The Purple Chairs

As you might have learned by now, I have a deep appreciation/fascination with history that specifically translates to design and home decor items. This does not mean I don't adore modern design. I absolutely do. Clean lines, minimal color hues and use of shadows and light is an art form that is undeniable, elegant and requires a thoughtful and intentional physical translation.


However, there is something about design pieces with a bit of history, a bit of patina that captures the romantic in me. I have a profound love for Maximalism that I firmly understand to come from a past life when I was Marie Antoinette. A forgotten Victorian parlor chair in a corner of a dusty shop...it's like a moth to a flame. I get lost in bolts of blue velvet, delightfully and willingly drown in hints of gold and carved pieces of wood. I dramatically exclaim in eye rolling tones over the mostly shabby..and not so chic. "Everything has beauty in it and deserves to live again!" I said to myself as I twirled a rickety folding chair from 1925 with a stained shred of seating directly into our truck bed at the last flea market we attended. John stared, waited for me to finish joyfully explaining how I was going to modernize it with vegan leather strips and silently prayed to the design Gods that I didn't get tetanus from the rusty nail I snagged my thumb on in the process.


There are THOSE pieces however, that don't require vision or modernization. The rare kind you find when you aren't looking for them and they beckon to you in soft tones from dimly lit areas that no one else can hear. They hypnotize you, you become obsessed and build entire rooms around them. I found two of those pieces last year buried in a corner of a large Victorian home in DC that was about to be sold. Two matching Victorian ladies parlor chairs IN DARK PURPLE TUFTED VELVET. The backs of the chairs round in a seductive manner, culminating in a crown of hand carved leaves in the top center highlighted by two side-by-side roses. They are lavish, luscious, they scream sophistication and speak to you like Anna Wintour. I hadn't even realized I needed these, I didn't understand how someone could part with them, I couldn't believe they were dark purple original velvet in nearly perfect condition. All I knew is that I needed them immediately and thus, as had happened to so many glorious pieces before them, they were loaded ceremoniously into the pickup truck with glee and a twirl. Meaning John loaded them while I twirled.


Victorian parlor chairs have a history of their own that is quite fascinating. They come in both the men's version and the lady's version....his and hers if you will. The lady's version of these chairs feature wide seats for folds and folds of skirting and bustles. They have very low or in some cases no arms at all to allow for wider movements during sewing or for more space to cradle children. Often these chairs were called "nurse chairs" for that reason. The men's version usually has a narrower seat as there are no skirts to worry about and tall tufted arms so the men can gallantly lean from one side to the other, bend the arm to hold up a dram of scotch or a pipe without wrinkling the obligatory stiff Victorian overcoat.


The lady of the house had her chair as did the man of the house and guests in the Victorian era were seated across in a matching settee. Parlor couches and chairs contained elaborate carved backs in the shape of leaves and vines, in typically dark woods such as rosewood or mahogany. Covered with rich, deep and soft fabrics, many parlor chairs and couches have an overstuffed look about them. The Victorian era paralleled Queen Victoria's life -- from 1837 to 1901 -- typically reflected in furnishings in the Rococo Revival style. Crimsons and gold silk damasks were favored fabrics for upholstery. https://homeguides.sfgate.com/identify-parlor-couch-chairs-102231.html


The Purple Chairs were even more interesting in that they were matching ladies chairs... not a his and hers, but a hers and hers. I am not certain exactly why. My guess is that these were extra ladies side chairs for gatherings that at some point in their long Voguish lives were separated from the rest of their set, both ladies and men's chairs alike as well as the matching guest couch.


They were meant for two ladies. They are sister chairs. They are best friend chairs.

This is the point in the blog post where this turns slightly from a traditional design post and morphs into an ode to a person I lost this just six months ago this coming Friday. She was one of the most important people in my life.


My youngest sister Micella.


If Micella was a piece of furniture, she would be a deep purple tufted velvet ladies Victorian chair for all the reasons I have described above: rare, glorious, gold dipped, dramatic, alluring, lavish, uncomfortable for many in their rawness and something I have always needed. In fact, after I bought these chairs and cleaned them up a bit and added more gold to their aged wood, Micella called me more than once begging me to sell these to her. She just had to have them, she felt the same pull I had felt for the chairs, the two sisters chairs that had no male counterparts to chaperone their behavior or dull them into subdued silence.


She had big plans for the chairs. She was the first person who bought from my infant design business- she bought both of these ladies Victorian purple chairs with the same glee I had when I had bought them from the old house.


"We can both sit in them at dinners, we can have tea in them, we can read tarot in them, we can DO EVERYTHING IN THESE CHAIRS!" she told me. Of course we would.


But we didn't.


Micella passed away unexpectedly 2 months after she bought them, without ever having seen or sat in these chairs in person. I had planned to drive them up to her in my pickup truck once we had gotten vaccinated from the pandemic. I had planned to sit in them with her, have a glass of wine and gloat over our new family heirlooms.


I kept the chairs because I don't own them. I can't sell them because they are not mine, they are hers.


For now, one sits downstairs as a side chair for my writing desk, and the other sits empty in my office because I like to think that Micella sits across from me each day as I work, in her tufted purple Victorian chair as she planned, pleased with the choices I am making to love what I love, keep designing, keep pushing myself each day to somehow find a way to live without her.


The Purple Chairs have their own history without us, an entire lifetime that I wish they could share. But now they have a different meaning to me and a different life.


They help keep the memory of my sister.





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