Monday, May 4, 2009

Kay Chair Company: 1970's Tufted Swivel Tub or Barrel Chair

70's or 80's...Found this tub chair a year or so ago and just was saving it until I had time to do it...a little lull in business currently allows me to work on this. I don't get a lot of orders for deep button tufting and like to keep in practice, so it's a good time for this. Was not able to find much during a brief internet search for Kay Chair Company of Van Buren Arkansas. I did find a claim brought before the Arkansas Worker's Compensation Board from someone suing for more extensive Worker's Comp than they were getting, due to some shoulder and hand carpal tunnel issues. There was some question of claimant as to if this injury was from employment with Ray Harris Furniture Co., prior years of working as upholsterer/sewer for Kay Chair, or before that as lunch cook at the local high school. So does this mean Kay Chair of the 70's became part of Ray Harris by the new millenium? A reference book needs to exist of the current status and histories of furniture manufacturers in the US - those two-bit and I have to do everything? If someone knows of such or how to find, please advise - I need this tome all the time, as I make my way thru the world of defunct companies and extinct occupations, like Ben Katchor's Knipl.

I've gotten rid of so much of my remnant stash lately that I was down to 2 choices for this chair. A basket weave, pale blue and tawny brown on white ground with traditional Scandinavian designs of pineapple and tolework shapes and florals or this deep cotton print of brown leaf, with greens, golds and purple, perfect with my surplus of purple velvet welt cording. And actually, it couldn't be more seasonal - this is what our ground is looking like, this mix of brown and green and exactly what I'm craving to eat. The berries and purple grapes at the store have been great. I don't like to purchase or eat too much out of season, so as the asparagus is ending, I'm buying purple, blue and red berries. It's a little early for these to be local, but it won't be too much longer...

The existing 1" soft foam was much deteriorated, as any piece from the 70's or 80's would be, so it needed replacing. 1" isn't very expensive, so I went ahead and applied a new layer over existing cotton that rested against a synthetic burlap covering the wood frame.

At the time of manufacture, this Kay chair probably retailed in a low to mid-range price, owing to it's original covering of Olefin fabric and sinuous spring system (cheaper to install than hand-tying, which is why those pieces cost more to reupholster). When people ask the question, "is it good enough to reupholster?" how much you pay at time of purchase does not necessarily mean anything. This round chair is built like there's no tomorrow, with dowel and block joinery, super tight and wood so hard even 1/8" staples didn't want to come out! While it's width and depth of seat is not a great finished measurement and may not hold a great big person, it could certainly take the weight, of let's say - someone of ample proportions - which increases the chairs life and makes it so worth reupholstering.Plus it swivels!

Buttoned inside back is done, fresh cotton to the deck and apron, and it's ready to have the back applied. While this pattern may be too busy for some, I think it's a feast for the eyes. I just might keep this chair for myself. I must be needing anthocyanins...Reminds me of this vintage dress I own - I can only wear it when I'm craving this color and food. It also has something to do with phosphorus - or as I'm concocting this nutrional analysis from my armchair - both fabrics have a phosphorescence (I'll intuit) that seem to appeal to me for their energy or oxygen delivery capabilities. I asked someone recently if they ever craved to eat the same colors they had to wear (or see in the house) and they looked at me like I was crazy. True, working alone, I hadn't spoken aloud all day and maybe came off a bit ...enthusiastic to be talking to another human, a little overzealous perhaps. What are you gonna do? I think this happens a lot to people who work by themselves, as well as making up their own scientific reasons for things...

Maybe I'll wear my phosphorescent dress, sit in this chair and get a double dose of hemoglobin enhancing treatment. Haha! Textile Therapy. One more comparison of this chair that was once trashed...


  1. I stumbled upon this blog of yours while browsing through various pictures of upholstered chairs. I am glad that I found this because I believe this is EXACTLY like a chair that I own and would like to reupholster. I'll have to check tags to make sure. I had a question, though. I don't wish to keep the tufting and buttons; will I be able to replace the original foam and have a smooth-back chair? I have never upholstered before, but I am very good with redesign projects. Thanks for posting this!

