Tuesday, May 28, 2013

RE: Finished

A few months ago, we bought a vintage dresser from one of our favorite shops in town, the English Building Market. (We shouldn't ever go in there--we always see something wonderful that fits our taste to a T! And usually, our purchases begin with a dimly-lit photo-text with the message "what do you think of this!?) It was in pretty good shape and would have done fine as-is with little cleanup, but I have been wanting to try get started refinishing some of the pieces we have gathered over the years (many from the English Building Market!), and so this seemed like a good start.

The piece is stamped "Vega in Walnut by Morris" in one of the drawers. It seems like a pretty well-built piece, but I am not sure the actual vintage. Some brief online sleuthing only suggests that the Morris company was making furniture from about WWI until the late 1980s. If I had to guess, I would think this piece is somewhere from the 1960s or 1970s.

I started out working on the drawers by sanding the inside and outside of the drawer body. I then focused my time on the walnut veneer face, using 100 grit sandpaper at first to get the old finish off. I then moved up to 220, and then 400 grit sandpaper, and finally steel wool. The wood is finished simply by wiping on teak oil with a cloth. It was an amazing transformation, which is quite evident in the before and after shot of the drawers. The grain, hidden beneath dirty and old, yellowed finish, now practically glows.

The drawers had some beautiful details. The center drawers have drawer pulls, wooden knobs with little brass hardware. I worked hard to polish up the brass until it glowed using steel wool. I think the color of the brass against the walnut is really beautiful.

The side drawers have integrated pulls. It seems almost strange, but the back of the pulls are laminate meant to look like wood. It is odd in concept, but in actuality, it was probably a smart move. In other period pieces we have with integrated drawer pulls, the wood is chewed up from many years of fingernails opening and closing the drawers. The color of the laminate is a bit off from the overall color of the piece, but it has helped keep the rest of the wood looking great.

The drawers sat finished for a few days before finally getting started on the chest, which in the end only took two days of on-and-off work to finish.

The chest itself needed a bit of work on the left side prior to finishing, where one whole edge of veneer was delaminating. Using a palette knife and two extra hands (thanks to my lovely assistant, Kim!), we inserted glue behind the veneer and then used a plywood board and a strap clamp around the whole chest to flatten out as many bubbles as possible.

Truth be told, there are still a few warped portions of veneer, but it is in much better condition than before. And we were fortunate that there were very few places where veneer had been completely lost.

Using the same technique as the drawer fronts (100, 220, 400, steel wool, teak oil), I finished the chest. Except for the top, which had some extra layers of old finish and needed a sander, the entire piece was sanded by hand in order to protect the delicate veneer. The surface now glows with beautiful book-matched veneer!

And the hardwood legs and brackets also cleaned up quite nicely.

The (re)finished piece now sits proudly in our bedroom, awaiting clothes and a long second life! It will also (hopefully this summer?) feature prominently in the new master bedroom renovation we have been planning!

(And, yes, that is the requisite Alvar Aalto vase sitting on top. It is a staple in staging photos of Modern furniture!)

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