There aren’t a lot of applications for horse hair and flax fibres these days unless you happen to be restoring antique furniture.
Richard Brochert, 73, is a master upholsterer and furniture designer who has built, repaired and restored furniture since he was 15.
He’s a wood finisher too. It was part of his trade that required a 10-year-long apprenticeship in the 1950s, long before furniture manufacturers started stuffing cushions with foam rubber.
“We were using pocket springs, felt and we had a machine,” Brochert said. “We’d put the felt down, pocket springs, rolled the felt, put it in the machine, compressed it, put the cushion cover over it and pushed this big pedal to pump it in,” Brochert said. “That’s how they were all made. It used to take, I bet you, almost a day just stuffing cushions.”
Brochert is semi-retired now, but still repairs damaged furniture for local retailers and does frame-up restorations of vintage and antique pieces from his shop in his home in Cinnabar Valley. He still operates under the company name R. Brochert and Company.
There isn’t as much call for his trade as there once was, mainly because much of today’s mass produced furniture simply isn’t worth restoring, Brochert said. In fact, one of the benefits of semi-retirement he enjoys is telling people when they’re just wasting their money.
“This is where the trade’s gone – restorations,” Brochert said. “What I’m trying to do is complete restorations, start to finish.”
Worthwhile restorations aren’t inexpensive. A frame-up rebuild and reupholstering of a couch from the 1930s or ’40s could run $3,000, but with reasonable care a restoration of a classic design can last another 60 years.
Fortunately a lot of materials once used in furniture, such as flax and horsehair are still available, which is important when restoring antiques.
Brochert works with a designer who selects fabric for pieces restored to match the era they were originally created or to augment a home interior scheme, depending on what the client wants.
He recently rebuilt an antique cowhide chair.
“This was all pure cowhide as thick as you have on a pair of shoes,” Brochert said. “That was a challenge.”