This was such a fascinating and unique project. While delivering a hutch last weekend, a neighbor of the client approached me with a chair that had been in his family for some time, wanting to know if anything could be done for it. It was a marvelous piece, but as grimy as any woe begotten and abandoned bit of wood I've ever seen. The structure was excellent and sturdy as a rock, however, and there was absolutely no reason not to take a swing at it. We agreed that it would look best refinished with a sanded, stained, and sealed seat, and then black with gold carriage striping and paint decoration, which it may have originally had to begin with. There were signs of just such a paint decoration, in fact, on the filthy and badly chipped top coat of paint.
I first refinished the seat. When I had first flipped the chair over I had rather thought the seat was made of some sort of early plywood, and thusly dated the chair to perhaps 1920. As I spent more time with the chair, however, I discovered the entire piece was solid oak, with a fantastically figured tiger oak seat, and decided that it was several generations earlier than my first summation, perhaps 1870-1885. It had been refinished multiple times. The first coat of paint was a white, then a bright kelly green had been applied directly above it. It's possible the white what actually sizing for the kelly green paint. The chair had then been sloppily stripped and revarnished, then the current black paint with gold decoration had been applied directly over the slick varnished surface, likely explaining the significant paint loss to that coat, though to be fair the most recent paint job itself was at least sixty years old. I do suspect that the chair was meant to have the seat, if nothing else, in wood surface. I highly doubt such a fine piece of oak would have been wasted on a seat that was to be immediately painted.
I had to remove all of the old back paint as it was badly chipping and would have doomed any new paint to immediate loss, like building a new house on quicksand. It took a long time to scrape all the paint away, but it was immensely satisfying, with the paint chips popping off easily in every direction. Once all the paint was removed I sanded all the surfaces, so the new paint would adhere nicely, and last more than sixty years. I very very carefully painted the frame in gloss black oil paint and then even more carefully applied all the gilt detail work and striping freehand while listening to Outlander on audio book and sipping coffee. It was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday morning, and I couldn't be happier to the result!