We timed our estate sale visit to its final day, arriving in the last couple of hours when prices are more flexible. Sure enough, an estate sale rep announced that prices were 50% lower than marked.

The house reeked of cigarette smoke, so it wasn’t pleasant poking through the mostly empty rooms. I’ve read that you can remove cigarette smell from upholstered furniture by spritzing cheap vodka on the fabric.

A massive Victorian bureau met us in the dining room but even at half price, I couldn’t hope to touch it. In a far bedroom I found a gorgeous Victorian headboard, footboard and rails. Nope, nope. Too costly. I gazed at the only other items in the room.

Oh, hello, there.


Two lovely parlor chairs greeted me, but I live in Florida, a breezy, casual state. Victorian isn’t a major decorative theme. I moved here after graduate school and coming from New York, I know Victorian. My grandparents’ home brimmed with heavy, dark furniture.

Maybe the chairs stirred my childhood memories. I’ve read that one’s appreciation of furniture skips a generation. That explains why I find Victorian more compelling than the mid-modern pieces owned by my parents. I lived through the mid-modern era and don’t have much favorable to say about that furniture.

When our modern Danish furniture took over the living room of my childhood, an edict accompanied the new sofa: don’t jump on it. Whereas the heavy piece it replaced could be imagined as a comfortable ship, train or fort, this Danish piece had skinny stick legs like a newborn fawn. Let’s be honest, we broke a leg pretty early on.

Back to the Victorian chairs: they spoke to me and were listed at 50% off. I could paint them and sell them. Maybe even reupholster them, with a lot of pluck and luck. Back out in the living room, David asked if I’d seen those bedroom chairs. That was all I needed. We bought the pair. As I carried one toward the door, a woman stopped me to compliment me on my purchase. “They’re pre-Civil War, you know, the 1850s.” I didn’t know, but if she were correct . . . my happiness meter surged. Image

I contacted Bob, my antiques pro. The chairs are from the 1860s, just a decade later than the woman surmised. That means they were manufactured during the Civil War, a bloody conflict that pitted many brother against brother. Who sat on this original tufted velvet? I’d like to imagine Abraham Lincoln or Louisa May Alcott or Susan B. Anthony. My own relatives immigrated in the 1880s, so someone else’s family originally bought and cared for my new chairs.


Bob said they’re Victorian Renaissance Revival parlor chairs, once part of a larger set. The Renaissance Revival lasted from 1850 to 1880 and produced massive, opulent pieces with geometric forms and decorative elements. But my chairs aren’t overpowering. I like the contrast between the rounded seat and the rectangular back with the pediment perched atop. They are charming. In fact, more charming each day. Image Image Image

For these photos I set up the best Victorian vignette I could muster. See that Grandmother Clock? That’s our newest acquisition and I love it. It chimes and was built, according to Bob, between 1900 and 1920 in England or Germany. More about the clock in a later post.


Here’s my current conundrum: do I keep the chairs or sell them? Arguments for selling: Florida isn’t a Victorian mecca. Bob says they could sell for $550 to $650 each, as is, in an antiques store. That’s interesting, but it doesn’t force my decision. I could keep them, paint and reupholster them. But then these beauties would lose some value. Does that matter as long as I love them and enjoy them? I’ll continue to ponder this. Any suggestions?

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14 Comments on Take A Seat: Victorian Parlor Chairs

  1. nancyjill
    February 28, 2014 at 4:07 am (8 years ago)

    I love them just the way they are. I have only one…the seat and back are needlepoint …it sits in my foyer….and it is my husbands favorite chair we own……I don’t see many of these in Colorado……and who says you cannot have these in Florida? 🙂

    • irisabbey
      February 28, 2014 at 1:08 pm (8 years ago)

      Your comment cause me to smile. Nope, no one says I can’t have these in Florida. I’m inclined to agree with you. They are looking great in my home. Thanks, Nancy

  2. Christine
    February 28, 2014 at 6:04 pm (8 years ago)

    Hi Abbey, thank so much for leaving me a sweet comment on my blog Little Brags yesterday (the Copycat Demijohn post with the twinkle lights) I tried to reply to your comment directly but you came up as a non reply blogger (Google glitch) xoxoxo Christine http://littlebrags.blogspot.com

  3. Curtains in My Tree
    February 28, 2014 at 10:07 pm (8 years ago)

    Hi seen you on My Romantic Home blog
    I have had chairs similar to those before and loved them when I was collecting Victorian furniture, they would be great painted however if you a save the wood person even recovered would be pretty.
    Wish I was in Florida for this terrible winter, I want to be a snow bird LOL
    We have snow predicted for Sunday & Monday

    • irisabbey
      March 1, 2014 at 3:47 pm (8 years ago)

      Thanks for your comment about my chairs. It’s uncanny — they look even more lovely than yesterday.

  4. Susan K.
    March 1, 2014 at 1:04 am (8 years ago)

    Just PLEASE don’t paint them!

    • irisabbey
      March 1, 2014 at 1:20 am (8 years ago)

      Susan, my husband certainly supports your request and I’m leaning in that direction. My reasoning is this: if these chairs have survived 150 years, plus or minus, because of good stewardship, how can I do anything less? I love visiting historical homes with period furnishings. I suppose I could donate them to a similar museum some day. Right now I can simply enjoy looking at them. I have so many other projects that these chairs can sit comfortably. No worries. May I ask your reasons for your stance? Thanks, Ann Marie

  5. Pamela
    March 2, 2014 at 2:32 am (8 years ago)

    What treasures! Thanx for sharing your chairs at THT!

  6. melaniealexander
    March 2, 2014 at 7:20 pm (8 years ago)

    Love the chairs, their story, and your estate sale strategy. My thoughts on painting them …if you sell them, leave them as is. But you may want to curb your expectations on the price they may carry. In my recent experience, high quality “real” antiques arent selling, and if so, for much less than I had expected. I think they are just in a dip right now. But I say if you keep them, do with them whatever you would enjoy. I have painted stained pieces before where I have found 2 other paint colors in the nooks and crannies of the stain, meaning it had at least 3 different lives before I gave it it’s 4th. It’s just paint, and can always be professionally stripped. Paint on wood isn’t permanent.

    • irisabbey
      March 4, 2014 at 2:00 am (8 years ago)

      Thanks, Melanie. I appreciate your support for whatever choice I go with. I’ve had a busy day, so I haven’t had a chance to compliment you on your reupholstered French chair. I saw it this morning and it looks wonderful. You did a super job. Congrats.

  7. gn0mel0ver
    March 2, 2014 at 8:35 pm (8 years ago)

    What a great score! I think I would just reupholster them and leave that gorgeous wood to speak for itself. I definitely would not paint them.


    • irisabbey
      March 2, 2014 at 10:07 pm (8 years ago)

      Thanks for the advice, Jenni. I’m inclined to leave them unpainted but I’m intimidated by the reupholstering project. If I go that way, I think I’d look into having a professional do it.

  8. Cindy
    March 11, 2014 at 2:07 pm (8 years ago)

    My two favorite things! Estate sales and painted furniture! Love the chairs, can’t wait to see what you do with them!

    • irisabbey
      March 11, 2014 at 5:00 pm (8 years ago)

      For now I’m just going to enjoy them. Thanks so much for your comment.


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