In this week's Friday Favorites, we visit with Tania, a freelance medical writer and mother of two boys. We join Tania in her home to learn more about how she turned a pair of hand-me-down chairs into a vibrant focal point for her own home.
The chairs in their original state
Tell us about your blue chairs.
The blue chairs are my favorites because they were our very first pieces of furniture in our first apartment together. They were from my husband's parents' house. He grew up with these chairs. After we had them for a few years, the fabric was starting to become threadbare so we reupholstered them. They are very unique, very retro, very personal. They’re the most “me” of all our furniture.
When you got the chairs, were they in their original form?
Yes, they were original. But my husband remembers them having been covered in plastic at some point! His mom simply could not believe that we wanted them because they’re old and they weren't anything special to her. But, for me, as soon as I saw them in their house, I was gaga over them.
Does your family like them as much as you do?
My husband loves them. And he thinks its funny that we have these chairs, you know, because he grew up with them. The kids like them, too. They’re always bouncing on them - much to my dismay! But to them, they’re not anything special because they’ve always been there.
How did you reupholster the chairs?
My friend is an interior designer and she told me where to go to get fabric. My mother was helping me so the two of us went down to Canal St. [in New York City]. For some reason, most of the stores were closed so we just went to the biggest one with the most selection that was open that day. Originally I was trying to recreate the original fabric but we couldn’t find an exact match. So instead, I looked for something that would keep them retro looking but vibrant since they’ve always been a vibrant high light among our very neutral furniture. What we did find was this fabulous blue velvet and and a kind of mod print. The print reminded me of something a glamorous movie star in the 1950s would have on her caftan! I really liked it and it was close enough to the original but still different. We brought the fabric to our upholsterer to do the actual reupholstering.
Did the chairs drive the decisions you made about other furniture?
The first apartment we had together was small but it felt big to us. It was the biggest apartment either of us had ever lived in. We had fabulous light so I wanted to keep the rest of the apartment very light and neutral in color so that the blue chairs would stand out.
Our current house (and many of the other houses the realtor showed us) is so traditional. These chairs are almost defiant in this house which is so neutral and soothing and beige. When we moved, I knew I was putting these chairs in my family no matter what and everything else was just going to have to coexist with them.
Did you have to reject anything for not being able to work with the chairs?
Art. It took a while to find things to hang on the walls that were interesting but not too matchy-matchy, especially because we have pieces hanging right over the chairs.
Tell us about the pieces over the chairs.
Above one chair is a personal photograph. It’s a picture of me on vacation, probably around 1996. My husband and I had gone to Puerto Rico for a wedding and he surprised me with a trip to Vieques, a small island off the coast of Puerto Rico. Now it’s all built-up and developed but at the time was extremely rustic and very off the beaten path. My husband’s friend who was getting married was from Puerto Rico and she gave him recommendations for Vieques. We stayed at this place that used to be an old coffee plantation called Casa del Frances. (I found out recently that it burned down.) So that picture is me on the veranda on maybe the first day. We were taking pictures and My husband just happened to snap that picture while I was walking. That was our first trip to Vieques and we’ve been back since then.
Tania at Casa del Frances, Vieques.
I was looking for a long time for a piece to go above the other chair. I even had an interior decorator helping me but I couldn’t find anything that struck me. Then I happened to be out one day, browsing through stores, and found this piece and just bought it. I just came home with it one day and hung it up. I tend to be like that when it comes to decorating pieces and art. I obsess over it and search and search for the perfect piece. In the end, I go with my gut on something I never saw before.
How would you describe your decorating style?
My style used to be very urban modern, like [the retailer] West Elm: very straight lines, kind of cold. It's softened though since we’ve moved and since we’ve had a family. I still like clean, modern and comfortable. But I like pieces with more personality now and I tend to like things that are a little retro. I have an affinity for things from the 1960s in terms of furniture. I think I'd call it comfortable modern or realistic modern.
What is your biggest decorating challenge?
I get obsessed over finding perfect pieces. I think art is the hardest, because I don’t want anything that is too contrived or that feels like I’m trying too hard. I think pieces need to feel organic. And I need to have an emotional connection. That is why I got that canvas print of [Mae's] photo. It's perfect because it’s personal, I loved the photo immediately, nobody else is going to have it, it’s not contrived and it reminds me of [her]!
The canvas of Mae's photograph waiting to be hung.
Where do go for your design inspiration?
Inspiration kind of finds me. I don’t really go looking for it. A lot of times I'll be inspired by something when I'm just looking through my magazines. The grouping of photos over the bed in the master bedroom was inspired by something I saw in Real Simple. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular. It just struck me. Most times, when I go looking, I’m never very productive, nothing ever comes to me!
Please complete the phrase "here in this house..."
….I’ve found my home.
Thanks so much, Tania, for sharing your story and your images with us. We can't wait for you to pass down those chairs to your son's families so they can make new memories with them, too!