Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Furniture Restoration Project - Cloning 80 Chairs

Andrea DiCarlo's LaBella in Ghent is a true gem of Norfolk, VA.  Every meal comes out to your table tasting great and its presentation is immaculate. Andrea's family has been in the restaurant business for generations, with recipes as authentic as teenage girl's crush on Justin Bieber.

It is because of this he surprised me when asking for help with a recent restaurant expansion..  I know nothing about restaurants except how to order a meal and eat the food, so I was definitely intrigued.

Original chair with fish-shaped hole.

The Concept

By expanding his restaurant, he more than doubled the indoor seating.  We talked about the tables and chairs the was going to use, but he was really interested in one thing - how to take the eighty-one chairs he purchased and give them a unique design.  Although the fish-shaped hole in these chairs was classy, he desired to create a more simple look for his seats.

A friend of his had carefully marked and cut the fish out of one chair to make a prototype of what he wanted.  The idea was basically to cut out a rectangle around the fish to give the chairs a much more simple look. A great idea, but ho do you replicate eighty-one chairs to look exactly the same?

Gluing the plywood strips along the curved back of the chair.

Sizing Everything Up

In order to clone the chairs, my idea was to make a template to fit on the back of the chair and run a router with a flush cut bit over the hole in the template.  Since the chair had a curved back, my plan was to laminate the template from 1/4" lauan plywood following the curved back of the chair.  Contact cement was the best bet for a strong hold and a quick dry on the template.  I used the prototype chair as a guide for my work.

An exact fit for every single chair.

Working On an Exact Fit  

The template also had to fit in exactly the same spot on the chair, not only vertically but also horizontally.  After laminating two layers of plywood, I used firring strips screwed to the the template to create a resting point on the top of the chair.  This way, the rectangular opening would be the same size and the same place on every chair.

New chair with rectangular hole.

Creating the Clones

Unfortunately, I did not have the necessary time to actually route the holes for these chairs.  Andrea's friend and employee, Victor, cut down all eighty-one chairs, stained the new wood, and applied polyurethane.  The chairs came out looking great, just like the rest of the restaurant expansion.

If you ever get a chance to come out to Norfolk, VA, stop by Andrea's La Bella in Ghent to check out the chairs and enjoy some of the best Italian food.  

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