stunning revamped vintage chairs.
Laura says well made chairs are like sculptures. “They’re beautiful objects and they represent a state of maximum relaxation without actually being asleep. Well, sometimes being asleep!” Katie adds: “One of the reasons I love old chairs is because I have discovered that they generally have their own character and story. You get to know a chair when you spend a bit of time with it. I swear sometimes when I’m working on a chair I can hear it speak to me. Sitting in your favourite chair can feel like a hug from an old friend.”
You see, these two upholsterers and textile designers, who have a hoarder-esque collection amassed over the years, really do love chairs! And they’d have to, with each one taking between three days and four weeks to transform.
Laura would love to own a few Hans Wegner Round chairs. “That chair represents such incredible craftsmanship and intelligent design but it’s not one to fall asleep in. In terms of Australian chair designers, I love the Eleanor (1954) by Grant Featherston and the Transat chair (1925) by Eileen Gray and so many more.
“We’ve met so many chairs that are beautifully made and barely aged in 50 or 60 years, some can’t even be identified as any particular manufacturer. I think my favourites would be the ones that are in a really sad state that reveal themselves with buckets of elbow grease.”
Katie adds: “I love anything old, particularly mid-century, anything with beautiful lines and great design, anything wood. There isn’t any particular identifiable chair I can say is my favourite to work with. I have to agree with Laura that there is a great deal of satisfaction and pride in finding or being given a chair that most people would probably throw to the tip and resuscitating it, reviving it and turning it into something beautiful and useful once more.”
Sometimes the hardest part can be parting with their beautiful creations. “They’re our babies!” says Laura. “We like to have at least a couple of nights where we can sit and stare at them before they’re sent on their way.” Katie says: “You get to know a chair, develop a relationship. I don’t want to see them go now they are looking the best they have looked in years and it’s sad thinking you probably won’t see them again.”
With a background in arts, Laura is very disturbed by the concept of replicas. “I see them as an abuse of the designers’ intellectual property rights. It’s no longer about the appreciation of craftsmanship but about the status of owning the object, with no regard for the conditions under which it is manufactured or the environmental impact of its production. Unfortunately, the flooded replica market means that some of the most beautiful and iconic mid-century designs have now become cliches. I suppose their popularity is a reflection of a consumer society that puts its desires before its ethical considerations.”
And while Katie says everyone has a right to their opinion on the matter, she personally isn’t comfortable with the concept or manufacturing of replica furniture. “To me it is morally and ethically wrong on so many levels.”
At the same time, Laura thinks more people are learning to cherish secondhand gems. “I don’t think there is as much quality mid-century furniture going to the tip these days, not like it was say five years ago. It just makes sense that for around the same price, or less, as new furniture that could possibly have been manufactured in appalling conditions from endangered rainforest timbers and that probably won’t last a decade, you could have an ‘antique of the future’ that has already stood the test of time and is a more ethical purchase in every way.”
Katie thinks one of the reasons she was put on the planet was to save old chairs. “I have heard many disturbing stories of people burning their old chairs or sending them to the dump because they didn’t know what to do with them or couldn’t afford to have them restored. It’s very sad. Beautiful old chairs, lost forever.”
Laura is heartened to see many interior designers using revamped mid-century pieces. And Katie says it feels great to own unique pieces. “I personally love having chairs in my home that I know are like no one else’s in Australia or the world.”
Fabric on the above chair is by www.kambamboo.com
Laura and Katie (above) can’t get enough of old chairs.