The right pairing can mean the perfect shoes for an outfit or the best drink to enhance the flavor of a meal, but in this case the “Wright” pairing refers to the conservation treatment of two Frank Lloyd Wright chairs. The treatment was recently completed at McKay Lodge Conservation Laboratory just outside of Cleveland, Ohio by Stefan Dedecek, Conservator of Paintings, Murals and Polychrome Surfaces.

The Wright Chairs arrive at the lab for assessment and conservation treatment

Frank Lloyd Wright was born in 1867, and he became a man of many talents as an architect, interior designer, writer, and educator during his lifetime. He is most known for his renown work as an architect. For many of his buildings, he also designed the interior elements including furniture.

Two such chairs came to the McKay Lodge Conservation Laboratory for treatment. The chairs were from the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio. They originated from the Rayward–Shepherd House also known as Tirranna built in New Canaan, Connecticut dating to 1955.

Conservator Dedecek performed the conservation of the Frank Lloyd Wright chairs after examining them in person.

The chairs are similar to Friedman chairs, but Friedman chairs have different upholstery. The chairs which arrived at the lab for treatment are constructed of oak wood and fitted with red-colored upholstery. There are two cushions, one serving as a seat and the other as a back rest. The back cushion has two gold tassels which arguably enhances the chairs’ elegance. 

Conservator Dedecek completed his assessment before the conservation of the two Frank Lloyd Wright chairs. The upholstery appeared to be original, with some fading, but otherwise it was in good condition. The wood of the chairs was sealed with a varnish creating a warm yellow glow, complementing the red upholstery.  

A detail of the chair

Though the chairs were well-built, they have experienced “wear and tear” associated with general use as well as the effects of environmental fluctuations in relative humidity (RH). It was evident that some joinery became loose in the past and was periodically repaired. These condition issues are considered typical for this type of object.

The two chairs had relatively minor structural and surface issues. All the important structural components on both chairs such as the seats, the legs, and the back rests were stable and in good condition. It did appear that there was a history of structural weaknesses in the arm rests on both chairs.

One chair developed a split at the right armrest, spanning the entire length of the armrest. This split followed the wood grain occurring at the weakest points of the two member armrest chair assembly. In addition, there were superficial surface damages on the legs and the back rest of wood members including black scuff-marks and obvious wear.

Conservator Dedecek carefully prepares the clamping system to realign splits and cracks

The second chair was in better condition; however, it had suffered partial detachment at the joint of the left armrest. It was noted that the same joint was repaired in the past and it was slightly misaligned. This area had become loose over the years, creating a slight give in the armrest. In addition, there were some surface issues with such as minor scuff marks.

The conservation of the Frank Lloyd Wright chairs began with clearing the dirt accumulation and scuff-marks from the wooden surfaces using a mixture of a non-ionic surfactant and chelating agent. This treatment improved the overall aesthetic of the chairs by removing years of dirt and surface issues.

A detail of the clamping system required to repair cracks in the chairs

The next step of the conservation treatment of the two Frank Lloyd Wright chairs was to complete structural repairs. The splits of the armrests were realigned then wood adhesive was applied. Splits were clamped and held in until the adhesive cured. Scuff-marks were further reduced and abrasions were retouched with paint and varnish. After treatment, the chairs were stable once more and reinstalled.

The Wright Chairs reinstalled after treatment