Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Petite Hutch in Shades of Green

Today was a happy day, so it's fitting that I finish it off by showing you this happy little hutch. I'd say 98% of the happiness of the day was due to the weather. Spring has sprung in Connecticut, it was almost 60 degrees today, and will be even warmer tomorrow! I spent the entire day working with my workshop doors thrown wide open. It was magnificent.
       I always forget what a damper winter puts on my soul until the first hint of spring drags me back from the brink of utter bitchiness. I am not, and have never been a winter person. It's spring and summer all the way. I'd like fall fair enough if not for the looming presence of winter peeking its bastard hoary head around the corner of October.
       But here we are now, with winter at our backs and so many glorious months of sunshine and flea markets, flowers and gentle dulcet breezes washing through leafy verdant woods. Fall is a season of reds and burnt orange with splashes of mustard and winter is painted in cashmere shades of fallen blue and dead snow. In spring it's all about green. My garden is spiked with hopeful kelly green shoots of daffodil, my lilac bush by the back fence is, impossibly, already speckled with fat lime buds that will be leaves so very soon, and look what I spotted yesterday on my drive to Home Depot- Crocus! One of the earliest and most welcome harbingers of a change in season (as if this balmy weather weren't indication enough). And yes, I know they're not green, but OH that yellow needs to go on a piece of furniture IMMEDIATELY.

So it's with lifted spirits that I share this sweet vintage oak hutch with you, painted in the absolute springiest green ever. I asked the Heir and Space Facebook followers to help me choose a name for the color, and after an incredible four hundred some odd submissions, I picked "Aloe My Love".

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Dumpster Desk Rescue

Believe it or not, I rarely pick furniture out of the dumpster. Certainly I'll brake hard for some lovely, forlorn piece that's been lugged to the side of the road, but as far as I remember, this is one of only two things I've ever rescued for within an actual dumpster, though that might just be because we live out in the country, and there really aren't that many dumpsters to be fishing through to begin with.
        When I saw just the darling bandy foot of this desk peeking out, I knew I needed to take a closer look. I felt sure the poor thing would be DOA- just pieces, perhaps even just the foot, so I was incredibly amazed when, with a bit of persuasive wrenching and a significant amount of colorful swearing, an entire, intact, vintage rock maple desk emerged from the grimy depths of said dumpster. To be sure, the piece needed work. It was chipped and scratched and several of the drawers weren't sliding properly, but at least it had all its feet, and it had all the drawers, it was worth a shot to save.
          I second guessed that decision several times, and ignored the desk for the longest time as it took up precious floor space in my workshop. Finally two days ago I decided to take a swing at it. The drawers were a fairly straightforward repair, and they all slide beautifully now, and the surface was quite easily set aright and prepped for paint. From the start I wanted to paint the four columns gold, so I went with the deepest shade of midnight blue to contrast with them. The brass knobs are salvaged, an insanely good buy I scored at the Bloomfield ReStore for ten cents a piece!
           I'll indulge myself a bit and say I think this sweet little desk looks pretty damn good now, rescued from the jaws of death and destruction, and reformed phoenix like, into as handsome a piece of furniture as any I've ever seen. :-)

Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Vintage Cherry Hutch in Pale Yellow

Somethings that I work on are a nightmare from start to finish. Sometimes that's because they're in poor condition, or have a weird surface that paint just doesn't want to stick to, or there's some little problem that I have to try six different ways to fix. I don't tell you the stuff that makes me nuts and drives me to the martini glass.
        But I will certainly tell you when a piece makes me happy, makes my job a joy, and inspires me. This c.1965 Thomasville cherry china cabinet, and the matching sideboard, which I finished earlier this week were sooooooo pleasant to work on. It's not like they were a walk in the park, both took time and effort, but more just that when I finished them both I felt really damn proud of how they turned out.
        This cabinet is in one of my very favorite colors, "Beignet" by Benjamin Moore. It's actually the color of my guest room walls, though interestingly it reads are decidedly green in there, and it absolutely pale yellow on this hutch. Weird. The color isn't lemon, or sunny, it's a bit more complex and grounded than that. It's the color of white wine, or the inside of a green grape, it's got some fizzy element of ginger, and a hint of warmth and green, like the sun streaming through lush summer treetops. It's an absolutely spectacular color, even better in person than in these pictures.
           It's finally warming up outside- and it supposed to be glorious all this coming week. That means lots and LOTS of new furniture to share with you. I work so fast when the weather's fair.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Bedroom Set in Pale Sage

