With all the different kinds of projects I do, I realize there might be some confusion over the terminology that we use in this business. There are many who are close to me that don't really know what I do or how I decide the fate of a piece I am working on. Then there are some clients that aren't sure how to explain what it is they are looking for so I am going to try and explain it.
Let's start with the terms "restore, refinish, re-purpose" and add rebuild, reuse and replace. I want to start with one of my favorite finds, this oak fern table. I found this table at an auction and it literally was in pieces and it was covered in dust and dirt from being stored in a barn. There was mud on the legs from laying on the floor of the barn! As you can see the top was cracked and there were some splits that were beginning in one of the legs. However, I knew that under all that grime and brokenness was a beautiful oak table so I brought it home. First I removed all the dirt, then I began to repair the broken top by removing the old frame and then joining the two pieces together with dowels and glue. Next I sanded the entire piece to remove the old pits, dirt and even out the wood grain. Once that was done (and that is a long process) I re-stained the wood. There is a purpose for stain it is not just for aesthetics, the stain puts oil back into the piece. In the case of really old wood like this piece, it will drink the stain right in. Once the stain is dry you begin to put a finish on the piece. There are many types of finishes and all of them have a purpose. On antiques I always use tung oil. Tung oil is also a long process of application, rubbing, drying and then another application. The wood will soak up the first few applications because it needs the moisture, then the protection will begin to build and you have a beautiful sheen. In the process I come to know the original craftsman, the detail, the thought and the skill that was put into the piece. The end result is a fully restored and refinished piece. It is an honor to bring these old pieces back to life and preserve the craftsmanship that went into these kinds of pieces. It is also meticulous and detailed work. I have done many pieces like this, some of my own finds and some commissioned work as in the case of the parlor set.
Then there are pieces that are very damaged or missing pieces and you have to rebuild them and sometimes re-purpose them. I have done two sewing machine cabinets and two phonograph cabinets. In every case these cabinets were already separated from their mechanical parts. I have had the opportunity to purchase some very beautiful radio and phonograph cabinets, the problem with them was that they still had the components intact and I cannot separate them...I am just weird like that. Also these aforementioned cabinets were in bad shape, in pieces and the original purpose was no longer an option. This is an opportunity for re-purposing. These cabinets were hardwoods, beautiful and unique so they had no business hitting the trash heap. The veneer on the tops of some of these pieces were so brittle that I could pull it off with my fingers. The result? Some pretty unique and beautiful pieces.
Then there are those pieces that we call wipe and go's. These are pieces that were sold from estates and they were gorgeous as they were. All they needed was a little restoration. The pieces were old and neglected and just needed a little cleaning and oil to look spectacular again. This was true of these two amazing antique pieces.
This brings me to a very important piece of information, wood must be cared for if it is going to last. In order for furniture to maintain its luster, avoid cracks and splits and to protect it from everyday use, it must be oiled and polished. Everyone seems to love the convenience of a swiffer but that swiffer only removes dust it does nothing for the condition of the wood. A light polishing should be done weekly in drier climates and monthly in more humid climates. Every few months your prized pieces need a good dose of polish. Spray on polishes actually contain other chemicals that leave a sticky film on your furniture, my recommendation is a lemon oil or orange oil polish.
Finally we have the art pieces. These pieces were usually broken or missing parts or they weren't useful in their current condition. They had good wood left to them so I re-built them and created something artistic. The office credenza had a melamine top that was marred and chipped (no one likes melamine anyway) and the legs were broken. The side table was one of those buy it in a box and put it together pieces which had become wobbly and used. The desk had a leather top in the center that was covered in words and letters that had been carved into the top and one of the legs was missing. So I rebuilt them and had a little fun in the process.
Every piece that I do has a different story, a different purpose and a different outcome. Unlike my competitors I am not a chalk paint fanatic or a fan of shabby chic although they have their place. Every piece I do is an adventure. Thank you for coming on this adventure with me and for giving me the opportunity to create. Hopefully we learn something about furniture and wood in the process and create something beautiful out of something meant to be thrown away.