Amazing Fretwork Iron Chair
Are you ready for a Lookiloos smackdown? We’d love you to weigh in on this good-natured competition between two Lookiloos founders, Julia Prodis Sulek and Desiree Northend, who had a Lucy-and-Ethel tug-of-war over a set of very hip, very vintage chairs. The coolest part? They each paid under $40 per chair, but spotted a nearly identical reproduction at a chic Carmel shop for $625. Using their own sense of style and bargain shopping, Julia and Desiree made their chairs their own. Which do you like best? (You won’t hurt their feelings, really.)
By Julia Prodis Sulek
When Desiree told me she had just purchased four Asian fretwork chairs, I was happy for her. Really. It didn’t matter to me — that much — that I considered myself the fretwork girl. I so adored the geometric, intersecting lines of the Asian style, whether on the back of a chair or along a balcony railing, that I made a file of fretwork photos just to gaze at longingly. Trendy interior designer Kelly Whearstler was making wallpaper with the motif. Surely, Desiree must have known my inner obsession! And now, with one grand purchase, she would luxuriate in … well … what should have been mine, mine, all mine?
My mouth went dry as she described the 1960s-era high-backed chairs. They were made of sturdy iron for the outdoors and rolled on casters. I felt faint when she told me she got them for the bargain price of $39 each at Not Too Shabby, a home and garden shop on South Bascom Avenue. It’s one of those places you just never know what treasure you might find. Desiree bought four chairs. Three were left. I desperately wanted them. But would I be breaking some friendship code by adorning my backyard with the same spectacular chairs? I flashed back to an episode of I Love Lucy, where Lucy and Ethel fell in love with the same dress to wear to their “show,” and each promised the other that neither would buy it. Well, they both did, and while singing “Friendship” in the identical dresses on stage, they began plucking each other’s dresses apart! Well, call me Ethel to Desiree’s Lucy.
In our case, with Desiree’s gracious permission, I bought the remaining three. Since one of them had lost a caster and the odd-number of three remained, I bargained with Not Too Shabby owner Vikki Graham and purchased each for $29 a piece — a $30 savings compared to Desiree’s bargain.
Not only did a Carmel shop called Partington Ridge sell a reproduction for $625 a piece, but Val Perez-Ibardolasa, who owns Retro At Home in Emeryville, a chic mid-century modern shop, figured that a vintage set like the one we bought could fetch upwards of $5,000!
The only problem with our chairs? They needed cushions, the somewhat unusual size of 19 inches square. I priced custom cushions at an upholstery shop at $100 — and that didn’t even count the fabric. Determined to find a cheaper solution, I was amazed to find fabulous, retro-style cushions in orange and brown floral at JC Penny for a sale price of $19.99 a piece! I bought a second set to keep in reserve. I kept the chairs in their bronze-green patina, set them under my orange tree and admired the scene. Perfect for a spring afternoon with a glass or lemonade or an evening glass with a glass of wine.
Well, Desiree, you’ve seen mine. Now show me yours! And let our readers decide whose they like best. Don’t worry. We can handle it. Like Lucy and Ethel, they remained great friends, no matter what.
By Desiree Northend
The gauntlet has been thrown–a challenge. Well, this girl never backs down from a challenge. Slightly competitive–you betcha! (Please no Sarah Palin references). It’s a family trait I’ve passed down for better or worse. Just ask any kid of mine.
Now, Julia — my wonderful partner in crime at Looikiloos — seems to think she is the only one who can appreciate fretwork. I didn’t realize I had broken the cardinal rule “Thou shalt not admire fretwork, if your Lookiloos partner has already claimed it.” That was my faux pas. Besides, as you can see, there was plenty of fretwork to go around and I was only too happy to share in the bounty. Take a deep cleansing breath, Julia.
As soon as I saw the chairs, I knew I had to have them. I have wanted outdoor iron furniture since my boys were in their fort-building phase and demolished those old, nylon folding lawn chairs. I wanted something substantial, something that could really take a beating and still look fabulous when not in use as the corners of a castle. What really drew me to these particular chairs was the high wing back shape as well as that fretwork. But I wasn’t wild about the color — a muddy bronze. And they needed cushions. I consider myself a crafty type, so to complement the wrought iron fence in my backyard, I pulled out a can of gloss black spray paint and went for it. I first considered sewing my own cushions, top and bottom, with fabric I purchased years ago from reprodepot.com. But when Julia told me she found the perfect size bottom cushions in a variety of colors at JC Penny, that was too good to pass up. I bought the last four poppy-colored ones. (I hated to tell her that when I went, the cushions were on close-out and I got them for 40 percent less than what she paid. But, she did get the chairs at a cheaper price, so we’re even right?) I made my own top cushions with my own favorite fabric, fluffed them up a bit, and now admire the whole set from my kitchen window. At the end of the day, I think we both did pretty darn well. Don’t you? Please leave a comment and let us know your opinion.
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