I'm surprised I managed to get anything else done in the last two weeks, because this modern Broyhill bedroom set swallowed my time almost entirely. The pieces are HUGE, and since it's a very pale shade of green- Benjamin Moore's Victorian Garden, it took many many coats to get perfect coverage.
       But I'd say it was well worth all the handwork. I swapped out the knobs for turned wood ones that are stained to match the tops, which I sanded and re-stained in minwax 'Honey' then sealed until they were smooth as glass. I distressed the cases and sealed them with dark wax. They were custom for a client and are off back to their home later this afternoon.

A Cherry Sideboard in Blue

Looooooooove this sideboard. I really didn't need any more furniture. My workshop is so hilariously crowded, but when I saw this stunner and the matching hutch, I just knew I had to have them. I started on the sideboard about the moment it's sweet curvy feet hit the floor of my workshop.
I refinished the top, which had been badly damaged, and painted the case in a custom mixed shade of blue gray that one of my Heir and Space Facebook followers has named 'Dusty Eucalyptus'.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

In Defense of Veneer

One of the most common misconceptions that I encounter, second only to "People who paint furniture are demon-spawn seeking only to ruin antiques and history", is that veneer is an indication of cheap construction and poor quality.
An early 20th century tall chest with wonderful bookend mahogany veneer drawer fronts.
Refinished in fall 2016 for a client. 

         This couldn't be farther from the truth! Take it from a gal who lives and dies by selecting and refinishing good furniture that will last for many generations, veneer is A-Ok. It's a non-factor when I'm deciding whether a piece is worth purchasing and re-inventing.

Incase you're curious, here are some actual detractors that will steer me away from a piece of furniture:

1. Severe shrinkage cracks or warps to the case. This is almost always caused by long term exposure to moisture (think damp basement), though every once in a while warps and cracks are caused by poorly chosen materials with original flaws. Once your boards start warping, there's very little that can be done to save a piece.

2. Bad drawers. Can drawers be fixed? Yes. There's any number of reasons why a drawer sticks- from missing or worn runners, to loose sides, protruding drawer stops, saggy bottoms, to warps in the case (see above), and sometimes they stick just due to asinine stubbornness. I fix sticking drawers all the time, and it's hands down my least favorite part of the job.

3. Cockroach infestation. This happened once ONCE but it was the most upsetting and shocking experience of my entire furnituring life. I hauled the thing (a vintage maple hutch) to the fire pit, and stood back while it burned, then I stripped naked, burned my clothes, and took a bath in paint thinner (some of this may be hyperbole). I never purchased another piece from that picker again. The poor lady was a bit of a hoarder, and I wonder if her whole house was crawling with the wee beasties, urgh.

          Anywho, veneer is never a deterrent. At least half of my favorite pieces I've ever worked on were veneer, which isn't surprising because I'd say about half of all the furniture I've refinished has been veneer. It's very common, especially in nice early 20th century case pieces.

An early 20th century classical style tall chest with magnificent tiger oak veneer drawer fronts.
Finished last summer for a client.
         I suspect a lot of the veneer hate stems from a lack of understanding. So, what is veneer? Veneer is not laminate. Laminate is a 20th century invention cooked up in a mad villain's wicked workshop to undermine the quality of furniture. Laminate is plastic,  but it might as well be a blurry polaroid photo of wood, scotch taped crookedly to the top of a piece, for all it resembles real wood. Veneer is not composite. Composite is wood pulp, or, even more horrifyingly, cardboard stuff, that's been reformed into a board-shape. It's about as solid and reliable as building a piece of furniture out of marshmallow. Often laminate is applied over composite for an atrocity that now passes as furniture on the modern market. The stuff doesn't even have the decency to burn properly, and a roaring fire is really the only appropriate place to store laminate and composite furniture...

