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Hog & Fitch conservation clean 19th century invalid chair for private client, March 2017

This stylish 19th century invalid chair was in need of some care and attention. It was a testament to its design that despite all its past use, including some present-day climbing activity from one of the smaller family members, its structure was sound.

But it needed a really good Hog & Fitch conservation clean so it no longer looked like the shabby relation relegated to the corner of an otherwise spotless room.

Cleaning the deep buttoned upholstery felt like investigating the folds of skin on a pug dog. And what a treasure trove it proved to be! As well as the old layers of trapped dirt that you’d expect in any piece of furniture this old and awkward to clean, we found the remains of a reclusive community of moths, tucked away in the darkest recesses of the fabric.

With the help of the usual dust test patches to ascertain the level of cleaning required before we were in danger of removing fabric rather than dirt, we cleaned the upholstery. As there’d also been a carpet beetle problem, we took particular care to get right into the crevices to remove any potential food sources for insect pests.

The deep, vibrant green of the fabric was most visible where the head cushion had been protecting it from sunlight and areas such as inside the folding arms, where no light had penetrated. Light had also weakened the supports for the head cushion which had been torn and knotted at some unknown point in its past to compensate.

After discussion with the owner, we ascertained that removing the cushion and preserving it (least intervention) or sending it away for conservation was not an option. We therefore took the route of minimal intervention given that the chair was still to be in use. We made new straps to support the cushion, hidden under the original ones to take the weight off the originals and hold the cushion in position.

The chair itself was a complex and clever design that just kept on unfolding – more nooks and crannies for Hog & Fitch to clean! The wood work and carved detail really came up crisply after having the dust removed and it was a satisfying job to capture the matted clump of dirt and fibres that was stopping one of the wheels from running smoothly.

We cleaned and protected the metalwork but were careful to leave it in keeping with the rest of the chair – not too shiny! There are examples of similar chairs in auction houses which have been prinked and polished to an extreme degree. They look magnificent but, if we went that far, the feeling of a much-loved family heirloom with a long history of use would have been lost.

Captions appear below the images.

IMAGES AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Main header image: footrest and wheels detail Remaining images from top: buffing woodwork during cleaning; chair before cleaning, showing accumulated dirt and head cushion under strain; moth infestation - the insects had found the perfect hiding place in the folds of fabric (2 images); build up of dust and dirt and a startling demonstration of the level of fading where the head cushion had protected the fabric; removing dirt from the woodwork; upholstery protected from dust and fading by footrest; metalwork and dust deposits before cleaning (2 images); trapped debris gumming up the wheel mechanism; cleaning and buffing wood and metalwork (4 images); clean but not too shiny; final checks and post cleaning photos ( 5 images)

All images by Hog & Fitch