Wednesday, July 19, 2017

An Ethan Allen Cherry Dresser in Green

Little moments of bliss.
Life is a shit-show of absurdity dusted faintly with blessed weensy moments of wonder, so needed and so beautiful you want to scream at the sky, or just take a deep breath, reset, and step forward into yet another scene in La Vie Bizarre (off broadway!). I think- and don't quote me on this because A. I've had a martini, and B. I'm a cynical New Englander far enough into her thirties to have given up on most whimsical notions not related to vodka- that happiness is about recognizing those moments, pausing for them... and taking seven pics you can carefully edit later and post to instagram. Hilarity aside, are we allowing ourselves enough time to be happy?
       I had an oddly happy moment today because of this Ethan Allen dresser. I spend so much of my life about six inches from furniture, either painting, sanding, waxing, or trying as hard as humanly possible to move it by myself, that the inner workings of these hulks all start to look a bit the same. As I hunched on the lava-hot paint splotched pavement of my driveway today I gazed on the interior of this dresser and had an oddly placed but none the less much needed moment of nirvana. This dresser was so beautifully put together. Solid cherry. As in, even the secondary wood, the drawer bottoms, the drawer blades, all of it, cherry. It's a silly esoteric thing, but it was lovely to see. I've heard that Ethan Allen no longer makes furniture of this caliber, which is a shame, but I can understand it. You can't make massive pieces like this of solid cherry and remain price competitive to the likes of Raymour and Flanigan. This piece will have the staying power that modern furniture, mostly made of MDF or worse, will not.
           The color is a custom mixed shade of sage green. The original hardware had oxidized to an intoxicating shade of moss green, so I of course kept it. I refinished the top but stained it darker than the original honey tone to give it a bit more heft. Cherry on the bliss moment sundae, I'm very happy with how the photos of this gal turned out!










Tuesday, July 18, 2017

An Antique Dresser in White

I spend a lot of time mulling over wear patterns. Probably I'm not a normal person, and I should be spending more time worrying about...the bachelor? Or adult issues like, we need a new roof pronto.
Who wants to fret over such weighty matters, though! Wear patterns are fascinating. In a way, each piece of furniture carries its history on its surface, whispering subtle tales of daily life, of unfortunate accidents, or thoughtless owners. And then I undo it all. Nothing thrills me more than uncovering the secrets that furniture has to tell; but sometimes, those secrets aren't so sexy, and are better off erased. Aaaaaand I've buried myself in this metaphor.

        More to the point, I'm of the opinion that there are two overarching categories of wear: Chaotic/Neglect, and Thoughtful Use.

Thoughtful use is beautiful, in many ways lovelier than brand spankin' new could ever be. Maybe I'm the only weirdo who does this, but when I see a surface worn soft not just with time, but hundreds of touches, a hand that opened that same drawer fifteen thousand times over the course of a lifetime, I impulsively touch it too, and it feels a bit electric. You're laughing, but I have "antiques" tattooed on my back. I'm pretty bought into this jazz.

          When I worked at Liverant Antiques (the single best education of my entire life), I remember my boss Arthur reaching up to the top drawer of an 18th century highboy. He's barely and inch taller than me, so I think he might have been on tippy toes. He slid the drawer out, and handed it to me, upside down. "What do you see?" he asked.
            I'd only been there for a few weeks, and was desperate to prove myself, I stared daggers at the chamfered plank of chestnut (or was it butternut?), willing it to speak to me, to tell me anything more erudite than "that wood is smudged and dirty". Time hardened, and clearly far more willful than me, the drawer bottom remained silent, and I went with "Well, it's much darker in the center than at the sides, is it some sort of oxidation???". (within a well built case piece, the secondary wood is exposed to very little environmental contamination or oxygen, and therefore oxidizes very little. In fact, a highly and irregularly oxidized drawer bottom in an otherwise intact case is a red flag that someone's been up to something). Which is to say, dumb guess Kate, F-.
          Arthur went on to explain that, like he and I, most of the owners of the last two centuries had found those top two drawers a bit of a reach. They wouldn't be able to just pull the drawer out halfway and remove whatever contents they sought, but rather would have to take the drawer out entirely, placing their hand in the center of the bottom board as they did so. Two hundred years of thoughtful use looks like a faded greasy smudge, and it's one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.
           I don't paint antique pieces with thoughtful use if I can help it. They're generally better off just as they are. I do paint vintage pieces with thoughtful use from time to time, because, well, a gal's gotta make a living.

