By Lynette Chilcoat
The vintage trend is evolving, and repurposed pieces of furniture are making a statement in new and refreshing ways.
We’ve all inherited the piece of heirloom furniture that doesn’t quite fit our modern lives. Or, out of nostalgia or thriftiness, held on to the avocado-green chairs that haven’t been in style for decades. There’s a newfound appreciation for craftsmanship, as well as disdain for the throw-away attitudes of before, that have made restoration a respected craft.
Rachael Murray, owner of Rachael’s Revelry in Fort Collins, has been updating furniture for nearly three decades. Her appreciation for quality craftsmanship was instilled at a young age.
“My grandfather was a master carpenter and I went on a ton of jobs with him,” says Murray, who learned about the pride of hands-on work from him. She began restoring furniture to supplement her income as a preschool teacher in 2008.
“My absolute passion is when someone comes to me with an heirloom piece,” continues Murray.
She recently converted an upholstered Queen Anne-style wingback chair from 1960s-era tan-and-brown vertical stripe to a much cooler soft silver. The result is a striking piece that became avant-garde rather than blasé.
She is currently working on a German-made table dating to the late 1800s with chunky claw feet that look like a cross between a lion’s paw and a wing.
“The leaf has been signed in both pencil and pen over the generations,” says Murray, “and I’m trying my best to preserve it.”
But not all is about keeping things the way they used to be.
“I turn old radio cabinets into bar cabinets,” says Murray. “That is fun for me due to the process of taking something that we’re not using anymore in our society and transforming it into something new and usable.”
Amy Lane, co-owner of Berthoud Vintage with her daughter, says she has long had an interest in furniture, and began refinishing antiques as a way to extend their lives after they had gone out of style.
“People don’t tend to like antiques anymore,” she observes. “But they do like ‘urban country.’”
She doesn’t necessarily try to emulate Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware, but she does say that many of the pieces she creates look like they could be on the floor of these retailers. Except her pieces cost much less than the chains charge and are truly one-of-a-kind.
It takes a lot of work to achieve the distressed look that she strives for, she says, from stripping the finish to sanding and priming and then repainting. What she doesn’t do is coat with brown stain.
“We don’t try to refinish to the original condition,” she says, “because people don’t like that anymore.”
Repurposed With Purpose
Greg Taylor, owner of Changeverything in Fort Collins, started out refinishing furniture decades ago.
“I don’t call it repurposing unless you change what it was into something else,” he says.
One of his creations stands in a corner, a two-tone painted cabinet constructed of found objects, including a piece of molding and antique ceiling tile. His inventory also includes both refinished and repurposed pieces purchased wholesale. Among what he considers “repurposed” are tables constructed from reclaimed railroad ties, squares filled in where spikes once were. He encourages a visitor to lift one end to demonstrate how solid it is.
His best seller is a “wedding table” imported from India, constructed of a heavy-duty teak. In a previous life they were rented for weddings, and were typically covered with table cloths for events, but Americans enjoy the rustic appearance sans table linens. They often have holes and cracks in them, evidence of the countless celebrations they’ve been a part of, which adds to their character in Taylor’s estimation. “People love them that way,” he says.
Chic + Antique
For designer Perri Beard, owner of Ideas Happening in Longmont, anything goes.
“Animal prints were huge for a while,” says Beard. “I did a lot of zebra and even some ostrich vinyl.”
Beard has redesigned pieces to take on a boho style, but also has updated pieces with a basic look.
“White, gray and neutrals are in,” says Beard. “They are clean, and you can put anything with them.”
Beard admits being partial to antiques.
“They have a history, with stories to tell,” she says. “The craftsmanship and styling was better because great care was taken to build them well. There is just such a beauty as well as utility to them. I love the family pieces—those are the ones that make people cry with happiness when they are restored.”
Those are the jobs that make the hard work worth the effort.
Beard has many examples, but one tale in particular is very poignant.
“There was a lady who remembered sitting on her grandpa’s lap on one of the chairs I recovered,” says Beard, adding it’s a very rewarding endeavor to be able to bring memories back to life.
Whether classic or contemporary, mid-century or mod, a fresh coat of paint or stain can give new life to old furniture. Here are steps to painting a piece of furniture with a laminate surface.
1. Examine your piece of furniture to check for any old residue from its past life. Any leftover substances (like stickiness from tape, etc.) should scrape off easily with a paint stripper, if necessary. Be careful not to damage the surface.
2. Wash the surface with a good cleaner degreaser. Use a sander (such as 150-grit) to add a little texture to the surface and remove the laminate’s shine. Be careful not to sand off the surface. Remove the dust from your surface with a dry cloth or dust spray.
3. Apply primer and allow to dry. Once the primer has hardened, it’s time to lightly sand again with a fine grain sand paper (such as 220-grit).
4. Apply your first coat of paint. After four or more hours, apply the second coat. See your paint can for specific drying instructions.
Note: Latex paint is recommended for laminate surface painting projects because of its durability and smooth finish. Sherwin-Williams recommends ProClassic Interior Acrylic Latex Enamel for lighter colors and All Surface Latex Enamel Base for deeper hues.
Lynette Chilcoat is a Loveland-based writer. To comment on this article, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.