Rewind about a year and a half. My mother is helping my grandparents clean out their house, which is a living museum of bizarre relics. They were throwing out the big red recliner, Mom said. What? No. Bring it to me.
After some research, I realized that I’d inherited—and had to find room in my tiny condo for—a Contour Chair-Lounge from 1976 in “Rio Spanish Red” vinyl. Sitting in the crazy contraption is like getting into a hammock hung in a racecar. The lever under your right arm releases the recline mechanism and the whole chair shifts with your weight, sending your head down and your ankles in the air. It sounds preposterous, but is incredibly comfy.
My particular chair came with the “Viverator,” which is a fancy way of saying it vibrates like a cheap hotel bed, minus the quarter slot. It does not, however, have the “Thermonic Heat,” the other luxury option at the time, nor the decorative nailheads. And it was ordered for my grandfather in the size “Super Senior Combo.” I think I’d be offended if my pants were labeled the same way this chair was.
It’s not that I felt the upholstery wasn’t worth keeping. But it was in rough shape. More than 30 years will take a toll on vinyl, plus the recline mechanism needed some work. The whole package was begging for an update. And what more ridiculous thing to do to a bizarre piece of furniture than cover it in cowhide?
So it began. I set off with a mission, a hammer, and some pin-nosed pliers. There is only one way to skin a Contour Chair-Lounge: pulling staples for eight hours. Underneath the squeaky red membrane of upholstery, I was able to fully assess the old foam and the mechanism–also the large rat nest that had likely been made during the mid-1980s in the foot of the chair. Yeah, gross. Some quick adjustments and a trip to the fabric store for foam took care of the guts of the beast. The new upholstery was a different story.
In hindsight, thick cowhide may have been the worst possible choice for an amateur sewer. I bought the hide from an American eBay seller with a cattle farm in France for about $100. The heavy stuff destroyed more than 20 leather needles during the process. I eventually conceded and accepted that I would not be able to do any detail work with the hide, so I reserved those pieces for the face of the chair and upholstered the rest in a rough and manly brown cotton duck fabric.
For the finishing touches, I refinished the legs and the shift lever, popped in some nickel-finished buttons, and replaced the missing Viverator knob with one from Radio Shack.
The whole process took about four weeks of my free time. Had I chosen a more reasonable fabric, I am guessing the end would have been reached three and a half weeks earlier.
See the entire process at the photo gallery.
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