The Comforts of Evil
The Craigslist hunt for vintage modern design continues in this, our second installment.
Back in the 1960s, British maker E. Gomme indeed advertised its G Plan “Rock n Swivel” chair as “the most comfortable armchair in the world.” As the proud owner of a pair with a matching footstool, I believe this remains the case. Why Mike Myers’ Austin Powers Dr. Evil parody ever opted for a Hans Wegner Ox chair, we may never know, though the possessed chair bit in The Spy Who Shagged Me lessened the slight.
Buying the chairs off Craigslist for $150 may not have been strictly evil, but I knew it was a steal. There were a few mitigating circumstances. First off, I knew nothing about them at the time beyond the fact that they were impossibly cool. (Web research and a kindly email reply from a British antiques dealer clued me in as to their fame, or infamy.) And only one would fit in the rear of my ’97 Subaru Impreza wagon, requiring two consecutive 80-mile round trips.
The effort proved worthwhile, and we spent five happy years luxuriating in the “evil twins,” as they came to be called, before the upholstery fell victim to spontaneous combustion. (Actually, a chair back snagged on the edge of a radiator exhaust valve and ripped.) In strictly investment terms, reupholstering the three pieces was a dubious proposition, but both my parents and in-laws implored my wife and me to do so: For people in their seventies, hell is getting into and out of our even lower mid-century sofas, the living room’s other seating options.
I found twelve yards of Schellens mohair on eBay that looked a great bargain—the devil in the details were some flat spots that would require steaming out. After a phone call from the seller, Silverstone Fabrics in Zionville, N.C., assuring me that I could return the bolt otherwise—not an email, mind you, an honest-to-goodness phone call—I plowed onward. My poker buddy Jim is a second-generation master upholsterer, and his trusty steamer indeed did the trick.
I am a better picker than designer, but the invaluable luxury-goods website 1stdibs proved inspirational. An Italian chair with contrasting buttons and piping struck me as so whimsical I had to give it a try, but the idea was scotched in the field: The mohair’s thickness would make the piping too bulky and unwieldy, while the buttons just seemed to jump the shark. A Danish wingback chair (for $24,000!) similarly scaled to our pair had a mere three buttons, which to my eyes made for a more contemporary and less fussy look than three rows of tufting. We tried four buttons versus three and choose the latter. It was the lesser for two Evils.
The final judgment: Fiendishly good, I think.