Preserving Historic Capitol Furnishings

Restoring the Justices’ chairs

The Capitol Furnishings Preservation Committee’s mission is to restore historic furnishings at the State Capitol. The Committee selects one project annually, and in 2019 the Supreme Court Justice chairs were restored. 

The 1913 completion of a new Temple of Justice was a big moment in Washington history. In the final phase, the Legislature appropriated $75,000 for carpets, office furniture, law library fixtures, and “moveable articles,” including the Supreme Court Justice chairs.

Unlike many historic Capitol pieces, the Justices’ chairs continued to be in use for over 100 years. Made of oak and covered with leather, these stately chairs are heavy and do not move easily over the carpet. The Justices found the chairs uncomfortable and unstable.

While marketing manager Corey Shea cautioned that the full extent of the work wouldn’t be known until the interior was revealed, some damage was already visible, and the headrests were not uniform in size. On the interior, cushion foam needed replacing, though some horsehair could be reused. An upholstery pattern on one chair was measured to create a template. The Capitol Furnishings Preservation Committee engaged Queen Anne Upholstery to help in the upholstery aspect of the restoration. 

The next step in the restoration process

Structural repairs were extensive but once complete, they produced a strong steel frame to support the chair backing. Woodworkers repaired armrests, and cracks in wood back frames were reinforced and filled with heavy-duty epoxy. Leather covering was added and nail heads were carefully spaced for a consistent look. Chair seats were covered with a more comfortable fabric than leather when sitting for long periods of time. 

The public is also invited to join the Committee at the Annual Founders Day Reception and Silent Auction, on February 18 at 5:30 pm. The auction will be held at the Governor’s Mansion and will support past and present restoration work.

For more information on similar historic restorations, or information on how to buy tickets to the Founders Day Auction or donate to the Committee’s preservation work, please visit the Committee webpage.