         Veneer is wood. And a veneered piece of furniture can still be considered solid wood. It's all wood. Just that some of that wood is an 1/8th sheet of something very special, thoughtfully selected, and applied over a 'secondary wood' (usually pine, poplar, or chestnut). Using veneer allows the cabinetmaker far more flexibility in terms of design and material. Exotic hardwoods such as mahogany and teak are expensive and rare, as are highly figured pieces of common wood such as birds-eye and tiger maple. By using veneer, a little hardwood can go a long way, preventing unnecessary waste. Veneer patterns such as crotch or flame mahogany can be matched, paired, and set at angles for spectacular plays of movement and figuring. Simply put, veneer ups the ante big time.
Here is a delightfully earnest but surprisingly entertaining vintage video on veneer production. Well worth the watch!

          For those of you who are like "Oh hell no, I'm not watching a 15 minute video on veneer" here's the quick and dirty: Hardwoods are selecting for their beauty and rarity, de-barked, soaked in water or steam at high temperatures for a day or so, and then cut with super sharp blades at specific angles which result in specific displays of the wood's natural graining. The slicers kind of look like giant versions of the meat slicers they use at deli counter.

        Veneer is in no way a new technology invented to cut corners and whittle away at the standards of quality in furniture production (ahem, looking at you, laminate). Believe it or not, veneer was already in common use by Egyptian master craftsmen three millennia ago. Check out these guys getting their veneer on in a reproduction of a drawing found in the tomb of Rekmire (c.1475 BCE).

          Veneer was elevated to perhaps its greatest altitude of beauty in 17th and 18th century Europe, when furniture makers created furniture so intricately veneered and inlayed that it makes my eyes water and my heart ache. JUST LOOK AT THIS SUCKER- a 17th century Charles II Dutch olive oyster-veneered and floral marquetry chest on stand. Holy smokes. 

          Veneer has been used in American furniture production pretty much from the time colonists hopped off their boats in the 17th century. Just as today, the use of veneer allowed early American cabinetmakers to maximize rare and fine woods to create symphonies of figuring and form. Here's an early 18th century William and Mary highboy in burled maple veneer with walnut herringbone banding.

And how about this c.1805-1810 Federal carved mahogany and bird's eye maple veneer dressing table and mirror attributed to Thomas Seymour of Boston. It sold at Skinner's auction about fifteen years ago for $312,000. Tell me again how veneer is only for "junk" furniture... *eye-roll*

Veneer was commonly used throughout the 19th and 20th century to create both original furniture designs and second period pieces that honor the forms and surfaces of the great master pieces of the previous centuries. Which is a good thing because, I don't know about all of you, but I don't have $312,000 sitting around. I do have a few hundred bucks from time to time, and that's more than enough to buy some seriously sexy veneered furniture. In fact, I just wandered through my house and counted- it's a pretty even split between antique veneered and solid wood pieces of furniture in my house. Here are two of my favorites in my personal collection. Both are early 19th century. Both were under $100.

And finally, here's some HAWT pictures of veneer, doing things solid wood boards can never do.
All pieces I've had the pleasure to refinish over the years.


Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Vintage Federal Tall Chest in Green

I was pretty indulgent early this week. I've got quite a bit of custom work that I should have been slogging away on, but I had this tall chest that's been giving me bedroom eyes for weeks now. It's not been spoken for for custom refinishing, so I decided it was time to refinish it the way I want.
      It's a bit of a risky color. If I'd wanted to sell it immediately I probably should have painted it pale blue, or gray, or white, or black. Those are always the colors that sell the fastest around here. But I was dying to see it in green, playing up those delicious original oval brass pulls. I also decided to paint the top rather than sand, stain, and seal it. It's right at my eye-line and somehow I thought a line of dark wood would make it stumpy and grounded. I wanted this thing to dance!
       I mixed up a batch of custom mixed pale green, and got to work. Well no, actually I spent hours and hours meticulously patching veneer loss, chips, and dings, and then I got to work with my paint brush. It always astounds me how many "professional" furniture refinishers don't repair mars to the case before painting. It's sloppy, and lazy, and quite inexcusable if you want my humble opinion.
       Now I really really mustn't keep this beauty for myself, as much as its tempting me. One of you needs to adopt it before I lose my will and haul it upstairs to my own bedroom!