My furniture focus of the last few years has been older furniture that I refinished and added either decorative elements to the surface or art.
One of our friends from Columbus, Georgia got me interested in working with furniture in the first place. I had mentioned wanting to make painted canvas floor cloths. He said that it would probably be much more lucrative to put my designs on furniture. I was intrigued, but I didn’t have the space or the resources to work with furniture at the time.
After we moved here to our little urban farmstead, I started thinking seriously about it. The first challenges were figuring out where to do the work, where to get the furniture to work on, and where to sell it once it was done. There was an improbably cute little building that I passed by from time to time that I felt very drawn to. It was a business of some kind and I wanted to check it out but for the first year or two, each time I was passing by, I didn’t have time to stop. When I finally did have the time, I found that it was a gallery. “Era Gallery – Furniture and Fine Art”, which was perfect for what I had in mind. Chet, the owner, greeted me as I entered. He was outgoing and friendly, and he showed me around and explained what the gallery was all about.
This is the building when it was Era Gallery (image from Google Maps street view – thanks to my dear husband for fetching it for me)
While my interest and focus is on the Arts and Crafts school of design, Chet was all about mid-century furniture and modern art. But he was a pretty accommodating kind of guy, so I told him about my dream to work with furniture. I asked him if he would be willing to show any of my furniture if I ever got started with it. He said he would be very interested in seeing what I could produce. So we had sort of an agreement, and that solved my third challenge.
As I was leaving, Chet told me to wait and he said he wanted to show me something. He took me over to a massive and fairly plain and unattractive coffee table. He said, “what can you do with this?”. I actually had no idea at first, but I decided that this was an opportunity, and I took it. He said I could take it with me and work with it, and we would split the money once it sold. So that solved my second challenge.
With these two challenges out of the way, it was just a matter of working with what I had to solve the first challenge. I sanded the table out in the side yard, and I applied the surface design and the finish in one of our spare bedrooms.
This is what it looked like before I started working on it
Because of its size and its stark, angular lines, I decided that a Frank Lloyd Wright stained glass window would be an excellent inspiration for the surface design. My medium of choice for this piece was artists oils. The design needed a white background in order to create the illusion of light coming through stained glass. On top of the white would go artists oils in various colors, and in between these color areas there would be a kind of copper paint that can be oxidized, creating a verdigris finish. This was to look like copper caming that has oxidized. The first step was to sand off the old finish. That was a huge effort because there was forty or fifty years worth of built up furniture polish or wax on top of the original finish.
Once the surface was all clean and new, the rest was a process of taping off and painting.
This is how it looked with the second taping. The white has already been applied, and I have taped off the areas that will have the copper paint so I can paint the areas that will look like stained glass. The piece of paper with the colors on it is the design off of which I am working
I used artist oils as the white background on my first try. And then I applied artist oils for the color areas. This is how it looked after the white and the color were applied
There were several problems with this attempt. The first one was that the paint didn’t stick to the wood. When the tape was pulled off, some of the paint came with it. The second problem was that I didn’t like the colors. And the third problem was that the tape apparently took off some of the stain.
I scraped off the paint using a pallet knife and sanded the stain off the table. Then I taped it back up again and this time I used white primer as the white instead of the artist oils. Believe it or not, instead of using paintbrushes to apply the color, I dabbed it on using facial tissues that I wadded up into a ball (with a smooth surface on the side I was using to apply the paint). I was trying to create the impression of light coming through stained glass. I used paint brushes to apply the copper paint and the oxidizing solution. The second attempt was much more successful, and I liked the colors a lot better.
These are closeups of some of the painted areas
I had to reapply the stain (a golden pecan stain) to the table after the paint was on and the tape was removed, so that the tape wouldn’t pull it off again. I finished it with oil based polyurethane, applied with rags to give it a matte finish. I sprayed some polycrylic to the painted areas first, though, because I was concerned that the application of the polyurethane could damage the verdigris finish on the copper paint. I had applied the oxidized copper to the corners of the table and also to the knobs of the pullout beverage trays at either end of the table, and I sprayed the polycrylic on those areas as well.
Here is the finished table
Here’s the table on display in the gallery
There were a few problems with the veneer near the edges and at the corners of the top of the table. It had a few chips and had worn through in a couple of places. I was able to arrange the copper paint so that they were all covered up, and no longer posed a problem.
It took a while for this piece to sell because of its massive size. A lot of people said that they would have bought it if it hadn’t been so big. But it did sell eventually, and I was quite satisfied with the results. 🙂