It was the 1970’s and my family had just visited Colonial Williamsburg when my mother discovered a new trend in decorating. It was called “antiquing” and involved painting a table or chair, letting it dry and then covering it with a thick, brown glaze, which was wiped off just enough to leave lots of residue in the cracks and stringy brush marks that would resemble the discoloration of age. For good measure, you could rough up the surface by beating it to an inch of its life with a chain or pounding it with a hammer, all of which my mother did to anything she didn’t deem a “real” antique. We called it her “avocado and gold eagle stage,” as little colonial “Jim-cracks” began appearing around the house.
My Mother: The Original Furniture Upcycler
When it came to taking existing furniture and reinventing it to fit the decorating trends of the day, my mother was ahead of her time. I watched over and over as she re-covered chair cushions, repainted wicker and recycled unwanted pieces by “donating” them to her children. Furniture was something you chose with thought and old furniture wasn’t something you threw away. I learned from an early age that a cozy home was full of old and well-loved furniture.
Teenage Furniture Rescuer
As a teen, I was a true rescuer. I was known in my family as the dog rescuer for the many times I adopted strays from the pound. As I got older, cast off furniture became my focus as I spent Sundays at flea markets looking for pieces to save. All those years of being dragged through antiques shops by my parents, with strict orders not to touch anything, began paying off as I began recognizing which old furniture was worth refurbishing.
Furniture Refinishing: The Mother of Necessity
When I married and became a young mother, without much money to spend on furniture, I really hit my stride as my sister and I scoured thrift shops, hunting for pieces before the kids got home from school. I remember an especially sweet score; a Victorian dressing table with a big round mirror that probably cost a whopping $25, big money back then. Once, I spent months with Homer Formby doing a full-scale refinish of an old high-boy my mother-in-law gave me; that piece helped me lose the baby weight.
I taught myself to stencil on a dilapidated armoire, whose doors never did close right, but I loved those fuzzy morning glories all the same.
The Furniture Face Lifts Continue
Now, a grandmother, who’s downsized to a two-bedroom apartment, my love of refurbishing old furniture hasn’t diminished, instead its grown even stronger as I see the need for less stuff going in landfills. Now, I consider myself the cosmetic surgeon of all the old furniture that still has good bones, but just needs a little “lift.” Like an archaeologist, I dig through thrift shops, flea markets, yard sales and yes, dumpsters, on a quest for that hidden piece of furniture that needs my help. I take it home, give it some love and provide upcycled furniture for sale at consignment shops. I also do custom orders, for those like me, who just aren’t ready to part with that old friend.