Saturday, September 16, 2017

Nine Lives of a Drop Leaf Table

First, I just want to clear up for some of you who read a blog post I wrote a couple weeks ago about getting a bit burnt out, and painting more pictures- I AM NOT QUITTING THE FURNITURE BUSINESS. Clearly I wasn't doing a very good job of explaining myself in the post, I got some many questions, I just went ahead and deleted the entire thing.

     On a brighter note- I am now selling my oil landscapes. You can view the current selection here . I'll also have all my watercolors up for sale by mid October, but I want to wait until after my big tag sale on October 7th, to be sure I have a nice selection for the shoppers.

      So here's an interesting antique table with a fabulous paint history. The table came down through a client's family, and according to their oral history, was purchased in 1886. I'd say that's about right date-wise for the style of the table. I've seen pieces that were more than a hundred years older than this table that were as pure and pristine as the driven snow, as if time had not touched them. That was decidedly not the case with this table. Time had been very VERY hard on it.

     The table had been ridden hard and put away wet, as the saying goes, and indeed moisture had been one of the critical authors of its near demise. It had been in the basement for decades, and the damp had worked up through its feet and ankles, loosening joints as it went. The thing wobbled worse than a newborn colt when it came into my workshop. One leg in particular had been very badly repaired about fifty years ago, big heavy nails driven straight through the top of the table into the post of the leg, which of course did nothing but split the boards of the top and further loosen the leg. There were a few other...creative... make-do repairs. A fistful of crudely split rulers had been nailed to the underside of the leaves to shore them up. A fruit crate had been used to patch giant 1" diameter holes, that had been bored into the sides of the apron. To call this table a hot mess would be to pay it an unearned compliment. I won't lie, when I agreed to this project, I was not fully aware of just how bad the condition was. So this table, and its two equally woe begotten matching chairs earns the blue ribbon as most challenging project I've ever attempted.

But what made this table truly exciting was the story it had to tell. It had lived a hard life, but it had also been an interesting life, kind of like that cool old biker dude hunched over his cheap bourbon in the corner of the dive bar. Yea, you might not cuddle up in bed with him at night, but damned if he doesn't have a thrilling yarn or two to share.

      Here's what this table told me about its life:
1. This was never a fine, formal, or fancy table. Tables like this were most often used as prep stations in kitchens (the very earliest beginnings of the kitchen island), or as casual dining space in a back parlor etc. You didn't receive guests at a table like this.

2. It's birch, and was originally stained a dark espresso hue. It was probably quite sweet when first made, though the molding across the ends of the apron don't match and are original. I can only wonder if this was a "second" made from spare parts and sold at a discount.

3. It was painted after only about ten years, probably around 1900. The first coat of paint (because there were many) was a fabulous honey yellow, oil based, and had superb adhesion. It must have been quite sweet and sunny in that yellow, and I'm sad that that shade was ever covered.

4. But being that this was still a work a day table, it probably got dinged and singed, and before long needed another paint job. The next one was mint green with red along the edges (how delightfully flashy!). This surface dates to the 1920s.

5. Next the table was painted a cottage-y white and sickeningly sweet basket of flower decals were placed at the four compass corners. I'm going to guess this was done right around 1935/40.

     6. Judging by the way this table was being used, I'm going to guess that the white paint didn't last too long. The next surface was a thick matte black, probably from the mid 40s to early 50s. The client recalls the table being used on a porch (i.e. very casual use). Interestingly, not one of the generations of painters painted either the underside of the leaves, or the side aprons, which leads me to believe the table was almost always used with the leaves down. Also interesting, of the two matching chairs, only one received the matching paint treatments. It had every single surface, identical to the table, but the matching chair had none, just oxidation from 125 years of use and environmental pollutants.
I believe the "make-do" repairs were also done around the time of the black paint. The materials used (rulers and crate) look like late 1940s pieces, and the client believes her father may have been the one to do them.

     7. Shortly before the table was banished to the basement, the top of the table was painted to look like a baseball diamond. The client knows that her brother did this (late 60s? early 70s?).
8. Something in the black paint did not at all agree with the original yellow. Being that the original yellow had excellent adhesion, all the paint surfaces began to slough off, creating a strong craqueluer effect between black and original yellow

So much paint it makes me think of fordite. It's quite beautiful in its own way.

In order to save this table I had to start from the ground up. I repaired the cracked and damaged feet with bondo. I tightened up the frame, removed all the make-do repairs, and properly repaired the loose legs, I patched the bored holes, and added neat and tidy lifts for the leaves, since the rulers were a bit... unruly (LOL).

    I sanded the paint down to the original yellow. The client wanted a deep blue green, Pittsburgh Paint's Shimmering Sea. And finally I hand painted decorative branches and a pair of love birds on the top.


  1. Wow what a transformation and an interesting history via paint. Great job!

  2. The table had quite the story to tell. So glad you were able to help with its next chapter.

  3. Loved your story! What a beautiful job! You can almost hear the table rejoice with the beautiful paint work that coats it now.

  4. Loved the history of the paint and repairs. Love the new color!

  5. A beautiful restoration. I love your blog, so much great information with each post. Keep them coming!

  6. beautiful job, although I am a bit sorry she didn't want a return to the original yellow!