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.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Saving Side Tables

Buying is the best part of the job. Or maybe selling. Choosing and mixing colors is fun too. And waxing is very pleasant. And staining, I like staining a freshly sanded piece.
       But buying is the best part of the job. Let's face it. Shopping is fun. There is a 100% chance I started in this career solely because I ran out of places to put furniture in my house, and still wanted to buy furniture. It's the bit that's full of dreaming, and scheming, and stepping ten paces back from a piece and giving it a hard stare. Yesterday, While staring at a wonderful vintage fruitwood side table at the Waterford ReStore, I had the curious feeling of deja-vu.
        The Waterford ReStore is not my home court, that would be the Cromwell Restore, which I could shop drunk and blindfolded (and still get great deals!). No, I hadn't been to the Waterford store in almost three years, having had a pretty craptacular experience the on my first visit and steering well clear since. Yesterday morning I had just delivered a buffet to the most darling antique home and the client had mentioned that the ReStore was two miles down the road. My workshop had about seven inches of free space (far too much!), so I scooted into the store on my way home, I am a forgiving soul and surely it was time to give this ReStore a second chance.
      Anyway, side table Dejavu- I realized I'd just seen the same table as I was currently pondering, though in a drastically different state than this nearly perfect gem. I went back to the front of the store to check, and yes indeedy, its bedraggled twin was hunched by the door,  priced at $5, a charity case.
       The tables are by Henredon, a tremendous maker of fine furniture, and the form is SO modern, incredible considering these are about sixty years old. And yet, though a matched set, they had lived markedly different lives, a prince and a pauper. They were both quite sturdy, and again, such a sexy form, but the top on the charity case was shot- the walnut veneer looked totally screwed.
       But the price was right, and I figured I'd just sand and fill the top on the pauper, paint the pair, and call it a day. One thing I knew with certainty from the moment I saw them was that I wanted them gray. Being that I had no idea how the troubled table would turn out, I didn't want to offer them up for custom refinishing, but also just that I really really wanted these two to be gray, and if I offered them up for custom, lord knows I'd be painting them pink. Pink is thus far my top requested custom color of 2017. Go figure.
       I got the tables as well as a darling solid maple hutch, and another pair of solid maple side tables that are the bee's knees. While unloading on my driveway I had myself a little debate. The top on the prince table was so damn good- I'd be an ass to paint it. The pauper was a train wreck. Burn the pauper table? Paint the top on one but not the other? Breaking up the set seemed wrong, but so did painting the top on the table in excellent condition.
        A brief digression- there is surely an interesting story here. What on green earth happened to that one table???? Not only was the top water damaged, it was filthy. I had to scrub that sucker from stem to stern before painting it. Had the original owners kept one in a pig pen and the other in their never-to-be-entered formal living room?! Remember when everyone had a living room like that? I think formal living rooms with sofas you're not allowed to sit on and side tables with which one mustn't make direct eye contact died the same year at the rotary phone.
       I decided to try sanding the crap table. I had to get the old surface off to prep for paint either way. Once I had it sanded down there were some bad water stains. I gave it the ole' what the hell and wood bleached them. It worked entirely. Huh. So then I filled some of the tearing in the veneer. and sanded it. That worked entirely. So then I stained it, always a hold your breath moment. Stain reveals all, and unpredictably so. I almost wept. The top was suddenly, and amazingly perfect. Often, the things I do to try to save a piece of furniture don't work. This time, they did. I now cannot tell which was the prince and which was the pauper. The pair sold to a client picking up another piece, who spotted them before they were even done. Today was a happy day for me and the side tables.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

An Antique Dresser from 1933

I treat this blog as much as my journal as a forward face of what will someday be a goliath in the design world (har har). So before you get to hear about this most excellent dresser, you have to slog through some angst. Or just scroll past. You guys, I need to stop treating my body like an infested flaming dumpster behind an abandoned blockbuster in a decrepit strip mall on the bad side of town in some god forsaken midwestern city. Detroit? Detroit. I ate cold, soggy left over pizza for ALL THREE meals today. I'm on my third glass of wine of the night, and I haven't had any measurable exercise, unless we count hauling furniture endlessly (and we shouldn't), in months and months. I am a disgusting lard monster who doesn't even deserve a detroit dumpster fire. Ugh. Five years ago I weighed 100lbs. Now I'm up twenty pounds from that. I wear leggings and big t-shirts because nothing fits and I've entirely given up on myself. Probably I should do better, but after working all day to make furniture pretty, it's so very hard to find the barest scrap of motivation to make myself pretty.

Ok, I hope you skipped that self indulgent dribble. Sorry. sorry.

