Sunday, August 16, 2015

The White Beast

This is actually a lovely antique oak Victorian cabinet made c.1890, but by the time it came to me it was a wreck, a beast. The cabinet had been sitting in a barn for God knows how long, years, possibly decades, and had been home to many yucky things, specifically mice (rats?) and spiders. It was filthy, smelled foul, and had water damage on the backboard. The drawers and shelves had warped to the point they couldn't be saved, and the white paint, which had been sprayed on sometime many many years ago, was shedding off it like confetti. I'm pretty brave when it comes to furniture, but this thing made my skin crawl.

        Now on the other hand, it's stunning, beautiful lines, wonderful form, the carving on the two crests and desk lid, and it has its original fitted interior, beveled glass mirror, and glass door. And it's oak, a testament to how much abuse oak can withstand and still bounce back.

         First I disinfected the entire thing, wearing gloves and a mask. Bleach, soapy water, toweled dry. Then I removed everything I wasn't planning to save, buh-bye shelves, backboard, and drawers. Next I painted every remaining inch of it in kilz. It was at this point that it acquired the nickname 'the white beast' with a single coat of kilz, missing so many parts, it was a husk of its former self, but I intended to change that.

         I replaced the backboard with a nice fresh new sheet of mahogany, cut to size, nailed, and glued in place. I replaced all the shelves with pretty pine, stained a soft medium brown and sealed with a hand rubbed wax surface. I painted the case in a custom mixed antique cream with just the tiniest hint of pink called 'Merina's Blush', and did the interior of the case in a linen white. Finally I added antique brass knobs to the doors.

          It was easily one of the most challenging pieces I've ever taken on, but every time I thought about giving up (and there were several times) I remembered the inscription I found on the back of the tiny interior drawer- Merina Wagner 234 East 18th Street, New York. I wanted to fix this piece for Merina. She'd care enough about it to write her name on it a hundred years ago, so I thought I should care enough about it now to make it right and whole once more.

Before and After: