Not so easy to end a 25-year seat-of-the-pants affair, Part 2

by Hugh Gilmore
Posted 4/1/21

Twenty-five years ago, my wife, Janet, gave me my favorite birthday gift: a reading chair. Over the years, however, the chair, like myself, has grown older and borderline decrepit.

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Not so easy to end a 25-year seat-of-the-pants affair, Part 2


Twenty-five years ago, my wife, Janet, gave me my favorite birthday gift: a reading chair. Such a coming-of-age experience it was: my very own chair. It has brought me countless hours of enjoyment. Over the years, however, the chair, like myself, has grown older and borderline decrepit. Its leather arms developed cracks that puckered. The padding wore thin. I had to insert a pillow behind my lower back. Another on the seat. Even with the extra support, my back ached the moment I sat in it. I constantly needed to shift position to ease my lumbar pain. This year, I decided to replace it. I discovered that's not such an easy thing to do.

Like most men who have a favorite thing, I wanted to replace my reclining reading chair with a brand-new copy of itself. But, as with my favorite walking shoes, sweaters, ballpoint pens, TastyKake lemon pies, sweatpants, "dungarees," and ankle-high dress socks, I learned they don't make them like that anymore. They've "improved," "restyled," or just cheapened them. I couldn't accept that cold fact. I'd had what I wanted, and I wanted what I'd had.  

My first move, of course, was to go back to Raymour and Flanigan, the store where my wife had bought the chair. But they don't make that same chair anymore. And the new, improved, model didn't look right. Nor feel right. I left and went home to begin what has since been a three-week search to see how close I could come to the original. Though I felt disloyal to "the" chair at home, I remained loyal to the "idea" of that chair. Platonic thinking. Like speed dating, (which my wife and I have been doing for thirty-five years).

I went to the internet and Googled for images of "contemporary leather swivel recliners with matching ottomans." More than 500 images came up, showing chairs in a range of shapes and styles that ranged from Brancusi-like flying birds to monstrously squat Sherman tanks, things you could mount on tracks and raze entire shopping malls with. My search image lay somewhere between those extremes. The chair had to have lift, but in a subtle fashion. And it had to have burgundy colored leather upholstery. Some chairs were ruled out quickly because their arms were too high, or showed too much wood, or metal, or were padded, but too narrow. I did not want an office-y look. Efficient, but casual. Comfy, like a nest. Perhaps about a dozen chairs I saw looked nearly acceptable to me.

I also looked at leather recliners on Amazon and eBay. I googled "Philadelphia area Department Stores that sell furniture," and was referred to the websites of Walmart, Home Depot, Target, Macy's and Bloomingdales. I also checked out "Philadelphia area furniture stores" such as Usona, Roche Bobois, Minima, Grossman Furniture, Luxe Home Gladwyne, Room Service 360, Millésamé, Bob's Furniture (whose overstuffed recliners could be scooped out and lived in during a housing crisis), American Furniture Design (chairs filmed in closeup to resemble Jabba the Hutt), CB2, and the venerable Mode Moderne. Only Macy's had a "maybe." It was in top-grain leather, but the color was not right.

My new chair would also have to have leather upholstery. "Leather" – what a word! My pursuit of that precious substance opened my eyes to the nether world of furniture coverings. About 90% of the LEATHER RECLINERS one sees advertised are not actually made of leather. Most of them are to leather what particle board is to a walnut slab. They are made of cowhide scraps that have been mixed with bonding agents, like latex or polyuretane, pressed to shape, and polished. Here are some of the creative industry terms that manufacturers use to deceive shoppers: Leatherette, Faux Leather, Vegan Leather, Pleather, Bonded Leather, Blended Leather, LeatherSoft, Vintage Leather, and (my favorite), PU Leather (polyurethane).

When I first saw online that Raymour & Flanigan chair which resembled mine, I almost ordered it for delivery. But since I've been vaccinated twice, and felt like going out for the first time, I decided to drive to Jenkintown and give the chair a sit-test. It didn't feel right. Light in the loafers. I didn't buy it. That canceled any further fantasies of ordering a chair online that I'd not sat in.

However, my choosiness was challenged that night when a snide mirror mocked my dreams of immortality. I used to think it was a funny line when my former father-in-law would wisecrack, "I'm so old I don't even buy green bananas anymore."  (He meant he wouldn't last until they ripened.) Hmmm. Why was I insistent on leather? For its longevity? Precisely that which I am in short supply of. As it gets harder to blow out one's birthday candles each passing year, one hesitates to buy things durable goods. So, yes, why leather? Was it that necessary to be a purist about upholstery?

I took another look at the picture I'd seen on Home Depot's website for a "Contemporary Brown Vintage Leather Recliner and Ottoman with Swiveling Mahogany Wood base." Only $316.77. According to their ad, it could be used in a living room, bedroom, sewing room, or "man cave." Man cave. Me? At last! Yes! A chair's a chair. And this one was cheap. And lived nearby. Though it was pouring rain last Friday, I wasn't getting any younger. I grabbed my raincoat and drove to the store.

I wandered the huge, busy, concrete floors for a while, stimulated by all the new construction materials I saw. I thought about building a new deck for my patio, or putting a wing on the house, and maybe even installing a, yes: man cave. But after ten minutes of ambling I hadn't found the living room furniture department. I stopped to ask one of the orange-vested workers where it was. The mustachioed, burly, gray-haired man looked at me like I was trying to kid him and sort of laughed. He said there was no living room furniture department, did I mean patio furniture? No, I said, I'd seen it online. Maybe, he said, but online and here are two different things. Oh. I wouldn't be able give it a trial sitting. What a wasted trip.  I wandered back to my car in the rain, wondering what was I going to do. Could my chair be saved?