Antique chairs restored, reupholstered for local 'Encore Collection'
When Hinsdale interior designer Stephanie Sarris changed her client's mind about a pair of Victorian chairs with a simple reupholstery job, she brought the idea to her friend and Chicago antiques dealer Maribel Weisz.
Weisz had a set of mid-19th-century armchairs that had been sitting in her shop, Antique Resources, for over five years. By working with Sarris, who had the designer's eye and knowledge needed to match the chairs with new fabric, Weisz knew they could breathe new life in the pieces.
"I was excited because I have all this furniture, and everybody walks by it because of this grandmother-type of upholstery. It really didn't speak to them at all," Weisz said. "I said, 'Well, I have nothing to lose. I'm going to try this.'"
The designer and antiquarian duo had met through an artisan cooperative in Hinsdale, becoming fast friends over their mutual passion for design, astrological cancer rising signs and love for cats.
Together, the two women decided to have a total of 13 chairs restored and reupholstered, creating the Encore Collection. The chairs, which are officially for sale this month, are true antiques, meaning they're at least 100 years old.
The pieces start at $1,350 and range up to $13,500 for a set, with prices varying based on restoration cost and provenance, or the history of the chair.
The women said re-imagining the chairs isn't just good for business -- it's good for the environment, too. A key tenet of working with antiques is to restore, salvage and reuse things, rather than throw them away.
"Antiques have always been eco-friendly and have always played a role in sustainability," Weisz said. "It wasn't talked about, or it was always seen as just for people that like to collect old things or are wealthy."
Sarris, who has been a designer for nearly 20 years, added that both antiques and design should be for everyone.
"Home is so important. Especially over the last couple of years, we all discovered that it's your safe space. The world is nuts and that's your safe nest, your retreat, so why not make it beautiful?" she asked.
By giving the chairs an "encore," the duo said they hope to show others that sometimes, transforming a piece of furniture just takes a little imagination, and doing so is infinitely better than sending it to the landfill.
"If people don't want them, how is it conservation?" Sarris asked. "It's got to be beautiful and functional."
Sarris and Weisz said every piece of furniture has its own individual energy and history.
"The thing I love is when you think about how old this is and about all the people who cared about it and didn't throw it in the garbage. That energy is there. All the care that went into maintaining it," Weisz said. "It's the furniture restorer, or the reupholsterer, the oil painting restorer, the porcelain restorer. It's a combination of artisans that have a passion and have taken the time to learn how to continue giving them life."
Adding to the sustainable nature of antiques, Weisz said antique furniture is often of better quality and more long-lasting than furniture created today. That's because wood used hundreds of years ago was from trees that grew into their old age, yielding stronger, heartier wood than the younger trees often used today.
Weisz added she's noticed more young people visiting her shop over the last handful of years, and she believes it's due to that sustainability and longevity associated with antiques.
"They are very conscious of the environment and of wanting to recycle, which I'm really glad for because it is necessary. I think the young people have that mindset," she said.
Weisz entered the world of antiques due to her late husband, Richard Weisz, who began restoring and selling antiques in the 1960s. In working with young people, Weisz said she hopes to continue Richard's legacy.
"His interest in just history and collecting got him to do this, and then he wanted to share it with the world. I want to continue sharing it, especially with the young people," she said. "We're not always going to be around, and it would be really sad if there's less and less people that get involved in this industry and make sure that it stays alive."
• Jenny Whidden is a Report For America corps member covering climate change and the environment for the Daily Herald. To help support her work with a tax-deductible donation, see dailyherald.com/rfa.