Monday, January 11, 2016

On Painting Furniture

Dear reader, let's have a little chat, you and I. We can sit down, grab a glass (or three) of wine, and hash this out, hopefully once and for all.

         From time to time a piece of furniture I refinish will cause some folks to get all sorts of worked up and angry. The vitriol that gets spewed my direction, my goodness you'd think I was clubbing baby seals for a living. To be fair this soap box level rant isn't really directed at you who read this blog, because if you're reading this blog you probably like painted furniture, but someone close to you, I bet they can be a real ass when it comes to painting furniture. You know the type. They get all indignant and huffy "But that was MAHOGANY!!" etc. etc..



         I'm well aware that plenty of other guys and gals in my line of work face the same resistance. On social media I delete the nastier more profane comments, and try to address the ones that lean towards harmlessly bewildered. In person when I hear such comments I just don my icy frozen grin, the fake eyes glazed one that I learned while working retail in college.

          Believe it or not, I didn't start as a gruesome furniture abuser. I am an antiques dealer in my heart and soul, and readily labeled as such by the tattoo I wear proudly across my lower back. I love antiques. I love antiques more than you. Do you have an 'antiques' tattoo? No? My point exactly. I've been collecting antiques since I was about nine. Cowbells, trade signs, weathervanes, works on paper, oil landscapes, antique textiles,  and always furniture. Antiques Roadshow was THE EVENT every monday night when I was a kid, and I had a hot hot crush on the Keno brothers. After studying history in college I worked for a mid size museum, and then spent four of the happiest years of my life working with one of the very best antiques firms in the world, Nathan Liverant and Son. They specialized in antique furniture, which is to say real antique furniture.



         Now, what do I mean by real antique furniture? Well the fact of the matter is, the stuff I show you, if it's antique at all, it's hardly antique (100 years or older), and certainly not the sort of thing worthy of any antique show, anywhere. Don't get me wrong, it's wonderful furniture, dandy and pretty to boot, but it has no real value beyond being pretty and useful to hold your socks. No, Liverant Antiques handled the good stuff, 18th and early 19th century furniture made by fine craftsman in small shops, masterpieces, symphonies of wood, planed and turned, chamfered and dovetailed, and held together with genius and a bit of hide glue. Not surprisingly, these pieces drew handsome sums, many tens of thousands, and sometimes many hundreds of thousands of dollars. Zip over to my inventory page and note that the most expensive piece is well under $500. Let's delve a bit deeper into how this relates to the paint or no paint issue.

1. These are not fine, rare, or important antiques. Look, I won't toot my horn much, but please trust that I am not a layman off the street. I can tell the difference between a valuable antique and a decorative vintage piece from 50 yards, blindfolded, and after two martinis. Ok, that's a bit of a hyperbole, I can hardly stand after two martinis. BUT if I just happen to come across a valuable antique, do you really think I'm going to paint it and sell it for under five hundred dollars?! Hell no, I'm selling that sucker, as is, and paying off my student loans!!



2. These vintage objects are not rare. I know, I know, your grandmother owned a piece just like this china hutch/dining table/blanket chest and that means it's really super old and thusly a precious piece of American history. Buuuuuuut it's not. I work pretty exclusively on 20th century pieces, most of which were mass produced in any number of furniture factories. There are thousands and thousands of each of these pieces out there, to the degree that I've worked on several identical examples of early 20th century furniture. And for each one I paint, please rest assured there are legions remaining in pristine unpainted condition, I guess for future generations to study? Is that why it matters so much?

3. What I paint needs work. I try really really super hard to only paint furniture that has little value in its current state, I have even at times turned away free furniture because it was in perfect condition. And really guys, that sucks. It costs me money to abide by that rule, and I'm not exactly rolling in it over here. Also, when I take on those broken sad pieces of furniture, I do a whole lot of stuff other than just smack a paint brush against them. I'm fixing all kinds of structural problems as well, to give this furniture a life it would otherwise never again have.

4. Which leads me to my next point. What happens if I don't paint this furniture. At my slim margin, because I'm price competitive to Target furniture for goodness sake, I'm buying this stuff for under $50 almost always. You know why all this spectacular vintage solid wood furniture is so cheap? Because no one wants it. The market's not exactly hot for dark wood at the moment. If I don't buy it, it goes to a curb or to the mildewy basement until it's so far beyond repair it gets burned. It goes to that rowdy college student's dorm. It doesn't survive, in any state. So yes, perhaps I'm the lesser of two evils, but I'll be damned if I watch good furniture die a slow death rather than reinventing it and selling it to a family who will treasure it for many years.



5. What I hear most often is "You've ruined it!!!". Hey, whoa, I did not light the piece of furniture on fire, or take a hacksaw to it, nor did I let cats to repeatedly pee on it, or allow it to become infested with cockroaches... both of which I've seen, and let me tell you, those two pieces got burned straight away! But I digress, paint is a reversible process. Paint can be removed. I remove paint all the time because I often need a fresh surface before I re-apply. So in twenty years, if we've all decided we hate paint and I was the devil incarnate, well that piece of furniture can be stripped and stained, no harm, no foul.