  2. Because of the concave back and sides, unbuttoned is possible, but you'll need to channel or divide into sections the inside back and arms, so that it does upholster smoothly. Patterning this curve for straight stitching is going to be a bear. And then the curved bump of front as it meets the outside back - there's a bit hanging over the edge, looking plump and full. This will not do nicely without some pleating. If it's straight and tailored you are after, I'd suggest finding a different chair frame, not a barrel back or tub chair - Nice to hear from you, thanks for the email!

  3. I am SOOO glad I stumbled on your site. I bought 2 barrel-back chairs from a local thrift store in January 2009 and I have been looking at them for month trying to determine how I wanted to refinish them, but I couldn't figure out what kind of chairs they were (I thought they were tub chairs, but I knew that wasn't quite right). Reading your comment above, I finally figured out what kind of chairs these are and I'm ready to reupholster them (a nightmare! I've discovered 1 layer of fabric and there is a second layer underneath. I'm afraid to keep digging), but I have a question: What is the easiest way to remove the millions of little nails in the bottom of the chair?

    I love your blog and have added it to my list of DIY sites.

  4. Yes, the dreaded multi-layered reupholstery project! You'll want specific handtools to make the takedown process easier. There are different styles of staple and tack lifters or "pullers" out there at various upholstery handtool sites - also check ebay... You can buy them used if you see them, but often the points will be dull (from gauging into all that wood)and you'll want to sharpen them on a rotary stone. Search the internet for Berry and Osborne staple removers.

  5. maggiecrabb@gmail.comAugust 16, 2009 at 2:58 PM

    Thank you so much for this posts and pictures. I have a sofa that looks very similar in style and even color to your chair and have found myself unable to let go of it even though my husband hates it. It's so comfortable and in great condition, justs needs a little love and a makeover. This post has given me new hope that I can really make it mine.

  6. i grew up with chairs almost exactly like that, except i think without the bulge along the top. the rocking mechanisms broke and my parents got rid of them. they found decent replacements, but now those are worn and battered. i need to find new ones, as i think these are the ideal chairs. or would it be cheaper or easier to have someone reupholster them?

  7. You'll have to check with your local upholsterer, as costs are regional. Usually when people go looking to replace a vintage chair with a new one, they are hard pressed to find the same design and scale available at local furniture stores. Generally, if you've seen pictures, or have the number of an upholsterer recommended for his or her good work, it's a good idea to keep them employed in the community. To quote our local Metro Small Business Alliance group, "Supporting locally owned, independent businesses keeps more of your money in your community. When you spend $1 at a local independent, an average of 68 cents is recirculated into the local economy. In contrast, when you spend $1 at a national chain, only about 43 cents stays at home. If Twin Cities consumers shift even 10% of their spending from chains to locals for one day, the Twin Cities economy gains some $2 million". Bring this into your decision making process on whether or not to reupholster. It may not be cheap or easy, but it can put food on the table and help send someone's kids to college, if someone with skill is willing to do the work. And you will get something so custom for your rooms, that you will be delighted for years to come.

  8. I have been looking for what seems like EVER on more information about these chairs! You are a God send : ) I don't have the money or the experience neccessary to completely strip it but I have reupholstered a few dinner type chairs with cording (forgive my lack of knowledge when it comes to terms) and found them to be challenging but completely managable. I have some absolutely beautiful upholstery fabric that I am going to use to make a sort of slip cover for my tub chair. I have a few questions if you don't mind sharing your answers. First of all, if I use pleats to round the inside/back will it sit right? Well, I guess my most important question is this: how much am I looking at if I fail miserably and need to take it to a local upholster? Is this kind of question like asking a doctor how much heart surgery would be? Thank you SO much!!

  9. I bought 2 Kay chairs from an antique store. They are a red and rust stripe upholstery and in really great condition. They are also a really cool design, high-backed and scalloped shape edge at the top. There were several of the same chairs and they called them club chairs so I bet they came from a hotel or country club, etc. Email me at if you would like pictures.

  10. My parents had one of these chairs. I absolutely LOVED it...but not to sit still in!! IF you know what I mean!! ;) You did a wonderful job on it!!


From Start To Finish

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