Antique couch restoration

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Project by Carey Mitchell posted 01-11-2014 03:37 AM 1350 views 1 time favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This family heirloom supposedly dates to the mid to late 1800’s. It is called a “fainting couch” and these were popular since ladies wore corsets so tight, they fainted frequently. I read that it was considered stylish for ladies to faint, as a mark of delicacy. There was apparently a second use, but we won’t go there (see Wikipedia). One unusual feature of this couch is that it unfolds to make a bed – a bed for a very short person.

I decided to restore it as it was in rough shape. Removal of the fabrics (incredibly ugly colors) uncovered padding of shredded wood, which I had never seen, despite restoring many pieces. Amazingly, it still had some resilience. In the bottom, I found acorns and some hickory nuts. There was no evidence of any rodents chewing their way in, as the thin fabric underneath was intact, so it remains a mystery. There were no hickory or oak trees at my mothers/grandmothers house, and the only trees I recall at the great grandparents were maple and walnut, but since my memories only go back to the 50’s, who knows.

The finish had turned black, which is pretty much the norm. Underneath I found walnut. The rather primitive carving indicates it was probably not an very expensive piece. I removed the finish, gave it a light stain and a couple of coats of lacquer, and the result is fine. I replaced the discolored ceramic casters with brass.

We really don’t have a good place for this piece and it’s awkward in the foyer. We will be downsizing next year and my plan is to donate it for display in the Vann House, which is a local mansion built by the Cherokee chief, Joseph Vann in 1805. The great grandparents’ home was on a hill opposite the Vann house about 1/4 mile away, so it can, in a sense, go home.

Note the shop assistant making her appearance in photo #4 !

3 comments so far

View HillbillyShooter's profile


5811 posts in 2489 days

#1 posted 01-11-2014 02:52 PM

Nice restoration and nice commentary. I remember my paternal grandmother had a fainting couch at the landing on her second floor when I was growing up.

-- John C. -- "Firearms are second only to the Constitution in importance; they are the peoples' liberty's teeth." George Washington

View Schwieb's profile


1872 posts in 3658 days

#2 posted 01-12-2014 12:17 AM

My parents, now long gone, restored one of these couches back in the 70’s. It wasn’t a very comfortable couch but it was definitely a conversation piece. I commend you for taking the time and effort to resore it. I’m sure it will be a wonderful addition to the Vann House.

-- Dr. Ken, Florida - Durch harte arbeit werden Träume wahr.

View dawsonbob's profile


3094 posts in 1952 days

#3 posted 01-12-2014 12:24 AM

If I remember correctly, the shredded wood curls were called “excelsior,” also known as “Wood Wool,” ( ) and there were still examples around when I was a young kid.

-- Mistakes are what pave the road to perfection

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