Changed My Mind

First, an apology to all of my woodworking friends, craftsmen, and fabricators and finishers who create extraordinary pieces of furniture from walnut, mahogany, cherry and other woods. The rich gleam and subtle play of light accenting texture and grain  in your pieces are unmistakable.  The deep colors of walnut or an ebonized finish are striking. 

But I’m afraid, most older pieces of furniture (vintage, antique?) leave me wanting to grab my paint brushes and get started. Painting. Covering up those wood grains with a bright coat of gloss white enamel or lacquer, or maybe even a distressed crackle finish with a rubbed-in patina. 

Lately I’ve been partial to painting furniture with a whimsical collage of colors and patterns —think of Mackenzie-Childs, though with a more muted color palette than their hot pinks and spring greens or black and gold patterns.

Estate sale side table.

When I found an antique table available on a recent estate sale, I knew it would look great as a table base for one of my hand painted faux finish table tops.

A few years ago, Deb and I drove over to The Greebrier in WVA for lunch and to have a look around at their world-renowned interiors. The main rooms were especially colorful over the Christmas holiday and I remember how striking the decor seemed. Originally designed by Dorothy Draper and now maintained and refreshed by Carlton Varney, the bold use of color and over-sized patterned wallpaper really caught my eye. Not to everyone’s taste, I’m sure, but I loved those huge black and white checks, striped wallpaper, and painted tables. 

A settee in bold pattern, flanked by gloss black side tables.
Grey, blue, or citrine yellow for the table base?

It was in the spirit of the over-the-top Greenbrier decor that I expected to paint the legs for my blue marble table. Not black. The legs already looked black from aged varnish. Maybe bright white or a pewter gray to complement the greys and blues of the painted top. Or perhaps a vivid citrine yellow. But definitely color. 

While sanding through that almost-black finish, I discovered that the table base was red mahogany. Surprisingly I’m rather partial to mahogany. I’m not a big fan of the lighter finishes of woods such as ash or maple; definitely not a fan of the current gray-washed everything. But I love walnut and mahogany, especially with a satin finish or a hand rubbed look. 

So, my apologies to my woodworking friends for all the shade I’ve thrown your way over the years. This past week I bought a can of tung oil with my sandpaper. 

You can see the results below.

Making New Old

When I closed my small business a couple of years ago, I thought that it was likely the end of my decorative-painting career. I had started Turtle Hill Originals as an opportunity to market and sell the small, home decor items I had been painting, and up until then, selling thru local craft shows. A business brought with it business cards, brochures, a website, an Etsy storefront, Facebook page, and access to wholesale pricing on materials. But after three years and minimal sales, we decided that enough was enough.

I was about twelve years old, as I recall, when I first became interested in refinishing furniture. I had found a small footstool set out for trash pickup one day and decided to bring it home. The cushion would need to be replaced, the wooden legs and frame sanded smooth, stained and varnished. But I was confident that I could make something old look new again.

The next project I tackled was a rocking chair and after that it was a stream of small pieces that found a new life, refreshed and useful again. The smell of sawdust, walnut stain, and varnish at that time competed with my desire to be a fine artist. And looking back now, both shared similar skills but with differing goals.

I don’t know when, but sometime over the intervening years I lost interest in bringing old pieces back to life. It could have been the many years I spent in the museum and trade show industry helping to create graphics for many of our Smithsonian museums. The casework we created was gorgeous, beautifully finished pieces I would love to have had in my home. Their pristine surfaces were lacquered and glowed in the soft museum lighting. But I was being drawn towards the textured, roughly painted surfaces of scenic reproductions.

Starting with new materials, the scenic and props department turned New into Old. Whether it was a rusted time-worn metal finish, or desert-bleached wood, the trompe l’oeil effects of the paintbrush were magical and I loved it. Learning to use brushes, sponges, and spatter techniques served me well when I was called on to help create props and stage sets for our local church’s dramatic Easter productions.

Once I retired, I found I had the time to continue my decorative painting. I haven’t felt the self-imposed pressure to create pieces for sale that I had been under when I was struggling to promote a business. Contrary to popular belief, I had found that there isn’t always a market for what you love to do.

But after we downsized and moved to a smaller home, small projects keep popping up. Another side table for my recliner, a whimsical plant stand painted in a harlequin pattern, even a refresh of the painted pumpkins I had made several years ago are all projects I’ve enjoyed doing recently. Below are some of the pieces that I’ve worked on this past month. I might not be making old new again, but I am enjoying aging along with the process of making new things appear old. “Gracefully aged,” I should say!