Q. How do I find someone to fix my wicker chair, which I bought from Crate and Barrel about five or six years ago?


A. Crate & Barrel promises to stand by the quality and workmanship of its furniture for as long as the original owner has it. So unless you bought the chairs secondhand, you should contact the store where you shopped. If you purchased the chair over the Web, go through the company’s Web site, Crate and Barrel, or call 800-237-5672. You don’t need a receipt to verify that you are the original owner because the company can look up past sales in a variety of ways, such as by using a phone number.

Unfortunately, there is no way to repair the wicker on your chair, according to Jackie Hanlon, general manager for the Crate and Barrel store in Alexandria (703-891-0090). The caning wasn’t woven onto a frame, as with traditional wicker chairs. Instead, the wicker was woven more like fabric, and the chair frame was covered using that woven wicker as upholstery. Hanlon said the store might pay an upholsterer to re-cover the chair with new wicker fabric, if that’s the option you want. But do you?

Woven wicker might look great as upholstery, but it isn’t very durable. Hanlon said that the life expectancy of chairs made like yours is four or five years. Told that seems surprisingly short given that Crate and Barrel sells chairs covered with wicker upholstery for about $250 each, Hanlon explained that the chairs are likely to show wear after that time but shouldn’t have holes, like your chair does. “In a heavy-use area, I probably wouldn’t pick out a chair like this,” she said. “We try to point that out to customers. We want them to be happy.”

A reader’s wicker chair (Reader photo)

Your other options would be to ask the store to replace your chair (or possibly even your whole set, if the damaged chair is part of a set). Or you could ask for a refund and use the money to buy a more durable type of chair. Either option seems smarter than redoing what you have.

For the past several years, I’ve had a strange odor in the second-floor bedrooms of my house, but only when direct sun hits each bedroom and the temperature is above 85 degrees. The odor seems chemical, rather than fetid or moldy. The house is 90 years old, with lath and plaster walls. A few years ago, we had insulation blown into the walls. That seemed to lessen the odor, but it is still apparent on really hot, sunny days. The roof has been checked for leaks. The odor isn’t in the attic rooms. I’ve talked to mold specialists who suggest they come out, drill into the walls, take samples, etc., all of which will be very costly. Any suggestions?


Someday it will be easy to identify odors, perhaps even with your mobile phone. One researcher is actually working on a chip and an app that would do just that. But in the meantime, it takes sleuthing and a process of elimination.

Because you’re detecting a chemical smell, it seems most likely that the warmth is causing some ingredient in your house’s building materials or furnishings to become airborne. If you have vinyl window shades, screens or even clothing storage units, that might be the source. Or the odor could be formaldehyde added as a fabric treatment to drapery, or a binder in the plywood or particleboard used to make furniture or storage units. Some wood finishes also release odors.

John Haske, a home inspector in Falls Church (703-241-8004; Hasker Associates), traced a chemical smell in his own home to a plastic anti-slip pad he had placed in a tub several months earlier. “The source is likely something that has been brought into the house or something that is tipped over and is leaking into the base of a cabinet or linen closet,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Try removing various items and see if the odor persists. If you’re still stumped, you might want to contact an industrial hygienist or a professional indoor air quality investigator. The Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection provides tips for selecting an appropriate person, and its Web site offers links to lists of trained professionals. From its Web site, search for “IAQ professional.”

The EPA publication “The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality” also has some useful advice. You can download this publication.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com . Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

The Checklist Read Jeanne Huber’s roundup of home-improvement tasks you should tackle in October, such as cleaning carpets and whisking away spider webs.