What to remember before you refinish a piece of furniture

You finally found that piece of vintage furniture that would look great in your house or apartment.  There are some things that you need to remember before you refinish the piece.

The first thing to remember is that you could be messing with the value of the piece.  With antique furniture (like items in the Chippendale era for example), there is a sizable chunk of the value of the piece invested in the original finish.  I’ve seen the value drop up to 50% when the piece of furniture was refinished.  A good rule of thumb on valuable pieces of furniture is to refrain from doing anything major yourself (dusting it off is more often the way to go).

The second thing to remember is how much it will cost to refinish and repair the piece.  I have seen furniture at auctions, flea markets and estate sales that need a good amount of repair work to go along with the refinishing.  Replacing legs, chair seats or even table tops could drive up the cost quite a bit.

The last thing to remember is how much time it will take to do the refinishing.  Over the years, I have seen a refinishing project take up to a week because of the number of steps in the process.  If you don’t have much time to begin with, you may want to stick with just stripping the old finish off and putting on some new stain.

What types of furniture have you refinished?

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Furniture terms that could make you think they mean something else

Like pretty much every area in the vintage and collectible world, furniture has its own vocabulary.  There are even words and phrases out there that would make you think they mean something completely different.  Here’s a few of them:

Dovetail—this is a term in wood working that’s used to designate a method of joinery. This is used a lot to join corners of drawers and cabinets.  It’s a series of cuts to make a tenon or tongue that looks the shape of a dove’s tail that interlocks with alternating similar cuts piece of wood.

Vitrine—this is a French term for display or china cabinet.  This type of cabinet has large sections made out of glass so that you can show off the items stored inside.

Escutcheon—this is an ornament plate that surrounds a keyhole on a piece of furniture or a door.  These plates come in a wide variety of motifs.

This is only a tiny amount of what is out there.  What have you heard?

There are many different types of tables to consider decorating with

Dinner tables, coffee tables and even side tables can be seen in pretty much every house nowadays.  Did you know there are many, many different types of tables that you can decorate your house or apartment with?  Here’s a few for you to consider:

Flip-top table—This is a table that has two leaves, and the leaves are one on top of the other.

Pie-crust table—This is a small, round table having a top with its edge carved or molded in scallops. This type of table is common in 18th-century English furniture.

Gate-leg table—A gate-leg table is a type of table that was first introduced in England in the 16th century. The table top has a fixed section and one or two hinged leaves on the sides.  This type of table also has two legs that swing out to hold the leaves up.  When the leaves are not in use, the legs fold in and the leaves fold down below the fixed section and hang vertically.

This is just a small sampling of what’s out there.  What kinds of tables have you run across or have used?

What style is that?

When I started to sell vintage and antique items, I immediately heard some names of the styles of design that have been used over the years.  The first area that I found out that this applies to is furniture.  Here’s a brief explanation of some of the styles:

Queen Anne—this is a period in English furniture design that dates from 1702 to 1714.  This style is characterized by the adaptation of the Baroque style and the extensive use of the cabriole leg.  Walnut was the dominant wood used by furniture makers.

Renaissance—this is a revival of interest in classical design.  This style had it’s beginning in Italy during the 14th century, and it continued to spread throughout Europe until the 17th century.  The design is simple in structure—it has a generous use of classical ornament (such as the acanthus leaf, animal forms, and pilasters).

Georgian—this is a period of design in English furniture that was used right after the Queen Anne style, and it ran from 1714 to 1795.  Some of the better-known designers were Hepplewhite, Sheraton, Chippendale, and even the Adams Brothers.  Mahogany and walnut were the chief woods used by furniture makers (but other woods have been known to be used).

This is only a small sample of the styles that are out there.  What types of styles have you heard about?

Antique furniture parts and pieces

There are many different parts and pieces of furniture, and it can get confusing (especially when you first start to buy and sell it).  Here are some parts and pieces of what I have run across over the years:

Cabriole—This is a double-curved form used in legs (and even feet). The upper portion of the leg curves outward while the lower part curves inward.  This makes an S shape on the legs and is very distinctive.

Bombé—This is a French term for the outwardly curving shape of a piece of furniture.  The most thought of form is that of a chest.

Armoire—This is a clothes cupboard, and this can be a pretty sizable piece of furniture.  In most cases, an Armoire is a type of wardrobe.

Marquetry—This is a decorative technique in which different woods are inlaid into the body of a piece to create an image.  Flowers are a common motif; other images are used though.  Most of the time the inlay work is done with various woods—other materials like mother-of-pearl, ivory, and even tortoiseshell, have been used.

What types of parts and pieces terms have you run across?

What are some different parts of furniture?

When I first started selling vintage items, I quickly found out that there’s a name for just about every piece out there-even for furniture.  I quickly started to learn the names of these pieces when I started to do some basic repairs to the furniture that I bought.

Here’s a few of the terms that I have learned over the years:

Bracket foot–a bracket foot is used on a chest, a chest on chest or even a cabinet. This is a foot that has a straight corner edge and curved inner edges.  Sometimes I hear these curved inner edges “scalloped edges”.

Caning—caning is a wood piece that consists of rattan (or even sugar cane) that is made into wicker.  There are a wide variety of ways this is used including seats of chairs, patio furniture, etc.

Partner’s desk—a partner’s desk literally looks like two desks that were put together to make one.  It’s a desk large enough to seat two people that are facing each other.  Each side has their own drawers or cupboards.

What are some of the terms that you have either run across or heard?

Vocabulary words for the furniture collector

There’s always some terms that you pick up along the way when you either collect a certain area or are a dealer.  Furniture is the same way, and here’s some great vocabulary words that I heard along the way:

Attached Back Pillow: This is a pillow treatment that can’t be taken off the upholstered piece.

Butler’s Table: This is an oval wooden tray on legs whose four sides are hinged to fold out flat when it is set down.

Case Piece: A piece of furniture like this provides interior space for storage.  It could be something like clothing or bedding.

Commode: Today, this means something completely different.  It used to be a low chest that had either  drawers or doors (some sort of cabinet on legs) which usually stands against a wall.

Nest-of-Tables: These are small tables that are used every once in a while and are graduated in size so that they slide beneath one another.

These are only a handful of the words that you will run across.  What words have you heard?

Some vocabulary words that a collector would run across

When you dive into the world of collecting, it doesn’t take you long before you run across a word or two that you never heard before. Before you know it, you’ll have a broad vocabulary at your disposal.

I dove head first into collecting at the age of eight, and after almost 30 years in the business—I’ve heard some interesting ones. Here’s a few of them:

Abattant—this is a French term for a “drop lid” or a “fall front” piece of furniture. More often than not, you’ll see this on a secretary desk.

Burl—this is a curly-grained wood surface (or even a veneer) that is cut from an irregular growth of a tree. This could come from a portion of the roots of the tree, and it is very common in walnut wood.

Partner’s desk—this is a desk that’s large enough to seat two people facing each other. A lawyer’s office could have used one of these, and this desk has working drawers on both sides.

There are plenty of words like these, which ones have you run across?