6. Finally, and at my sassiest, who the hell do you think you are?! Are you the Wood Defense League? The Scouts of Wood Preservation? Calm your roll, like seriously, cool it, you look silly. Most of the work I do is custom for a client, who already owns that piece of furniture and wants it painted. Passionate as you may be about walnut (?!?), it ain't none of your business. This stuff is not endangered. It is not rare. It is not being ruined. It doesn't require your anger, or your advocacy. And my God, there are so many good causes that do. Take that energy and go help an arts program, a historical society, a library, a hungry cat. Because at the end of the day, I swear to you, this 1930s sideboard I bought at the goodwill should be the very least of your worries.




27 comments:

  1. I love this! I wish you could post this on Apartment Therapy for all the wood purists/sexuals to read, so they could stop bitching about paint ruining sacred wood. It's not sacred, it's just wood. Love your stuff. If I didn't live on the other side of the country I would furnish my house with all your pieces.

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  2. People dont get it because they have never had an old piece of furniture. I have many from tag sales. It smells and needs work. Painting it gives it new life and can then be sold not put in the dump. Upcycling these pieces making the beautiful again and providing many who cant afford expensive furniture is key. Keeping the pieces out of the landfill is helping our Earth. I personally think you do an amazing job reviving these pieces. Inspired actually!

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  3. Your work always shows off the piece. It never looks like you slapped a coat of paint it enhances the piece and yes mahogany mignt make you think twice but the antique look is on its way out. Your work makes it a vibrant updated piece that works in today's decor. I love your work!! Carry on����

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  4. Anonymous1/12/2016

    FANtastically said. I also paint furniture, and absolutely love the results. People need to understand that you are taking it from a piece that no one wants, or uses any longer... and making it into a treasure to place center stage in their home. It's a rebirth, and will be the desired, the ooohed and ahhhed, mouth dropping accent in any home.

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  5. Preach on, sista!! :)

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  6. Mad Bill1/12/2016

    Bravo, Kate! 2 martinis up!

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  7. You GO! If they had thought of painting the furniture in 1930, it would all be painted instead of stained. It's all about what works in the here and now. You restore the stuff and then move right on past that to adding your own artistic talent to give those pieces a unique identity that they never had in their first iteration. EXCELLENT!

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  8. WOW! Glad you finally opened up and said it! I like you even more now..... Love all your beautiful painted furniture!

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  9. So true, well said! But then I'm a believer, I'm about to chalk paint some of my own.

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  10. Anonymous1/12/2016

    Perfect post!
    Chris

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  11. I have never come away from your website without thinking that you made the piece you painted even more beautiful than it already was. I don't know why people get their panties in such a bunch over an old piece of furniture, but your work is so beautiful it is always an improvement. Carry on. You rock.

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  12. You go, girl! This needed to be said and you said it so well! I wonder if the paint/don't paint breaks down along gender lines. My husband thinks it is sacrilege to paint any wood, whereas I long to learn how to do what you do!

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  13. Haha! Great post! I LOVE painting and owning painted pieces! Keep on painting! You're an inspiration.

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  14. I love painted furniture, and you are local to me, which is why I started following you, BUT I love this post even more because this will be how I explained painted furniture to all the naysayers in my life. I have only ever painted ugly, mass produced stuff. Thank you!

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  15. Nicely said! This is a very good explanation of why painting antique furniture is ok, especially when done by someone who knows antiques. And the wood surfaces that you do restore are SO beautifully done, it is clear to anyone who follows your work that you do love and understand the antiques. :)

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  16. There was a time that I was a strict "dont paint that wood" person. But there is too much color to work with nowadays. And if someone gets a painted piece after me, well they can strip & sand like I had to at times! I currently have 3 pieces that I am going to paint, an old dresser that was my Grandmas, an old trunk and a hope chest. Bring on the color!

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  17. Love this! You purchased some old but certainly not priceless chairs from us several years ago and it was great to see you paint them and give them a new life! Keep up the great work! It's all beautiful.

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  18. Great commentary! You purchased some chairs from me several years ago and it was great to see them get a new life under your care. The work you do is lovely!

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  19. Anonymous2/03/2016

    Absolutely agree. You are rescuing these pieces.

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  20. I can hardly stand after 2 martinis, too. ;-)

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  21. Sugar coat...I think not! You are my new HERO! Be my advocate at my next market I swear to god they will come after me with pitchforks one day and burn me alive! You rock!!! Hilarious, your talented to say the least you have made a new follower for life now
    !

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  22. Hi. I agree, brown is boring, I should know as I've been restoring it for over 30 years, and it's not selling here either. Times change, people's tastes change and we're not all from the dark ages. Keep up the good work....I like it!

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  23. Cindy N.4/03/2016

    Bravo !!! : )

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  24. Messing around on computer this evening and found your pieces. Love your work! I think you're an artist! Hope you don't mind, but you have inspired me to paint some of my old stuff, by old stuff, I mean, not 18th or 19th century. Why are people so ugly! Right you are. This person just needs to mind their own business, you really believe she doesn't appreciate your work? Sure she does, if she is so upset then don't log in right? Thank you. Will continue to get ideas from your beautiful stuff. Really appreciate your work. Gotta go, working on a piece now. LOL.

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