The Bergère; A Chair is Just a Chair by any Other Name

VW&F Style -

The Bergère; A Chair is Just a Chair by any Other Name

So it’s our first blog post and not for lack of trying beforehand, but finding some time and of course some inspiration, has been in my way, to say the least.

But here we are and I’m steeped in a project I thought I’d take everyone along on. If you’ve been to the shop or to the house, you know we have a thing for antique chairs, specifically French Provincial… more specifically, the Bergére.  These below have been in the shop as a decor piece. We found these at Mahla & Co. Antiques in the strip last summer and I had to have them... I've staged these for a photoshoot on the Highland Park fountain green.

Picture it: France – early 1700s – Corsets, gilding and Louis XIV.. Can you see it? Furniture was not built for comfort, but rather for show and sitting was anything but comfortable: Enter the Bergére or ‘Shepherdess Chair’. The Bergère debuted as an upholstered armchair, similar to the Fauteuil (we’ll chat about that later), leaving the carved or molded silhouette wood frame, exposed (typically beech, walnut, fruitwood or mahogany) and adorned with a fluffy and comfy seat cushion and often with a tufted backrest. This chair marked an important shift in how the world and French culture viewed the purpose of furniture; the covered sides of the chair allowed one to slump down onto an overstuffed cushion, hiding their slouch from prying, judgy eyes. The back was slightly reclined to encourage one to lean back a little and actually be comfortable, again, all the while still keeping the appearance of social rigidity. To that end, during it’s initial introduction to French culture, the Bergère underwent several adjustments to it’s style to suit the fancy of it’s owners, all the while maintaining it’s fundamental definitions. It’s not until the Rococo period that the Bergère comes into it’s own and it’s style is fully unified and the classic curves of it’s body transform into the chair we know today. Of course the English, and more specifically the Victorians had their way with the style as well and made an equally beautiful version, but the style I know and love is very much French. Thank you to the Fairchild Fashion Group. ISBN 978-1-56367-444-0.

So back to my story. About 8 years ago I found a pair of Bergère’s on Craigslist (advertised as ‘old chairs’), ironically, right up the street from where the shop is now. They came out of a Victorian that I equally wanted everything from, but these chairs, even though they were upholstered with a hideous velvet pinstripe… and rickrack.. Ugh (don’t get me going), were beautiful and though they needed some TLC and an all-out makeover, I bought them, but shamefully, they’ve sat in our guest room, untouched, ever since. .. Until last week.

Starting a refinish project always reminds me of grandma Janet – just the other day on her 83rd birthday I called her, only to be hurried off the phone because she was up to her elbows painting the potting shed and was on the lookout with her .22 loaded up for the woodchuck she suspects gnawed a hole in the shed’s side.. (Its fine.. we’re from NH.. this is totally normal..). Digression aside, I took the chairs to the shop, forgetting how heavy they were, and began to strip that awful pinstripe fabric (yes, I found joy in that). I had assumed they’d been recovered in the 80s, and as I got one layer off, and plucked all the tacks, sure enough, 1960 was sitting there.. Some sort of chenille fabric that made me sad inside.. So I stripped that off and low and behold, beneath the chenille and then the old batting, was horsehair… this is where it gets exciting.. Horsehair means old.. Really old.. And kinda gross. That aside, I was able to get a look at the straps and springs that are surprisingly in really good condition (thank God because restrapping a chair and retying springs is a huge pain… and not my strong suit). Now they’re stripped and just the frame remains and I’ve rough sanded the body and they’re ready for primer and eventually paint. I’m hoping to get them painted (light cream) by next weekend so I can get to T’s Upholstery (T’s is the best, fyi).. I’ve upholstered with Gram before, but these will be a little more involved and I just don’t have the time to do them justice, sadly. So keep your eyes peeled for a post; once I get them ready for upholstery and then a finished version… and of course, they’ll be in the shop soon :)

Au Revoir for now!