New John Widdicomb Louis-Style Chairs

I’ve been having the best luck with thrift stores and vintage furniture shop finds since we moved here! I won’t lie, it feels like a super-sweet consolation prize for leaving New York’s great vintage shopping scene (which I had been really sad about). It might take a little more work to find the great pieces…

I’ve been having the best luck with thrift stores and vintage furniture shop finds since we moved here! I won’t lie, it feels like a super-sweet consolation prize for leaving New York’s great vintage shopping scene (which I had been really sad about). It might take a little more work to find the great pieces here – but they do exist and they are cheap. It feels a lot like Delaware did, where people either don’t know what they have or they know and don’t like it so are willing to part with things for a song. Which is still weird to me because, you know, the internet exists! Why not sell the stuff online? Not that I’m complaining about getting deals!

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I’ve lived in lots of different cities at this point and I think the best way to find new sources is to be willing to stop your car everywhere you go. Whenever you’re driving, be watching for signs for thrift stores, used furniture and junk shops and even consignment stores. Don’t ever judge a book (shop) by its cover (window displays/signage) either. Often times the weird new stuff will be  prominently displayed in the front and the great vintage finds will be tucked in the way back. This exact scenario played out for me a couple of days ago when I was driving around Scottsdale, waiting for my cracked iPhone screen to get repaired (why I don’t have any real-time photos of the experience). I saw a consignment store had banners and balloons out front saying they were closing down, so I decided to pop in even though the place looked like it was going to be a major flop in the finds department.

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I nearly turned right around about three steps into the store. It was almost completely empty except for a handful of oversized Tuscan stuff that is (was??) so popular here. But I kept walking around and found a back room area that had a pretty good selection of vintage things. The owners were moving things out of the room. Apparently they had officially closed down the day before. I did a quick once over and the only thing that really caught my eye was a dining set in the very back corner of the store. Six chairs and a table.

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I asked how much for the set even though I thought I wouldn’t take it. Only $50. It was a steal. I went over to take a closer look at the set. The more I looked at the chairs, the more I wanted them. The proportions were perfect and I loved the elongated oval shape of the backs. The tight caning was in perfect condition and I really liked the style of the weave. So simple.

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Then I flipped one of the chairs over and saw a flash of a gold name plate. That was a good sign.

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No wonder the shape was just perfect and they weighed about a million pounds each. So solid.

I told the sellers I would love to buy the set and asked if they were sure that $50 was enough. While I was asking that, my mind was racing with Do I or Don’t I ethical questions about needing to tell them about what I figured was the real value of the set. And then the owner completely put me to ease by saying “Oh, aren’t they great? Did you see they’re by Widdicomb? I wish more people cared about great mid-century design here. I’d be happy to give them to you for $50 just so I don’t have another set to load up on the truck.”

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I still felt a little guilty, but I was also so excited. Find of the century for me! I’ve been wanting Louis chairs for a long time, but I’ve been too picky up until now to spend a ton of cash on brand new chairs. I’m so glad I waited. I gave Ali, my sister, the table already since I think we’re going to use the old Drexel table like I mentioned before. I think the two styles will pair really nicely together!

The same day I found this cute pair of swivel arm chairs for $30! I love the shape of the arms. They need to get reupholstered, but I think they’re going to look amazing in a new fabric. I’m thinking maybe the library?

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Since my luck was running so high that day, I also swung into Home Fabrics to look for a vinyl for the Louis chairs. BINGO.

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Dark gray. Buttery soft. So much like leather in look and feel. Not thin, squeaky or sweaty like most vinyls. And is was only $6.99 a yard!

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Most anything would be an improvement on the current fabric though. Looks like these chairs got a little face lift in the 80s. Time for some new clothes, ladies!
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Now to figure out what color I should paint the frames. My mom and I were talking about it and she suggested considering leaving them mostly as-is, just a good cleaning and brightening. I like the idea a lot and it might look good to have something a little more antique-y looking in the room, but I don’t want them looking too vintage in the bad way. You know? If I go bright white though, they might look too new and cheap-looking. Black would be a similar result I think, unless I did a chalky, matte paint. But then, fingerprints! I could do a bright color, but I want to paint the lanterns red, so that would be overkill. I was also thinking about stripping the frames and doing sort of a limewash look… Lots to figure out!

