Q: I purchased an antique ice cream parlor stool at a garage sale. I’m thinking it is from the 1930s or ’40s. It had horrible upholstery, and when I ripped it off I found an original turquoise and orange leather seat. My problem is that someone glued foam to it and I can’t get it off without damaging the leather. The base is white porcelain over iron and designed to be bolted to the floor. Is there any hope or do I have to re-upholster it? It isn’t in the best of condition and the leather is brittle, but still beautiful.
A: We believe there’s a good chance you can restore your antique stool, but most likely you will need professional help. It sounds like a neat piece and well worth your effort to restore it.
During Kevin’s younger days, when he was working construction, he would often spend rainy days “swattin’ flies and tellin’ lies” with his friend Fred Stone, an upholsterer who used to own a shop in Alameda, Calif.
During these sessions he watched Fred tear down and rebuild many a piece of furniture. Among these pieces was the occasional stool or ottoman where a new piece of foam rubber was glued to the old material to make a softer seat in the re-upholstered piece.
It’s unlikely that Fred worked on your soda fountain stool, but it’s almost certain that when it was re-upholstered, a new piece of foam rubber, along with cotton batting, was installed. It’s likely that the foam was glued on with an aerosol adhesive.
Oftentimes, when Fred had to remove old foam such as this, it came away in a crumbly mess, but it did come away. That makes us think there is hope for your old piece.
We believe that this type of restoration is best left to the professionals. But what type of professional? First, check with your local upholstery shop. They may not be able to do the work themselves, but they will know of furniture-repair professionals who could tackle the job.
If you strike out here, next we’d suggest that you go to your local car detailer. There are a myriad of leather restoration products on the market and a knowledgeable car detailer is one of the tradespeople who will know about them.
In either case, we’d recommend that you remove the seat cushion from the chair and just take it in. These seats are usually attached from the bottom of the frame by three or four screws secured into the seat bottom.
A third choice is to check the yellow pages for a company that specializes in furniture refurbishing or repair. This might include people who advertise themselves as restorationists. Also check with a local museum. They may know of people who do this type of restoration.
Finally, although we don’t recommend it, if you want to try to tackle this yourself, the toughest part of the project will be to remove the old particles of foam rubber. Do not use anything but warm water and a soft cloth to loosen the material. Any kind of oil-based solvent will stain the piece, and even soap will leave a residue.
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