Wednesday, 25 November 2020


Antique barber’s chair ready for new home after stunning restoration

Built in America sometime around 1900, a pristine looking antique barber’s chair now sits in the corner of the break room at the Whitianga MenzShed.

Bought for around $600 by local residents Trish and Craig Hill in 1985, the Koken Congress Pedestal Hydraulic Chair No 147 has been on quite a journey over the past 35 years. But its life and times before the Hills picked it up at a New Plymouth antique shop remains a mystery.

“I just liked it,” says Craig. “I thought I would restore it, so we bought it and I took it apart. Then it sat in pieces in a box and travelled all around the world with us until we sent it back into storage in New Zealand in 2000. It has been to Thailand, Singapore, Australia twice and lots of other places, so it has had quite the OE.”

Eventually the chair settled in Whitianga when the couple retired here in 2008, its fate still undetermined, until a chance discussion with neighbour, Mike Brown, chairman of the Whitianga Sea Scouts. “We knew the Scouts were in need of money for their new den, so we thought if we could get the chair restored it could be sold to help raise funds,” says Craig.  

Finding the expertise and knowledge for the job brought the MenzShed into the picture, where committee member, Alan Hooper, took it on. “I started getting the hydraulics and brake sorted,” says Alan, who was delighted with the opportunity to put his engineering background to good use. “Then we sent it off to get it nickel sprayed.”

One part was missing and Mercury Bay Engineering came to the rescue. With the metal work complete, it was the turn of Warren Brookes from Whitianga Upholstery to work his magic and in the process discover plenty of evidence of the chair’s former life.

“I started finding what I first thought was some kind of straw or filling and then I realised it was hair,” says Warren. “It just kept coming, it was unbelievable really, every colour you could think of - black, brown, ginger. It really made me think about all the people who must have sat in the chair, hundreds, maybe thousands, all with their own stories to tell.”

But the chair did not have any further secrets to share so where its working days were spent and with whom remains a mystery. “Unfortunately, I didn’t find any more hidden clues,” says Warren.

In all, around a kilogramme of hair was removed before Warren set to work repairing the original framing, which he said was in really good condition given the chair’s age. “The biggest problem was the seat springs which were really bad, but I was able to revive the straw that was in there and build the seat back up and then reupholster it,” he says.

Alan who first started to work on the chair almost a year ago, is very happy with the results of his labour. “I was doing bits on and off, then we had the lockdown and we needed to find the right people for certain aspects of it,” he says. “Then it all sort of came together quite quickly.”

Trish and Craig say seeing the chair back to its former glory is amazing and they are delighted it will now hopefully find a new home with someone who will love and appreciate it. “We’re just glad that it’s going to be able to help these two great community organisations,” Craig says.

The money raised from the sale of the chair will be divided equally between the Sea Scouts and the MenzShed. A Trade Me auction is being considered, but Mike says he is also very happy to hear directly from local buyers who may be interested in putting in an offer. Anyone keen can contact him at (021) 995 323.

Pictured: Some of those who were involved in the restoration of an antique barber’s chair which is being sold to raise money for Whitianga Sea Scouts and the Whitianga MenzShed. From the left - Alan Hooper, Trish and Craig Hill, Max Laird (seated - Trish and Alan’s grandson), Warren Brookes and Mike Brown.


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