I have always loved the idea of family heirlooms, vintage furniture, or flea markets finds to decorate my house. My parents have many family heirlooms, from a buffet to corner cabinet to dresser and beds, to enamel top kitchen tables, an old standing radio, end tables, metal patio chairs, and more. So while my mother and I might have admired those garage sale goers, those who bought beat up furniture that they planned to clean, refinish, and love, we did not have the space for anything of the sort. Our house was filled with all that it could hold. Therefore, it goes without saying that I never had the opportunity to restore something of my own. When I was 15, my parents let me paint my bedroom “daisy blue” (I’m sure I picked the color for the name), but that was as far as my experience went in home renovation projects.
While preparing to move to North Carolina, back in summer 2006, I carefully chose what excess furniture I would claim as my own (or “borrow” from my parents). I picked the enamel top table that was my grandmother’s (we had two, so my mom wouldn’t miss one of them), the solid wood bookshelf that I had in my room, and an old record table that I used as my nightstand. Aside from the fact that I didn’t have much money, I wanted to bring part of home with me, 650 miles away. The tables could be considered family heirlooms, and I just always liked the bookshelf. Perhaps because I am the oldest child and was the first to leave home, my parents graciously gave me this furniture.
The enamel top table and the bookshelf were in fine condition, but the record table had seen better days. Its brown paint had started chipping long ago, and its support weakened as I piled on books and moved it from house to house. I had great plans to sand and paint the table, but I never got beyond sanding it. Yes, that was three years ago – furniture refinishing was never on top of my list of things to do. And most of the time it was hidden beneath books and other belongings. This wear and tear has taken a toll on the poor record player table, and within the past few months, I’ve been wondering if it will survive the upcoming move 850 miles north.
Finally, the urge to refinish the old record player table struck me on Sunday. Luckily, Vinny has taken on such projects before, much more than my bedroom painting days. After gathering the necessary supplies (sandpaper, polyurethane, “red cherry” paint, paintbrushes, steel wool, clamps, wood glue, and wood filler) from home and the store, we were ready to begin.
Before - the front of the table
Before - the back of the table
The condition seen above in the pictures was basically how it looked for three years. The visible dark brown paint was the former paint color, which had I tried to sand all of the it, probably would have destroyed the table. The tabletop and legs are solid wood. The shelves and records slats are not. Taking this into consideration, we sanded the top only, in order to get the surface as smooth as possible and ready for the polyurethane. Still, as Vinny taught me, we had many steps before it was time to paint. To fix rickety-ness, we attempted to hammer some tacks between the shelves and the legs. That didn’t work. The flimsy shelves were not thick enough to take tacks. Instead, we switched to wood filler for the crevices. (Note: stainable wood killer is necessary). In order to fix the underside of the bottom shelf, we glued and c-clamped it.
The table upside down.
Repairing the flimsy bottom.
Once everything dried, we could begin the fun part: painting! The “cherry red” for the shelves and record slats took two coats of paint. I thoroughly enjoyed painting, but I can say that I am eternally grateful for blue painter’s tape and if the amount of paint on me is any indication of amateurism, I must be akin to a four-year-old learning to color. Vinny took care of the polyurethane (quick-drying and clear/natural), which required about seven coats and many more hours.
In between coats of paint and polyeurethane.
I called home to inform my parents that I finally completed this long-standing plan of a project. My mother was thrilled; my father, I think, imagines that the entire table is red and is frightened by that. My mom isn’t sure where her parents bought the table but she remembers them being very common.
Now, there are two issues that preservationists may have with my project. 1) I have not studied decorative arts in depth, so my furniture vocabulary is limited and unrefined. I apologize, but hopefully you know what I mean.2) Does it matter that I changed the color from brown to red? How do you consider alterations to furniture as opposed to alterations to buildings? If you are a furniture purist, then it might be an issue. What do you decorative arts students think? However, consider this: all I did was change the colors. Note in the pictures below that the brown paint remains in the details. To sand the brown paint from the flutes (if you will) would have been a disaster. Instead, I left it as an accent color. Also, the table is now stronger.
The tabletop, with the natural wood visible.
Best of all, the table is a piece of family history that I hold close to my heart, updated to be a reflection of me, too. At most, the table is 60 years old. I don’t know the monetary value of such a thing, nor does it matter. I love the “new” old record player table. It has never looked better.
I’m glad that my home “renovation” resume can now include painting a bedroom and refinishing a table. After all, I continue to harbor the dream that Vinny and I will restore a rundown house one day. I have a long way to go, but it’s good to start somewhere. And what could be better than with a piece of furniture that I love and that has been in my family for over half a century?
Does anyone else have good home stories?