Thursday, August 11, 2011



It's seems most design blogs eventually start a "Before and After" segment within their postings. There are even blogs and facebook sites dedicated solely to "Before and Afters". Someone reclaims an old bucket and turns it into a funky dining room chandelier or repaints an old dresser in shades of Barbie pink and vanilla white for Suzy's tenth birthday bedroom surprise. Well, here goes our entry into the reclaimed, redone and painful rebirthing genre.
There are all sorts of organizations out there willing and hungry to protect the unprotected. Animals and plant life of all shapes and species have a group of guardian angels to look after their welfare. There's the Wildlife Fund, the ASPCA, PETA, the Society of Kind Understanding and Not Killing Skunks (S.K.U.N.K.). It seems every form of animal life, every endangered species, every tree, flower, and rock has a group of people out there willing to raise funds to make sure they're protected. Who hasn't melted at the sight of those sad puppy eyes on the matted mutt peering out from behind a wire cage on an animal rescue commercial? For just five dollars a month you can make sure that little mongrel will be well fed and taken care of well into its dotage. Every cause seems to have its group of advocates. I'm not cold hearted enough not to have fallen for one of these causes. The cause that has pulled at my heartstrings is a little less well-known and has yet to have an official organization attached to its efforts. It's a cause I've been involved in most of my life, ever since I was a young boy. I rescue abandoned furniture. I can't walk away from a curbside find or a trash yard chair left waiting to be reduced to kindling. Like those sad puppy eyes a rickety table left out in the rain makes my heart melt. I can develop an emotional attachment to an inanimate object. It becomes an anthropomorphic process where I see the pain of a gouge on a Queen Anne leg, or the rust on an enamel top table. Their wounds make them all the more endearing and desirable. It's like rooting for the underdog. I was never attracted to complete perfection, if such a thing even existed. My empathy always ran to the reject, the neglected, the imperfect second a manufacturer wouldn't put out on the sale floor but would sell at a discounted price in the back, in the rough room.
At one point the shelves of our daughter's bedroom were lined with one-eyed Eeyores, hand-sewn sock monkeys with dirty feet, and rows of Teddy Bears with ripped arms bandaged with gauze tourniquets. At one point there was entire collection of stuffed animals all lined up missing their plastic noses our dog, Buddy, had chewed off. Their scars of exposed stuffing made them all the more adorable.
This was the lead-in to  how my most recent "Before and After" occurred. It was two days before junk and I had taken a short cut on my way to the Hyvee, our local mid-scale supermarket. You can cut across on Jana Lane and shave about ninety seconds off the trip, but that day my shortcut added time rather than reduced it. That's because I had to circle back around the block three times to look at this vintage cushionless sofa sitting out curbside next to some recycling trashcans. It was love at first, second and third sight. The back, the curved sides, the fringed bottom all tugged at my minds imagination. I reeled at the possibilities. I saw it transformed with vintage linen, contrasting piping and a pleated box skirt brushing the floor and hiding its dainty legs. I tried to tell myself to snap out of it and leave the couch where it was. It wouldn't fit in the trunk of our tiny compact car anyway. I finally pulled myself away from the curb but as I drove on to Hyvee the image of that sofa wouldn't evaporate from my mind. It lingered in my memory seducing me. Later that evening I made Rick and Emmy take a ride by the curb to see if the sofa was still there and to see if they saw what I saw in that sofa. My heart skipped a beat when we turned the corner and I couldn't see the sofa. Then my endorphins took a huge leap when I saw that pea green brocade peak from behind a parked a car that had been obscuring its view. Rick was a little skeptical. Emmy was only embarrassed I might stop and actually try to "steal" someone's junk. I had to leave it on the curb one more time but it's pathetic state refused to leave my imagination. It waltzed through my dreams that entire night.
When I woke up the next morning Charlie Shortino, our NBC weatherman, was hard at work warning of afternoon thunderstorms between segments on ridiculous Wisconsin politics and how to make the perfect pancake. It was the fear of pelting rain and bolts of lightening that tied knots in my stomach. I panicked about that poor sofa soaked and shivering, a prime target for one of those bolts of lightening. All morning I fought the urge to go and cover the sofa with a plastic tarp until providence set in. My sister, Bonnie, had the day off. The day before she asked me to come over to pull up some rhubarb and cut down some lilacs. My sister, Bonnie, had a truck. I sped over to her house and pestered her about the sofa until she insisted, I mean INSISTED, we stop picking rhubarb and go get the sofa. I felt guilty about making her go down Jana Lane as my get-away driver as we, hopefully, kidnapped the pea green sofa. When we got there the sofa was still sitting there waiting to be rescued as the  storm clods were beginning to form. The weather clock was ticking. We parked the truck. Bonnie got at one end of the sofa and I got at the other. Then on the count of three we tried to lift the sofa onto the back of the truck. The sofa proved to be a true vintage piece, solid wood, metal springs and horsehair stuffing. That sofa weighed a ton. But now I was not about to be deterred. We tugged and inched and pleaded and sweated that sofa into the truck bed and on to the top of the cab. We tied it into place with some hemp rope and drove it over to my mom's. That beautiful piece of furniture made it into my mom's garage minutes before that first raindrop splattered against the truck's windshield. Next stop would be the upholsterer's.

After a trip to New York for enough fabric to reupholster a sofa (it seems Madison only buys bolts in ten yard increments - not enough to cover a sofa) we were ready to move the completed sofa into the store, transformation complete. Like a pig's ear turned into silk purse, the cushionless curbside couch was now an elegant sofa bathed in Hollywood glamour.


Satiric Dancer, 1926
By Andre Kertesz
Represented by Gitterman Gallery, NYC

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