Was everyone in 1940 so short-sighted?

Yes, of course hindsight is 20/20 and no one can see the future.

But that so many antique candlesticks were turned into table and floor lamps in the early-mid 20th century makes us sad. What did Cher say? If I could turn back time? If I could find a way? Well we did both in this case, having to reverse the sequence of Ms. Cher’s plea.

We stumbled on these late 19th-early 20th century Louis XV Spanish-style sticks that had been turned into floor lamps and were commissioned to return them to their past glory without destroying the integrity of the pieces.

Unfortunately, we don’t have before pictures to show you, but imagine 50 years of dirt and cigarette smoke with a large pole drilled out through the center and some terrible canister shade with contrasting fringe. Bad stuff.
Final result:

I turned back all the things that hurt you...

Old Louis XVI Is Kindling Right Now…

We love a good tub chair. This one is from the mid-1920s, when there was a resurgence of Louis XVI furniture. A lot of it was more deco than this – this one is fairly traditional.

But the scale is wrong. We need it to be higher with a more delicate look and not so deep.
So of course we promptly took it apart and started to plan out what we need to do.

Right now all of the pieces are essentially kindling: bound up and stored away.

Stay tuned for the finished product when we have the wherewithal to piece it back together.

Oh, All of That Old Boarding House Furniture.

The question when you are dealing with old furniture is just how far you are going to go with restoration and refinishing.

In this case, it wasn’t any concern at all.

What we have here was a broken-down piece that was at one point in time a nice piece… for a lovely boardinghouse.

We tend not to strip things outright and rarely touch anything with sandpaper. The trick, in our opinion, is to be sensitive to the piece while making it something you can live with.
In this case, we rubbed it down with #0000 steel wool about 10 times to buff out the scratches and then cleaned up some of the details with alcohol. When we were finished, we began a series of super-thin shellac coats (about a 1 Lb. cut, if you are curious about these things) that were tinted with an 80 year old supply of VanDyke brown pigment.

After a little gilding and repair to the decorative scrolls on the front…

But it turned out all-right, considering it was literally on its way to the burning pile.

Wy Would You Buy THOSE Chairs?

When we first saw these walnut chairs from the 1880s, we felt a little sad. The story was that they were abandoned to 110 years in a barn because they were too difficult to dust. And there they sat.
By the time we got hold of them, the red and bottle green velvet upholstery was gone completely and the springs were rusted out.

They needed some love.

All of the finish had baked off over the years, and what was a nice walnut was now unidentifiable under years of dust and animal droppings.

When we got them up to the workroom, the first thing we had to do was stabilize them. The glue that held them together had been eaten away, so our first step was to take them apart and label them. Once we had the pieces cleaned and had brushed them with just a bit of hardener, we began the regluing and clamping process.

The seats had twisted a bit over the years, so we left the weight of three to four cast iron sewing machines sit for a month in high humidity to correct their warping.

When you are dealing with furniture this old and this abused, you can pretty much forget about it ever (EVER!) being square and true. You want something that comes close, but don’t force it too hard or the wood will shatter.

After we were satisfied with the glue, we used our stash of antique walnut to make a wood putty from linseed oil and shavings. Most of the tacks and nails had to be very gently drilled out because they had rusted into the cells of the wood. Once these were dealt with, the holes were filled.

We began fixing the burl on the top and slats of the back of the chairs. The old burl wasn’t salvageable, but we have a small stock of 19th century burl we use on small jobs like this.

If you look really closely, you will see the differences in the turnings on these two chairs – this was original to the set. When they were being glued together 100+ years ago, somebody screwed up and set the turnings upside down, so when we were reassembling them, we took note and kept them that way.

Once the burl was in place, trimmed, and everything was set, we buffed the entire chair out.

Now. We would have preferred to use a shellac for the finish, but the wood was too soft. Usually walnut will take a shellac finish beautifully and you will have a quick, easy and legitimate (the original finish was a shellac) finish.

In this case, the structure of the wood is so damaged that shellac would crumble under use unless we were to do some heavy sanding.

So we decided to use linseed oil, which is a lovely finish, but takes forever.

We started with a 2/1 cut oil/mineral spirits and large sheets of plastic. For two days we let the oil mixture soak in, re-coating it every 6 hours or so.

Once two days passed, we began a week-long cycle of straight linseed oil. Every morning we would brush it on liberally and then seal it in plastic. The next morning we would remove the plastic, wipe it down hard with mineral spirits, and then apply another layer of the oil.

After a week it stopped accepting more finish and a test of the wood on the underside showed that it had soaked in to 1/8″; which is what we were going for.

Once the oil started to set, we buffed them down with hard cotton and set them aside. Oil finishes are funny things – they darken over time because of the amount of finish that stays wet. We have found that the cleaner we keep a piece while waiting for the finish to cure, the lighter it stays. Your mileage may vary.

Here is the result of our emergency surgery:

The chairs are stabilized, safe and sturdy enough for general use. They are waiting for their final upholstery treatments.

Our philosophy with furniture that is that you should never do anything unnecessary and anything you do should be appropriate to the age of the piece. The glues we used were animal, the finish was linseed, and the burl was antique. Everything about these chairs is still within the time-line. We wouldn’t think of coating them with polyurethane or plastic fillers. You have to decide how far you want to go – you can’t live in a museum, but for pieces like this, you don’t want to make them freakishly “restored” either. Think of balancing your needs with the value and meaning of the piece.

Mama’s Chandelier (big)

We opened the crate marked “Mama’s Chandelier: BIG” and didn’t know what to expect.

Here is what we had once the dust settled and everything was out on the table:

We put it back together to see what we were working with, and sourced some of the scrolls we were going to need to replace:

It was painted with bronze paint, but under it was fairly intact gold leafing. This was one of those “Huh?” moments, as gold leaf doesn’t tarnish and gilding does…

In any case, we set about with a paintbrush and denatured alcohol to remove the gilding. Once we got it down to the real finish, we looked it up – this wasn’t some rare specimen, and parts were fairly easy to find, so we got permission to have some fun.

We mixed a simple cobalt and thinned it with super-refined linseed oil (straight, not boiled) to paint the recessed parts of the fixture, trying to give it a sense of cloisonné.

We like the finished result.

Now we just need to talk them into buying some drapes to go with it and get rid of those miniblinds…