April 10, 2017

Painted Furniture Part 1

Painted Furniture

Part 1


As we enter another season of garage sales and active thrifting, I thought this was a good time to write on this subject.

There is so much furniture painting going on these days.  I like the look of painted furniture and, of course, it goes well with current design styles such as Farmhouse, Cottage, Coastal.

Did you know that some furniture was produced just to be painted?
It was never meant to be stained and varnished or shellacked.

Shaker furniture - Original pieces were painted or stained to protect the wood.  Monochromatic colours treatments were preferred in Blues, Greens, Yellows, or Reds.

Shaker Furniture
Shaker Boxes

Pennsylvania Dutch furniture was well known for being painted and for the fanciful embellishments that were employed.

Pennsylvania Dutch
Pennsylvania Dower Chest in Pine

Monterey Furniture popular in the 1930's to 1940's in California.  The styles were based on Spanish and Dutch colonial.  There were often many layers of paint and bold use colours.  Sometimes designs or characters were painted on them.

Monterey Furniture, Live Autioneers
Monterey Furniture

Drexel produced whole lines of painted furniture in mid-century of French Provincial, Chinoiserie, and Whimsy.

Drexel Whimsy Night Stands

There are other manufacturers who produced painted furniture as well.  Sometimes it was painted at the factory because the types of wood used were less desirable or didn't have attractive wood grains.  That is not to say that the wood was inferior, but that the finished product looked better painted.

Before mass production paints were used to embellish furniture.  Also, paint was generally used on more rustic forms of furniture.

So, why are we painting furniture today?

One reason is that painted furniture is in vogue.  It is the style of the day.  Just like wallpaper borders were in the 1980's, or Arborite tables in the 1950's, and Harvest Gold appliances in the1970's.

Oh Look, the model is showing us that the appliances match her Dress.

Another and very important reason is that there has been a growing trend toward upcycling and recycling.

I am impressed with the number of people who are out there rescuing furniture from roadsides, garage sales, and thrift stores and then taking their pieces home and making them beautiful again. 

Sometimes I think we get caught up in a trend and maybe go a little overboard with it.  It is easy to do.  We like the look and we just can't get enough of it.

That is why I decided to write this little primer on Reasons not to Paint and Reasons to Paint.

Reasons Not to Paint

It seems that when I am looking at furniture I am visualising how it would look painted.  

Should we Paint everything?

I think not, and this is why.

**Many antique and vintage furniture is made from old growth timber that is no longer available or endangered.
Wood that falls into this category is Teak, Mahogany, Oak, and Cherry.
Here is a link to a site that can explain the situation. 
A Guide to Ethical Wood Use

This Teak Buffet is beautiful just the way it is.

**Original finishes are irreparably damaged once they have been painted.  You can never restore original finishes once the piece is stripped.

I can testify to this as I had a dresser that had been painted orange, not by me.  I wanted to refinish it back to its original form.  When I started stripping it I realised that I was not only taking off the paint, but also the furniture maker's applied grain.
It can never be restored to its original state.

**Strippers can also damage Marquetry, the process of inlaying pieces of wood that are of different species to achieve patterns and colour variations.

An example of marquetry

**Many pieces are fashioned from specially cut wood such as Quartersawn oak that exposes the grain differently and more interestingly than a straight cut. 

quartersawn log
Ross Langley
Quartersawn Oak Board

Burled oak, maple, etc. wood cut from a deformity or outgrowth of a tree resulting in a tightly knotted wood grain.

Burled oak

Flame cut mahogany is cut at the crotch where a limb protruded from the tree giving a flame-like figuring.  It is a cutting technique used with other fine hardwoods and is very expensive as there are few places on a tree where a limb of significant size protrudes.

An example of Flame Mahogany with Marquetry Border

Furniture made from wood milled in the three ways mentioned above range from expensive to very, very expensive, but only in their original form and finish.

** At the beginning I showed pieces of furniture that came from the manufacturer already painted.  Some of these pieces required many coats of paint to achieve their patina.  They could never be replicated, except possibly through a furniture restorer.

If you find something like this at the side of the road call me to come pick it up.  I promise I won't paint it.

** If Antiques Roadshow has taught us anything it is that original finishes are much more valuable than refinished pieces.  Furniture loses significant value once it has been painted or refinished.

How Can We Know When to Paint?

This has turned out to be a much longer post than anticipated.

Part 2 will be posted April 17, 2017

Click HERE to go directly to Painted Furniture Part 2

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  1. Informative post. I once had one of those Harvest gold dishwashers. Had a repairman tell me that if I removed the front, I'd find all the other colors behind the gold! Yikes! Green, gold, pink! Yee-haw!

    1. Thank you, Snap. I could never figure out why they added decorative panels only on dishwashers and not on fridges and stoves as well. If your appliances were Harvest Gold you wouldn't change just the dishwasher to pink.


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