My wife has amassed a manageable amount of antique furniture and valuables from her Anderson Grandparents. Norman and Eileen (Nana and Nornie) have long passed, but they are often referenced in our house and in our lives. From hand written letters and cards kept, to regular attributable quotes. And the merchandise…….we have massive silver dining and tea services, several pieces of furniture and many photos. Our home displays an imbalance of mostly modern but some lovely older pieces that have sentimental value to us rather than their monetary worth. Most pieces are at least 75 years old. We’ve had most of them for over 35 years so I’m being conservative with the age. Some of the furniture we have, survived the great 1950 Red River flood in Winnipeg. N & N lived on Kingston Crescent and they took the brunt of the water. We have a dining room table. With all the leaves in, it seats 10 comfortably, but we’ve had more around it. Unfortunately we neglected the 4 matching chairs and have regretted not keeping them all for restoration. We have one left and it sits in a bedroom. There’s an enormous hutch that goes with it. And I do mean enormous. We have a settee parlor seat, (it mostly holds clothes in our walk in closet), a very large Queen Anne chair, a formal living room (perhaps dinette) table, a very old mirror that has lost its matching dresser, (dang), and a few other nice pieces.
Last week, while digging through our store room, my wife suggested we take an old chair and matching footstool, that has collected dust for years, to an upholsterer to get a quote and maybe have it repaired and recovered.
I threw the 2 pieces in the SUV and off we went with a destination in mind.
Enter Lonnie’s Upholstery in Stittsville. It’s a classic small business just off Stittsville’s historic main intersection of Main and Abbott. (Heeyyy Abbott!!!….never gets old) . There is a sign to identify the shop, but you would be excused if you hesitated to enter as it’s basically a residential property that requires a 75 meter drive in. We pulled up and and I walked to the building. It’s an old garage that was refurbished as a work shop.
There was a sign on the door that misled me as it suggested “If I miss you, call my cell”. So I took it as the proprietor was out. I was taking a picture of the sign for the phone number and suddenly a face appears in the door window. Startled me. It was obviously Lonnie. I said, “oh hi, I thought you were out”. He replied, “the sign is always up and says “Sorry if I missed you”, “you didn’t miss me”. Fair enough says I.
We took the pieces into the shop and I was immediately transformed to my youth and thought of my Dad. He did furniture upholstery in Kingston in the early 50’s before he went to Korea. I spoke with my Mom to get more information on his trade but she wasn’t sure about the how and why. She just knew he apprenticed and then dropped it after they moved to Edmonton. It reminded me because my Dad recovered our family living room suite in the early 70’s and I’ll never forget it. We were all surprised and impressed with his skill and knowledge on the subject. Who knew? I told Lonnie about that family history and asked him a few questions about his history. Turns out the shop was started in 1970 by Lonnie’s Dad and he took it over in 2006.
It’s not a large shop, but he sure has it set up well. There is no wasted or unused space. He has a Lazy Boy and a leg rest (covered in leopard print material), a 65″ Large screen TV, a few security screens, a large work bench and what looked like jumbo pedestals to hold the furniture. Tons of tools, an old but solid sewing machine and all the thread and sample material you could imagine.
No doubt Lonnie knows his stuff. He knew instantly what was needed and started talking about the only difficult decision, and that was to agree on material and design. I’m terrible at that stuff so Dawn and he started looking at samples. He then suggested he go upstairs and bring down some remnant samples. We only needed 2 yards and remnant will be very inexpensive. I don’t think we paid more than $50 for the material. We agreed on the work, which was to remove the old upholstery, (nasty) and stuffing, re-glue, recover and of course, the price. It was all labour really. He said he’d start right away and it would be ready early this week. It was.
We went to pick it up and were blown away when we saw it. He did fantastic work. Like he knew what he was doing. What I really enjoyed was seeing his face when we told him how impressed we were. Don’t let anyone tell you that a compliment doesn’t feel good.
Then he pulled out a note and handed it to Dawn and said, “look what I found inside the chair”. It was a note from Dawn’s Grandma Anderson. It was dated October 1984. It provided provenance about the chair’s history. It went back to at least 1934 when they purchased it. That made sense as they were married in 1933. Pretty cool and as I mentioned, Dawn was very close to her Grandparents so to see the handwriting was a bit emotional. Of course we need Egyptologists to decipher the calligraphy. But she did her best.
The chair and footstool is now in our living room and complements the other items. It fits right in. It’s a much better use of it than sitting in our storeroom gathering dust.
True antiquities collectors know that keeping items in their original condition is critical to keeping and enhancing value. Restoration is one thing, but messing with esthetics is quite another. None of our antiques are in 100% original condition but that’s ok. As I said earlier, we’re admirers, not experts..and their value is of familial sentiment. Not for investment. We are definitely more interested in antiques now and will have some adventures looking and snooping around in the future. I’ll always be a “Roadshow” fan too. Kudos to Lonnie. He is a professional and a gentleman. I enjoyed meeting and learning about him. He delivered on his commitment and we loved what he did. I love family business stories and his is interesting. Upholstery is a specialty and requires skilled craftsmen to do it properly. He does, and we highly recommend him. We’ll be back. It is a declining industry, if it ever enjoyed a boom. As Lonnie told me, not many people come in wanting to get Leon’s pieces done.