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What’s Old is New Again


It's Sunday afternoon, you have your coffee in hand and are wandering a cluttered antique store. Without much of an agenda, you find yourself sifting through the milk crates filled with plaques of yellowing Coca Cola adverts and drawers, overflowing with baseball cards and photographs of memories past. You dodge the green and gold billiard lights and bypass the rack of linen frocks that thirty years worth of moths have had their way with when you see it, a distressed red pine desk that is being used as a pedestal for a dozen Raggedy Anne dolls. There are carved floral accents and a brass skeleton key hole right in the middle. It is beautiful and lucky for you, it’s on sale.

When you inspect the delicate details, you see more than just a desk. It is where your kids will do their social studies homework. It is where you will sit while you look up recipes for the perfect pie crust. The drawers along the side will house your pay stubs, important receipts and that tin can, with a little bit of cash in case you fancy a pizza for dinner one night. This desk isn’t an addition to your living room; it is an addition to your life. The only problem is that those Raggedy Anne dolls are covering up an even more raggedy tabletop, one of the knobs is missing and the drawers stick a little bit more than you would like. Deal breaker? I don’t think so.

Don’t let it slip through your fingers, because it is in need of a little DIY. Replacing the knobs or installing some side-mounted drawer slides with shock absorption are small alterations that can upgrade your antique’s functionality, but putting a fresh stain will drastically improve the entire aesthetic. You can also customize the color to complement the rest of your room’s décor. Keep in mind that if you collect antiques as investment pieces, please be in touch with an appraiser before you make any alterations, as tampering with the original condition can decrease its resale value.

By using a lacquer instead of a stain, you can juxtapose the antique design with an ultra modern glossy finish. Before you start, it is important to know how the wood will react to the stain. If you can, unhinge a door or bring a whole drawer to the hardware store where you can consult with a specialist. Once you have made your selection, test the stain by painting a small patch near the back or bottom of the piece. You will need an oil based stain, coarse and fine sandpaper, wood conditioner, several rags, a staining brush and a cheap paintbrush. Oil based stains are a bit smellier and take longer to dry, but they are more durable and will save you repeating the process in a few years. Be sure to make note of the brand and color code of the stain you use incase any touch ups are required in the future. Give the entire piece a once-over with the sandpaper, using the coarse grit paper on the more damaged areas. Apply a thin layer of wood conditioner with the paintbrush and let stand for thirty minutes. Mix the stain well. Using the stain brush, put a generous but level layer of the stain over an entire section of the piece (i.e. tabletop, leg, side panel etc). Go with and against the grain. Use a thin paintbrush to get into any engravings. Leave the stain on for about ten minutes. The longer you leave it, the more saturated it will be. Wipe the section in the direction of the wood’s grain. Leave it to dry for about two days.

Before you know it, you will be enjoying that beautiful “new-to-you” desk, and you will be itching to scour flea markets, garage sales and antique shops for more pieces to update. Happy hunting!,    


Sklar Furnishings