Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Beast That Turned Into a Beauty

Sometimes I find a piece of furniture that really touches my heart. Maybe it's because of my appreciation of the craftmanship of antique pieces. Or maybe I just have a soft spot for old beat up furniture that needs rescuing before it gets sent to the dump.

This is what I brought home one day last summer. An antique empire chest, a lot worse for the wear, but he had potential.

Why do I refer to him as a he? Because he was a massively heavy it took four men to get it into my car, and a massive jolt of adrenaline between my husband, the boys and myself to get it out of my car at home.

It was really banged up. There was peeling veneer all over the place, giant gouges, a broken knob, and the felt inside was disgusting. But structurally it was in really great shape and the veneer on the drawers looked perfect.

I decided I had better do some research on it first to make sure I didn't have some priceless heirloom on my hands. I discovered that it is called a butler's chest. The top drawer pulls out, unfolds and reveals a flat surface with hidden small drawers. I guess gentlemen would undress and put their cuff links, pocket watches and other jewelry in the small drawers and use it for correspondence as well.

My sister-in-law popped in for a visit, saw it and sent a picture to her colleague that specializes in antiquities. He confirmed what I suspected - that it was circa 1850 to 1860 and it was built with mahogany veneer.

Great. Now what do I do? Sometimes I get really torn about painting antiques and all that "devaluing" bunk. Up to now most of the antique pieces I've restored have been not very valuable. I mean it's not like I'd paint a Stickley!  So I advertised it on Craigslist as is. Without a price. Offering to sell it to an antique dealer or restorer so that they could make repairs on patching the veneer that I am not even remotely qualified or interested in doing. Guess how many responses I got? Zero. Nada. Nil.

With my conscience assuaged, I decided to take the plunge and start repairing it. My dad and I patched the veneer from leftover pieces I had saved from another piece. We used epoxy wood patch for the major areas that had significant damage.

It was about this time that I started calling the Beast not very nice names. He was so heavy and cumbersome that it was a pain in the neck to move it around every night to get my car in the garage and move it back out in the morning to work on it. But my husband came to my rescue one day when he brought home one of the most thoughtful gifts he's ever given me. Two huge moving dollies.

With the major prep work complete, I decided to paint the body in General Finishes Milk Paint in Lamp Black, leaving the drawer fronts and interior in their original condition. I picked this brand because I wanted a matte finish that would accentuate the "character" it had.

With the body painted, I was ready to tackle the interior. This is a very painful memory because getting the 150 year old felt was a very long, messy and tedious process. All I remember is there were gloves, a mask, a whole bottle of Goof Off and sanding to get to this step:

And with new felt applied, Restor-a-Finish, and Fiddes clear wax to to this:

I found card stock for the upper drawers that had a vintage look and fit in with my vision for this piece.

I lucked out finding a replacement knob from a seller on Ebay.

So, that's my story of the "Beast" that turned into a "Beauty". He's available in my Etsy shop. I'm offering him for sale for local delivery, but I would be willing to look into shipping quotes.  For the moment, he's perfectly happy in my dining room.

Have a great day and thanks for stopping by!

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Saturday, November 15, 2014

My Obsession With Secretary Desks

I have a thing for secretary desks. Well, more like an obsession, actually. I love them in all shapes, sizes, finishes and styles.

Sometimes they come as a desk and curio cabinet combination with lovely leaded glass panels....

Or as a classic Queen Anne style in sharp black....

Or as a fresh twist in French Linen with a fabric backing.....

Or this one. That went from this....

To this.

Refinished in Annie Sloan Chalk Paint in Graphite with clear wax.

Classic, clean lines....

And original handles....

And just to prove that I really am crazy about secretary desks, here's what I just picked up.

Is there a cure for my obsession or should I just embrace it?

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Saturday, November 8, 2014

French Provincial Highboy

This is a continuation of my previous post, Eighteen Drawers of Misery, the French Provincial dresser/nightstand set. My client who purchased this set located a highboy that was an exact match to her set. When I quoted her the custom order paint job, she told me that the advertisement stated that it was in excellent condition.

She was so excited to bring me the dresser - but my face fell when I saw this piece and inspected it. Although it appears from this picture to be in good condition, upon closer inspection it was a mess! There were burns on the top and one side of the dresser had a huge gouge on the side, as if a door had opened and closed against it for twenty years.

 The drawers were a nightmare as well. Every one of the dovetail joints were loose - and the bottom drawer didn't even function. This was a good drawer!

I spent a full week on just the prep alone. Each drawer had to be glued and clamped to tighten the loose dovetails. The wooden track for the bottom drawer was cracked and had to be glued and tightened. I had to rebuild one side of the dresser with epoxy wood filler and sand that down. The entire surface was lightly sanded as well, with particular attention to the nicks on the feet and corners.

I learned an important lesson with sticky drawers from the long dresser and nightstands, so I took pictures with the drawers in so I would know where I needed to paint and how much of a gap there was between the openings. And most importantly, I numbered the drawers!

Once the prep was done, I could finally get to the good stuff! Two coats of water-based primer, sanding in between coats. And about three coats of General Finishes Snow White. I watered down the final coat slightly to minimize brush strokes.

This was definitely a labor of love - a lot of work but so worth it to see how appreciative and excited my sweet client was when she picked it up!

I've been really busy with some really new exciting pieces - a Mid Century Modern desk that I refinished and restained, a Campaign chest, a whole vintage bedroom suite and a French Provincial small chest! I need a bigger garage (and a nap)!

Have a wonderful week!

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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Eighteen Drawers of Misery

We were all packed to leave for the airport to catch a plane to Maui for our summer vacation. But with a few hours to spare, the natural thing (of course) was to hit up an estate sale nearby. And there it was, the holy grail, a French Provincial bedroom set!

I was so excited that I briefly (very briefly) considered staying home to work on it. But saner heads prevailed, and we just pulled the car in the garage with the furniture still in it and left for paradise.

A near miss of a hurricane, and a lovely restful week renewed me physically and mentally and I came home ready to tackle this project with a vengeance.

The dresser had twelve drawers, and each nightstand had three drawers. That's eighteen drawers. No problem, right? It seemed easy enough. The usual prep - sand, sand, and sand to get rid of any nicks and scratches. Two coats of oil-based primer. And two coats of General Finishes Milk Paint in Snow White. I painted the handles as well.

And finally, two coats of sealer on the tops of the dresser and nightstands for protection and durability.

If only the story could end right here. Something happened to the drawers. They all started sticking when I opened and closed them. I can only presume that it was because it was so hot and humid - that stored in my garage, the humidity was expanding the drawers slightly and causing the problem.

The solution was to sand the bottom and sides of each drawer. The bare wood wasn't visible when all of the drawers were closed - so no harm,  no foul. The lovely client that purchased this set was OK with this and I learned a valuable lesson for the next French Provincial piece when the drawers fit so snugly.

I'm so happy how they turned out. It was truly a labor of love and the set went to a great new home. My client was so smitten with the set that she found a matching highboy and brought it to me to refinish as well. But that's another story!

Have a great week and thanks for stopping by!

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