For those who wonder. Here's the comment I received today:
"You painted over this beautiful wood?" Horrible."
And here's the piece of furniture in question:
What we're looking at is a tiger oak veneer sideboard. It probably dates to about 1920. When I picked it up at a tag sale two years ago it was in desperate need of attention. I fixed the runners on the drawers, sanded, stained, and sealed the top- and yes, painted the case. The veneer was chipped in several places and was beyond the point of salvation. If not painted, it would have remained sad and beat down.
Veneer from the 20s is notoriously flimsy. I encounter this issue all the time. Sometimes I strip the veneer entirely to reveal the beautiful pine secondary wood, like I did with this console table-
Don't forget that I do this as a hobby. In my daytime job I work for a high level antiques firm. I have a pretty good idea what's valuable, the age of pieces, and what's ok to paint. And that's the big question.
What is ok to paint and what's not ok to paint.
After about 1850 American entered into a phase that would change the structure of the nation both culturally and economically, the Industrial Revolution. In essence, everyone realized it was way more efficient and cheaper to produce material goods, including furniture, via mechanization and in large quantities, than it was to use the cottage industry of small craftsman run shops. Furniture after 1875 is almost always from a factory. The quality did decline, but more importantly for our discussion, the pieces were no longer unique. As antique dealers we judge furniture on three levels: Rarity, Quality, and Condition. Furniture made in a factory is not rare, and the quality is not comparable to the pieces made a generation earlier by master cabinetmakers.
Let's get back to the tiger oak veneer sideboard. I'd venture it was made in a large factory somewhere in the northeast. It was likely one of several hundred produced in that year, and probably sold by catalog. There are thousands upon thousands floating around the country, both painted, unpainted, in excellent condition, and rotting in a leaky shed. To argue that someone should not paint a mass-produced 20th century piece of furniture it about the same as saying, "Hey, I really like black coffee. You're putting cream in that black coffee? horrible."
Here's a couple more pieces that I painted. Just for good measure ;-)
If anyone wants to take the time to make a piece of furniture like these more appealing, so that it can be saved from banishment of a dark basement corner, by all means, paint it- or whatever else makes you happy. And for the wood-advocates out there, here's my honest advice- I get that your heart is in the right place, and you want to do something to preserve history. Mass produced furniture doesn't need your energy or advocacy. It's not endangered by any means. What does need your support is your local historical society. So go forth and put that passion to good use!
Tomorrow, I'll tell you what you shouldn't paint, and why.