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62 thoughts on “New John Widdicomb Louis-Style Chairs

  1. Throwing in two-pennorth from the UK, paint the chairs a nice pale Gustavian Grey and please, please if you do nothing else ditch the vinyl and go with a Gustavian theme fabric for the seats. These chairs so deserve pale and elegant. Love the blog! Best wishes Lesley

  2. I think your mom made a good suggestion – if you aren't happy with them you can always change them later. You always seem to find the diamond in the rough. I'm sure most people would have been turned off by the fabric and missed the set completely. I think they'll look fantastic.

  3. Have you tried Annie Sloan chalk paint? The paint itself gives a beautiful matte finish and then you can use wax to give it the look of patina. I just painted a vintage secretary in Annie Sloan grey and it came out beautifully! Looks like an old Scandinavian piece. Best part is no stripping, just pain right over the existing finish.

  4. Do you have any specific places to shop for vintage furniture in Delaware? I've lived here for 4 years now and can't seem to find those "gems" anywhere. Thanks!

  5. They are so pretty. I think keep the cream part as is and maybe paint the green area black?! Hello paint pens! I think it would keep the expensive feel but still update them…and would look amazing with the fabric you have! Cant wait to see your finished product!!

  6. what a great find! i LOVE the grey vinyl and i think your mom is right about giving the chairs a good cleaning and letting them be.

    thank you for your blog – reading it is always a highlight of my day.

  7. Don't touch the chair frames. I think they blend so nicely with the wicker. Recover the seats, then decide. (I know that is backwards, but you may just get lucky and only need one step.)

  8. Jenny, what an amazing find! And here I am, gloating about the brass mid-century crab I found at Goodwill :). Do you have any tips on making sure the thrifted furniture doesn't have bedbugs or other critters? I've always wanted to find vintage pieces to reupholster, but my hubby is paranoid that I'm bringing bugs into the house.

  9. I can totally relate to your amazement!
    I scored a McGuire Dining Room Set with 4 chairs and a hexagon glass top for $150 a couple of weekends ago.
    Still on a high over it!!!
    Go figure?

  10. leave the chair frames alone…loving the finish. The gray vinyl will give it a tone on tone look, however, I am not a fan of the vinyl. Those chairs deserve a high end beautiful fabric.

  11. I'm assuming you chose the vinyl because you have three, count them, three little ones w/ lots of messy friends? I love the gray gustavian idea w/ a lovely fabric for those as well, but I know your reality! Love that you let the man know that they were worth more than he was asking….what a beautiful quality in a human being!! Looking for the same thing… old dining room chairs I can transform here in CT and well you know… they aren't fifty dollars!

  12. You may find the thrift and consignment finds abound in the Phoenix area. It is a transient town and there is often some good money running through it. I worked in a consignment store there for a few years and the quality of items that I saw go through the store was astounding.

    It's been 20 years since I worked and lived there and I still have some of those nice little pieces. I have a pair of little Duncan Phyfe chairs that I pulled out of the garbage!

  13. Jenny, I love that you go through your thought process of what you MIGHT do with re-vamps be it furniture or walls or whatever. It seems so genuine when you say "maybe I'll do this, I could do that, or what about this even?" Its helps me learn my own design process so much better than when you just keep it a secret and say SURPRISE look what I did!

    Thank you so much for being awesome!

    And I agree thrift stores in the valley are GOLD, I swear. I can ALWAYS find awesome stuff at most of them I feel!

  14. Those chairs are pretty awesome! I am so jealous. I would love to see you paint the green accents grey or black and the rest of the chair a creamy white… it would look so beautiful with your vinyl you chose and it would freshen up the awesome caning!

  15. Love this post! It's the Jenny we all love and know – nice to see you are finding such great things in AZ! I love the original finish so I say live with it for a little bit and you can always paint them down the road. The club chairs are fabulous!

  16. Haha, love your stream of thoughts at the end! Reminds me of something I'd say and at the end my husband's eyes would be glazed over.

    Great finds! I agree with Sara Wetmore and your mom about keeping the finish as is for now on the dining chairs and seeing how that looks as the room comes together.

  17. Coming from a gal who always painted dining chairs–don't! The original finish will wear much better and give you much less grief. And it's great , to boot! Next time I'll get a finish I love and stick with it. Amazing finds!

