By Caryl Clem
My favorite house guest has character, dependability and makes every inch of space occupied functional. If this doesn’t sound like any person you know, it’s because my guest is an 1870’s oak Eastlake side table serving as my T.V. stand. Every room has an honored guest that fits in with contemporary décor. When I first met these characters, the original finish was degraded or entirely gone, or the structure needed re-gluing; their rescue was decided by the design and wood quality. The most important factor in saving an antique or aging furniture piece is the quality of durable wood found in walnut, mahogany, oak, cherry, maple and teak.
Trends keep older furniture in the limelight. Retro is still “hot”, and has been going strong for several years. Young shoppers seek the clean lines of 1970’s mid- Modern Danish teak style. The 1950’s chrome kitchen sets, Acme Chrome was a main distributor; production of those products is still done by the subsidiary company, ACCRO Furniture Industries. Restoring a kitchen table relic in your family can be done if the rust residue is minimal. Removing the old finish completely and then using the correct paint can bring back an original appearance.
The rebirth of the buffet or sideboard has been emerging for the past 3 years. Originally designed for the dining room to store fine linens, serving pieces and silverware, currently used as T.V. stands in the bedroom, or a plant table under a large window with storage to hide miscellaneous, or in the back of a large walk in closet. Buffets come in a huge assortment of sizes and style and before 1960 the majority will have dove tailed drawers with solid wood construction. Stripping any finish made after 1940 involves breaking down the plastic added to the stains. Plastic in a stain seals with fewer coats, adds shine but scratches easily. Restoring a rubbed oil finish adds the most value, while painting is a popular option demanding less time and preparation. Auctions for furniture online exist. Sites to explore the possibilities are at Etsy also.
Primitive furniture is irreplaceable, made by a craftsman not a company, truly one of kind, unique. The lumber found in the area was shaped into furniture for family use. Cherry, Oak and Maple were dominant over pine and softer woods. Farm animal troughs, cupboards, harvest tables and dressers made after Illinois farmland was claimed after the Indian Removal Act can still be found. Often a primitive piece will have several coats of paint. Another sign of age are rounded wood peg nails.
Chicago’s furniture production was second in the nation by 1920, New York was number one. Chicago’s Wards and Sears catalogs sold any piece of furniture desired. For example, industrialization in the early 1900’s led to 26 furniture companies in Rockford, Illinois.
Saving any piece from the past is a worthwhile venture. Furniture made today is rarely solid wood. Plastic, wood ground up with fillers bonded by glue and covered with a laminate surface floods the current market. The heavier a piece that looks like wood is, the more likely it is a wood compound. Anyone who has carried a can of paint knows how much a blend of chemicals can weigh. Authentic wood needs moisture, oil and smart cleaning, no water. Expensive wood construction is done with no screws or nails. Whatever that antique piece is chances are it can be revived and become a valued member of your household guests.