In the depths of the basement or the heights of the attic, we all have a favorite piece of old furniture that cries out “repair me” each time you pass by. The voice inside your head says, “I really should do something about repairing that.” Somehow it never gets done and keeps getting pushed to the bottom of the proverbial to do list. It all seems to be just too much of a bother to begin researching where to take such an item for repair. The contrarian voice shouts, “Oh, that old thing, you can just find a replacement for less than it costs to repair it.” The romantic side of you coos, “That is such a unique piece that has such an amazing ________ (fill in the blank).”

Re rush me

Such was the case with a Gustavian chair that Heather and David brought with them in the move to Howlets. The rush seat was in dire need of replacement and nail heads were popping out from the bent wood trim, snagging and pulling any article of clothing that came near. Rush seats are made from a natural material and have a decidedly rustic look and feel. The chair is Gustavian in style and has a grey flat paint with faded gold hand-painted details. In 1717, young King Gustav III, a Swede, returned from court in France to ascend to the throne. Having become intrigued by the French furniture he saw, he promoted furniture design reflecting both French and Swedish tastes. The marriage of the two styles is slightly whimsical and very easy on the eye, with the fussiness of the French style toned down and made more approachable.

The chair at Howlets has been languishing in a deshabille state for a while. Now that there is a perfect place for it at a drop-down desk recently built into the studio’s bookcases, the time had come for the chair’s rescue. But where to get the seat re-rushed? An internet search and many phone calls brought too many dead ends. There are many places in the area that will do caning, but very few that specialize in seat rush.

New life for an old post office

Heritage Industries in Peabody is a part of Northeast Arc, an organization that enables people with developmental and cognitive disabilities to maximize their potential. One part of the organization is a workshop in an old post office on Foster Street in downtown Peabody, Massachusetts. The individuals that work there specialize in press cane, fiber rush and porch weave. The workshop began in 1969.

I recently had the opportunity to visit the workshop. The building itself is a gem. The decommissioned post office has an old WPA Roosevelt-era mural in the lobby. The front lobby is a gallery that showcases art work by Heritage Industries members. In the back of the building where the sorting of mail and packages used to be performed in the former post office days, a workshop now exists. On the day I visited, there were three craftspersons working on replacing the seats of chairs. Finished pieces awaited their owners to put them back into service. Butt sprung and split chairs anxiously stood at attention in neat rows ready to be refreshed. Doug, the assistant manager, showed off examples of the rush repair and told me that the type of rush that was on the Gustavian chair was only done by one of the craftspeople, unfortunately not there that day. The chair will wait its turn. No rushing the rush.

Waiting room

The workshop also makes handmade brooms that look as if a European story book character should step into the room and begin sweeping the floor of a thatched cottage. Out of the several styles created in the workshop, my personal favorite is a whisk broom with a curved gnarled wood handle. Hansel and Gretel spring to mind. There are many other brooms of varied shapes and sizes, including a hearth broom and a long handled broom made for waving away cobwebs. They are all beautifully crafted and each one unique. The prices start at $20.00. I wanted one of each.

Swept away

Check out www.ne-arc.org to see the lifelong services that Northeast Arc provides its members.

Click on any photo to enlarge.

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