Chaotic/ Neglect is an entirely separate bag of spiders. Chaotic/neglect wear patterns are not glowy sheens, or paint worn thin in delightful patterns, they are battle scars, ugly and disruptive to the appearance of the piece. They're big chunks of missing veneer, and naughty words carved on the top center drawer by a mad nine year old. They're drawer pulls that have lost one post, and hung sideways for so many years that they've scraped a giant compass-esque gouge in the drawer font. Neglect is rotting feet, mildew, drawers repaired with duct tape, and feet held together with rusting wire. It's not pretty or charming. Sometimes it's down right scary (ask me some time to tell you my cockroach story, or the bullet story).
            This c.1880 dresser is a victim of Chaotic/Neglect wear. It's surface was Jackson Pollocked with bizarrely nonsensical scrapes. All I can think is that the poor thing got in a switch blade fight with a drunk badger wearing a blindfold...and lost. Though this was the original surface, darkened to a delightful onyx over time, it was not at all worth saving, but the dresser itself was. Despite it's late night badger fighting habits (tsk tsk), it was structurally sound, and certainly lovely, somewhere under all that mess.
          And luckily a client shared my vision. She opted for a soft antique white, and a dark top. She left the hardware up to me, so I swapped the wood knobs out for a set of antique bail brass pulls. Slightly more sophisticated, and just the weensiest hint of sparkle to dress the piece up. It took me almost three hours to sand the top. The old surface turned to an impassable quagmire of sludge as soon as my sanding pad hit it, but I refused to give up, under all that gunk was mahogany.








A Federal Sideboard in Navy

I'm booked up to my eyeballs in custom work (yay!), which leaves me an infinitesimal time allotment for what I casually call "spec" pieces (stuff I refinish to my own taste or vision, and then sell). Obviously having loads of custom work is the most fiscally savvy business model. I can almost sleep at night, knowing there'll be a regular money flow for weeks out... but it's not as much fun. Though I certainly enjoy working with clients, and helping them to recreate their (or my) furniture to suit, I do get a frequent itch to just follow my heart with a piece.
           Last week I felt the itch in a substantial way. Backlogged to death with the custom orders, and on the hunt for a dining table for a client, I made the long haul down to the Waterford ReStore. Not only did I find the perfect table for my client, but I spotted this beauty, lurking in a far back corner. It was love at first sight. I have massive weakness for Federal sideboards, and this one, in a form I'd not seen before, was in relatively reasonable condition. I had to have it. Impossibly, the sideboard and the massive dining table fit in the back of my little yellow pickup, and the weather held until I got home and unloaded.
             I intended to leave the sideboard be, a carrot on a stick, to help propel me through the last of the custom work logjam, buuuuut self control has never been my forte. I held strong for all of three days, and then couldn't resist her allures further. So here it is, just as I wanted it, in a rich custom shade of navy blue, with a paler blue interior. I refinished the top, stained with minwax mahogany, and sealed. The gently patinated bail brass pulls are original.
            I think my next facebook live video will be on the various stylistic artifacts that characterize individual eras of furniture design. I'm telling you this piece is Federal, but it might be a good exercise to illustrate exactly why it falls so firmly in that period.








Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Vintage Pine Desk in Coral

This weather. It was so gorgeous last week, and we're paying for it in spades now. I feel like I've been wearing the weather like a damp wool body suit for days. It's thick, and heavy, and inescapable out there on the driveway where I work. With the humidity comes the mosquitos, and between swatting those bastards, trudging between multiple pieces of furniture that have been giving me no shortage of headaches, and having to pack it all up over and over due to imminent thunderstorms, I've been about as effective as, well, a damp wool body suit.  It's about to storm yet again, so I've given up the ghost for the day, and am sitting on the front porch, basking in the first genuine breeze we've had in a week, since I'm soaked with sweat it's particularly bracing.
          On the plus side I finished this sweet vintage solid pine desk, in a custom mixed shade of coral with a refinished top, light distress, and cream interior, AND I just finished listening to the best book ever: Frozen in Time by Mitchell Zuckoff.
          This historic nonfic is about a series of catastrophic plane crashes and failed rescue missions on a god forsaken slice of blistering glacier in Greenland during WWII. Zuckoff weaves the heart wrenching survival tale of the marooned soldiers and their hapless would-be rescuers through the weft of his own personal connection to the gripping events, as a member of the 2012 expedition to recover one of the downed and now ice encapsulated planes, a Grumman Duck, with its three entombed heroes within.
           From the outset it seems fate has a grudge against the stranded airmen, huddled in the remains of the wrecked craft, surviving on ever dwindling rations and indefatigable courage. The recovery crew, 70 years in the future, struggle against a similarly sisyphean obstacle course of redtape, bad weather, and malfunctioning equipment. You're pulling for everyone here, there are no bad guys, except Greenland herself, who is the harshest wintery bitch imaginable. I'm sure the book is tremendous to read, but on audio it's an absolute triumph. I just went to check who the narrator was, and behold- It's Zuckoff himself. Clearly a man of many talents. Go listen to it, or read it, and then let's talk about how this amazing story needs to be made into a movie immediately.
source 









Thursday, July 6, 2017

A Jacobean China Cabinet

Those of you who've read the blog for a while already know that most of the time I'm working, I'm listening to dreadful things. Dreadful in the sense that it's either true crime podcasts, or audio books on true crime or disasters. Probably the root cause of this perverse fascination is something broken deeeeep in my soul. But to balance it out- OMG HAVE YOU SEEN WONDER WOMAN YET??!!!. It's a triumph and I'm going to see it for a second time tomorrow night. Chris Pine problem now fully engaged. I've only googled pictures of his face, like 87 times today so far.

      I'm listening to a terrible true crime audiobook right now, "Female Serial Killers" by Peter Vronsky. Audible's searching abilities are spectacularly craptacular, so I purchased this because it came up on the home page, and sixteen hours of female serial killers sounds right up my broken soul alley. Unfortunately, it's bad. Vronsky clearly hates women, and opens the book with a three chapter diatribe attacking feminists. I muscled through, really only because I was putting the finishing touches on the china cabinet below, and my hands were entirely tied up. Luckily you can return audiobooks pretty easily on audible, so this guy's going back on the  ole' digital shelf tomorrow.

     While typing this I've just decided I'm now going to give you podcast and audiobook reviews along with your weekly doses of furniture. Vronsky's piss poor effort is a 2/10. Not to end our first ever review on a sour note though, I also discovered an absolutely phenomenal true crime podcast this week. It's called 'In Sight', and it's my favorite ever. They've done 50 some odd cases, and you can listen to all the episodes on their website here http://www.insightpod.com/. The hosts, an Aussie and an American gal, are smart as whips, so the content is not only well researched, but when they weigh in with their theories, I always find myself shaking my head in agreement. 10/10

     Another 10/10- This china cabinet!!! I take none of the credit. This is a stunnning piece, and I just had the privilege to smack it about with a paint brush for a week or so. It's mahogany and walnut veneers over poplar c.1920. The form is loosely Jacobean, but I use "loosely" loosely. It's like the designers squinted at a grainy black and white polaroid of an original Jacobean piece from across a football field on a foggy night, and then sketched this up, tossed it to their cabinetmaker, took a big gulp of whisky from the flask hidden under their drafting table, shrugged and said "Eh, something like this." Which isn't to say it isn't lovely, it's just that it barely has a tippy toe on Jacobean territory.
      The client sent me a picture of another painted piece she spotted on Pinterest, and we used that as our inspiration for the reinvention. A pale shade that dances somewhere between blue and green, depending on the lighting, and a chalky white interior give the frenzied architecture of the piece the breathing room it needs to be subtle and sophisticated, something I'd argue the original contrasting wood grains never did.






