CHARLOTTE – Barry Duppstadt likes to remain active.
When Duppstadt retired about eight years ago, the south Charlotte resident started playing golf several times a week, he started driving residents of a nearby senior citizens home around town on errands, he went bowling once a week and he even started volunteering with the USO out at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.
Despite all that, Duppstadt needed another hobby, so he decided to take up a family tradition that his father, Virgil, started back in Pennsylvania in the 1950s of making custom corded chairs.
Duppstadt buys just the frame of a lawn chair and weaves cords of polyolefin fibers into whatever design is requested. You just tell him what image, colors and words you want to go on the chair and Duppstadt does the rest from his study in his home in Park Crossing.
“You are talking about a totally hand-crafted item,” Duppstadt said.
Duppstadt really never took up his father’s hobby but his brother, Larry, did. When he decided to take up the family hobby, Duppstadt went to see his brother in western North Carolina to learn the tricks of the trade.
“He doesn’t even do it anymore, but he said he would show me how to cord chairs,” Duppstadt said.
Most of the chairs that Duppstadt makes are for college and professional sports teams. The Carolina Panthers, at least in most years, is a top seller. Clemson and South Carolina are the top college requests. But Duppstadt has done the school colors and mascots from Oregon to Arkansas, but Alabama has been pretty popular of late.
“Toward the end of this year, I made a ton of these,” Duppstadt said while showing off a custom-made Alabama chair. “I think Duke (basketball) chairs will be pretty popular in a couple of months.”
But Duppstadt also does his fair share of non-sports chairs. He once weaved a chair with an image of the Brandenburg Gate in Germany on it. Another chair had the Starbucks logo on it. Military chairs are also popular.
“I have been doing it for a while and I have done all different kinds of chairs,” Duppstadt said. “I once did a pair of chairs for two Florida State fans that were getting married, and they said that was the most talked about wedding gift that they got.”
Duppstadt buys his lawn chair frames from a company in Massachusetts, and he was told by a representative at the company that only two other individuals buy blank frames to make corded chairs.
“There is only one company in the United States that sells blank lawn chairs,” Duppstadt said. “Outside of the big box stores, I was told there was one guy in Michigan and one guy in California and myself that buys from them. It is a very unique hobby.”
Depending on the pattern, it takes between nine and 14 hours to complete a chair. Most chairs cost between $175 and $200, with $70 of that being materials and shipping. The chairs are durable and are perfect for tailgating, Duppstadt said.
“I really just sit here on my couch and work on the chairs while I am watching T.V.,” Duppstadt said. “You can leave
them outside over the weekend but don’t leave them out all summer. The sun will fade them, and then you have mildew if it is wet outside. It is a very heavy chair frame, it is all steel with wooden arms.’’
Duppstadt also makes many chairs for free, including a pair of chairs he fashioned for Nicole and Michael Gross of Charlotte, who were both seriously injured in the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. They were in Boston to watch Nicole’s mother, Carol Downing, compete in the marathon.
“I read about their story and I was taken by it,” Duppstadt said. “They fell in love with them. Nicole called me up later and asked me to make chairs for her mother and father-in-law. My wife is a breast cancer survivor, so I have done (free) chairs for cancer patients.”
Duppstadt goes to about four arts and craft shows a year but most of his business comes from word of mouth and from his website, www.barryschairs.com. But he does keep some of the more popular chairs in stock.
“Someone will call and say, ‘Hey I am having a party this weekend and do you have a Cowboys chair in stock,” Duppstadt said. “I keep about 25 of the most popular ones in stock.”