That's the title to an email I received just over a week ago from a potential new client. Within she described an antique dresser that had come along with their house, and had sat untouched in their basement for the last 24 years. Keeping a dresser in a damp basement is like trying to grow lily pads in the Sahara. But it happens. The dresser part, that is. Actually perhaps the lily pads too. There are oasis after all. Is oasis the plural to oasis? But I digress.
Here are a couple of the pictures that accompanied the email-
Eeeeeek. There might be hope for the poor thing, but it was going to take some serious elbow work to find it, and then quite a bit of scrubbing and sanding from there.
And yet...I could tell that the piece was antique, likely from about 1890-1910, and certainly had a lovely form, long and lean, with that sweet little shell carved in the base. I could see it was solid wood, chestnut with pine secondary wood I believe, and thank goodness for that. A veneer piece would have been in shambles after that long in the basement. Er... more in shambles at least. This dresser was pretty shamble-y.
Finally the client seemed very very nice, and that goes a long way for me. Sometimes I get the sassiest emails, which I promptly ignore. No piece of furniture is worth working for an obnoxious ninny. But on the other hand, I'm willing to do a great deal of work to help a kind person rescue an antique dresser. So with all that in mind, I said yes. There was hope (I hoped).
When the clients unloaded the piece I worried I had been wrong. Though the case was nice a sturdy, surprisingly so, every single drawer was falling apart and there's nothing I hate more than working on drawers. The pine secondary wood had not withstood the damp as well as the far denser chestnut. But what was even worse and isn't really clear in any of the before pictures, was that the piece had been very very badly refinished at some time previous. Had it just been painted an ugly color, my work would have been easier, in fact that paint layer would have further protected it from the basement elements. But no, this had been scraped. And allow me to just cast a little side eye at all the wood enthusiasts out there who think refinishing furniture back to wood is so SO much better for the integrity of an antique. It's not. In the process of removing the old surface, some dummy had gouged the case badly, over and over and over again. Grrrrrrr.
But that's ok. She's turned out just dandy in the end. I rebuilt every single drawer, gluing all the loose dovetails, fixing all the warps and cracks in the drawer bottoms, sanding the sides smooth, and waxing them so they run nicely once more. I added drawer stops where they'd fallen off, and replaced the escutcheon plates, which had also been lost over the last hundred years. I recolored the original hardware and the escutcheon plates to match. I sanded the top for hours HOURS to get all the gouges from the bad refinish out, and filled two giant shrinkage cracks in the side panels. I also filled as much of the gouges in the case as I could manage, and then sanded all the surfaces to prep for paint. The client selected a soft blue that I just love with the brighter hardware and the rich luster of the top. This dresser was definitely a challenge, but the end result makes it all worth it.