Thursday, June 29, 2017

A Dining Table in Cream

MAHOGANY. This table is so nice. So top shelf. A unique and well executed form, probably from about 1915, it's still absolutely sturdy, and even has the adorable original solid brass casters. I suspect this was a very expensive table when it was new. One of the reasons I think that? Well I thought the top was mahogany veneer, as are 99% of the mahogany tables from the period. And that's fine, I still loved the table. Then I started sanding it, nope, solid mahogany boards. I could die.
        This table is going in the stunnnnnnning dining room of my best friend Jess. I knew she was hunting for a round table, so when I spotted this gem at the flea market a few weeks ago for $40, I jumped on it immediately. Jess went with a deep rich stain, and an antique cream for the base. Nice and simple to really allow the architecture of the piece, and the remarkable top to do all the talking!






A Server in Blue

A quick post for a wonderfully pleasant and easy piece. This mid 20th century sideboard gave me no trouble, no grief. It had been beautifully maintained, was really in flawless condition, but the horrible orange original finish was holding it back badly. The client opted for a bright fresh update crisp white, and pale blue, with a dark top to really play up the graining of the spectacular maple top.







An Empire Chest in Yellow

The height of refinement and elegance, at least in my book. Empire (seen primarily from 1830-1900) is my favorite. Empire has been my favorite for a good long time, and that's an eyebrow raiser when I tell my antiques friends. Empire is often the least popular period in American furniture design. Why? I couldn't begin to tell you. The only real reasons I can think that Empire doesn't get it's due is
 1. Empire often breaks quintessential design rules in its form and design. There's a top heaviness to an empire piece; the ogee molding on the apron of a card table will be overwrought, the top drawer on a chest of drawers will be larger than the bottom ones, or they'll reverse graduate, with the largest at the top and the smallest at the bottom. It is, in general a bulky time for furniture, every big, over done, and in mahogany veneer.

2. Speaking of big and overdone, Empire furniture is heavy, both visually *see #1 above*, and physically. There's nothing an antiques dealer will grouse about more than a damn heavy piece of furniture. The heaviest piece of furniture I've ever met was an empire desk made c.1820 in upstate New York. It had a big dose of Egyptian Revival character, all kinds of crazy contrasting woods. It was a beast, right down to its giant bear paw feet. It was a triumph, and to date, my favorite piece of furniture I've ever seen.

3. Empire furniture was the transition moment in American furniture. It's when everything changed. It reaches its height riiiiiiight around the Civil War, and that just happens to also be the moment when we first see furniture production move from small scale, local shops- one in every town, or every other town, overseen by a master craftsman, staffed by a few journeymen and a fleet of sweating, gangly apprentices. It's really the cut off point for most fine furniture antiques dealers. Unless the piece is marvelous for some very individual reason (provenance, a charmingly naive folk art effort, a killer original decorative paint surface), you won't find much post 1850 furniture in a good dealer's booth.

Soooooooo, all that being said. Empire is MY favorite. And I think my opinion should be worth something! I work with a lot of furniture, I love furniture, and I love Empire the most. So as counterpoint to items 1-3 listed above, I offer this beauty. I dare you to tell me you don't love it.
Two especially lovely things about this particular c.1870 mahogany, mahogany veneer, and eastern white pine chest that I want to highlight: The top is a single solid mahogany board, and the original cabinetmaker labeled the backs of each of the drawers in a bold, dancing script- 1 through 4. Funnily, the drawer assignments are labeled four different times in four different hands on four different spots of each drawer. I decided to give our original cabinetmaker the final say, and yes indeedy, that is the order in which these old drawers still run the smoothest.






You can only really see the chalk inscription when the sun catches in just right, almost like Tolkien-ian moon letters.