Anyway, HOW ABOUT THIS GREAT AND BEAUTIFUL DRESSER!!!! I spotted it on Sunday while craigslist binging, which always happens when there's any hint that my workshop might be emptying out. After posting the 'before' picture of the dresser on facebook a client snapped it up for custom refinishing. We opted for a dark top, a fresh white paint, lightly distressed, and the original hardware. She literally couldn't have come up with a better design plan for this piece! The original veneers were chaotic and overwhelming in their competition with the already ornate form, way too fussy and over the top. I was so excited to give this gorgeous piece a new lease on life, I jumped into it right away! When I was finishing up today I noticed the mirrored glass is dated on the back, April 1933, Bassett. How spiffy is that?!

A Pine Lifttop Chest in Biege

These pieces are commonly called "commodes". I hate that name for them. Haaaaaaaaate. It just, eurgh, it makes my skin crawl. We will not call this a commode. I'm not even sure these were actually used in some Victorian washstand-esque morning preparations, and not just as normal storage pieces.
 Anyway, I re-did this sweet antique pine piece for a wonderful new client. She's one of those people you could talk to for hours, likable and kind and fascinating.
        Between getting bronchitis and my dreadful experience on flea market flip (don't ask), it took me an indecent amount of time to finish this sweet little piece. It's a object that came down in the client's husband's family, and I wanted to take meticulous care as I worked on it. And then today, just as I was moving it out onto the driveway in prep for pickup, the sun caught the drawer side in just the right way and BAM, a note from the past : a pencil inscription that runs along the top right lip of the drawer. I couldn't read most of it, but the date is clear as a bell, "1893". The client wasn't aware of the date, we'd actually speculated on its age when she dropped it off, so it was especially exciting to share my find with her today!
       Finding a date or any inscription from the original owner is a wonderful discovery, and sometime soon I'll write up a post with my all time favorite inscriptions I've found over the years. They're so important to me not only because it's a direct tie to a fellow furniture enthusiast from ages ago, it's also an invaluable piece of information, a concrete marker in the tumbling and complicated flow of American furniture design through the years. Another final and pleasant addendum to the date discovery; within the case, with the single drawer removed, I could see signs that the piece had originally been painted, a soft beige, almost identical to the color my client selected for the piece, unaware she was honoring its original design in the process. :-)

A Maple Shelf in Pink

I know I've told you this before, but it demands reiteration; vintage maple furniture is an excellent investment. A few days ago I got a message from one of the followers of the Heir and Space facebook page. Her friend's husband had a truck full of furniture he was planning to take to the dump, and would I like it instead? There were no pictures, and I was hesitant, often it's not finding furniture to flip that's the challenge, it's finding the space for it. The husband and his son unloaded all the pieces, artwork, a vintage floor scale, an art deco armoire (that's probably too rough to save), and this wonderful little maple bookshelf.
       The bookshelf caught my immediately, the jewel of the driveway unload, mid 20th century, probably from about 1950, and 100% solid rock maple, it was sturdy and strong, and still retained its original heinous opaque orange-y varnish. Such a perfect candidate for upcycling! I photographed it and put it up available for custom refinishing on my facebook page (Pro-tip if you're not following Heir and Space on facebook, you're missing ALL the action! ). Clearly I wasn't the only one enamored by this cutie, I had six offers within a minute! It sold to a lovely new client who's going to put it in her daughter's room. She opted for a soft dusty rose, pale gray, and gold flowers. She left most of the design details for me to hammer out, I always appreciate when a client trusts me. 
         Given that we went with a pale rose shade for the exterior color, I decided roses would be a nice touch to trail up the sides of the piece. After I finished applying the rose and gray colors I sketched the roses in pencil, then filled them in with gold oil based paint, then rose gold to highlight- which means, yes, they are rose gold roses on rose paint. Ha! I refinished the superb solid maple top and stained it darker. lightly distressed the entire piece, and sealed it with dark wax.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Antique Dressers That Make My Job Easy

Sometimes this job is a waterlogged hell-march through poison ivy coated barbed wire... and that's why I drink!
     But then again sometimes my job is a gay frolic through a rose scented summer garden... and that's why I drink (to celebrate!). This c.1935 Berkey and Gay mahogany dresser set was the gay frolic sort, and so of course I'm celebrating with a glass of wine.
    Some things that made these a joy to work on:
1. The clients who commissioned me to paint them are absolute darlings.
2. Those darling clients made excellent design choices - Let's let the mahogany tops do what they do best, keep the original spectacular hardware, and such a perfect color (Benjamin Moore's Victorian Garden), finished with a light distress and dark wax. 10/10 plan across the board!
3. The dressers themselves were as easy to work with as the clients who've owned them for several generations. Without getting too sage-burning, granola munching weird, I do wonder sometimes if these pieces start to take on the vibes of the homes in which they live. Almost as a rule the most workable pieces belong to the pleasant clients, and the thrice damned headache pieces...well you get the picture.

Every now and then I'll do a piece of furniture and though it looks terrific in person the photos won't turn out, but par for the course with these lovelies, they photographed like a dream as well.