  18. SO JEALOUS!! I'd happily pay $50 for one of those chairs! Even in that condition. I see the rationale behind the vinyl with little ones, and while I'm not sure that's the route I'd go, your work is amazing, and I'm sure it looks so much more luxe in person. Your mama is a smart woman – I'm with her all the way about leaving the wicker and chair backs alone for now – you can always go back later for a touch up, but once it's painted, it's really hard to un-do it! Can't wait to see how these turn out!!

  19. I love a good deal! Awesome chairs! I would clean them and give them a good sand and then just white wash them. I think they would look amazing! Just the right amount of light vintage without looking too perfect. Can't wait to see all teh decor come together!!!

  20. Hi. I think you clean them paint the green champagne so it works with all metals and the red, and it's just a little strip of trimester.
    Go girl. What a deal/steal/threall( yes I know spelled wrong but it's what we say all together) deal,steal, threall.
    Yeah for you!!

  21. What beautiful chairs! I'm so curious to know if there's a remnant of the original fabric under that floral stripe. As always, I'm SO excited to see what you decide to do. Your afters amaze me.

  22. OMG, you lucky duck!

    I would leave the current stain/color alone. I think painting the stripes a darker color might make them look "circus-y". Makes me think of Robin Thicke's outfit at the VMAs…LOL!
    And taking all the contrast off and painting them one color would lose their detail.

    Not sure if this pattern is overdone, but how about a big Ikat print for the cushions? I'm not digging the grey vinyl.

  23. Hah! Looks like there aren't a lot of vinyl fans here! :) Never fear, friends – the deed is not yet done. Still figuring it out. Vinyl is just so dang family-friendly. This one really doesn't feel like vinyl either. It's a dead ringer for leather, which would be my first choice for these special chairs. I'm going to call my leather guy in Brooklyn to see if he has two matching hides of any good leather that would be stain and water resistant – maybe even a patent like my Greek key chairs. I've also thought about getting some patterned fabric laminated or teflon-coated, but we'll see what happens.

    Definitely planning on keeping the old paint finish if I can. I'll probably brighten up the white a little and maybe gray up the green a tad (hello, Christmas dining room with the red lanterns!).

    Thanks for your input guys!

  24. I actually really like the finish as is, and I'm with the others who aren't feeling the vinyl, but I also know that your vision always comes together and looks fantastic :) Excited for your deal – can't wait to see the finished chairs!

  25. Hi Jenny.
    Love the chairs. I think leaving the finish but touching up the green edge with gold or grey and gold would be beautiful. But if you paint, then choosing the same value of grey as the vinyl but with a different sheen. Good luck!

  26. Hi Jenny.
    Love the chairs. I think leaving the finish but touching up the green edge with gold or grey and gold would be beautiful. But if you paint, then choosing the same value of grey as the vinyl but with a different sheen. Good luck!

  27. Ohhh man. Selfishly I totally want you to do a lime finish (also I think it would look pretty great) because I have some old chairs I've been dying to try that on and I don't know how exactly :o you don't have any other tutorials of that in the archives do you?? great finds, you have the best luck!!

  28. Hi there! How about painting the chairs a nice, neutral pale gray with maybe a sage green undertone (very mild)? They are lovely!

  29. Hi there! How about painting the chairs a nice, neutral pale gray with maybe a sage green undertone (very mild)? They are lovely!

  30. Since you are thinking about reupholstering and maybe painting, I would wait until I see how they interact with the rest of the elements in the dining room. Decorating in layers, as you say!

  31. I think you should leave them. I kind of like the finish and if you want the red lanterns, a bit neutral will be great. I have a chair with caning that I painted matte black and it was the worst idea ever! Not only does it show fingerprints, it shows dust terribly and it's not very smooth, so when you wipe it, the dust just kind of smudges.

    I thought I did well finding a table and 6 chairs for $100 on craigslist! This really is the find of the century! I'm sure you're happy to be close to Home Fabrics again. I love ours here in Kansas City, but their lease is up and they're not sure if they're going to find a new space here or not. I might cry. :( In the meantime I've been visiting often and buying way more than I need.

    I know whatever you come up with for both sets of chairs, it will be amazing!

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