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  • Amelie

A Brief Foray Into Antique Restoration

In October 2021, a lovely lady from the neighborhood emailed the Vakvrouwen with an inquiry: she was about to move out of the Spaarndammerbuurt, and was looking for a handy local somebody who might be able to refurbish an old pair of nightstands. I have… no experience refurbishing old furniture and went into a state of “I’ve Never Done This Before” panic, but Azra can do everything, and convinced me to take the gig.

The assessment: I went to meet the client and her nightstands. The stands were gorgeous! The client said they were family heirlooms, but youngish, maybe 1950’s. The peeling mahogany veneer revealed a particleboard top, which would match mid-century fabrication (according to the internet). We agreed I would repair the veneer edgebanding, re-finish the scuffed feet, touch up the beading on the front doors with colored furniture wax, plane and wax the drawer sides to allow them to slide more easily (they were bowed and sticking), and remove the white rings on the veneered tops.

I was pleased that the nightstands were easy to transport; I was easily able to carry them both to my car and into the shop.

Also: Client’s very sweet but cagey labradoodle had chewed up the legs of her classic piano stool. Could I repair and repaint that, as well? This, I knew I could handle. Into the car it went.

This little job ended up being fun and educational. I learned that, for instance, if an old piece of furniture is finished with shellac, it’s a piece of cake to remove the old shellac. But if, say, said piece of furniture is finished with a turpentine-based varnish, you have to sand it and sand it and sand it and sand it and sand it. But then it looks great and is baby-soft, and you can throw a coat of new varnish on it and everyone’s happy.

We don’t have a magical edgebanding machine, so I ironed on the mahogany edgebanding by hand. That’s the only thing I’ve done with an iron in over a year, I’m certain.

You know what we DO have that’s magical? Azra. I searched and tried umpteen different ways to get rid of the old white heat stains on the tops, from the logical to the ridiculous.

Azra walked into the shop one morning as I was despondently cleaning alcohol hand sanitizer off the white parts. She was like, “Oh, I know how to do that.” She proceeded to pour a puddle of some kind of Turkish perfume (perfume!!) onto the white ring, lit a match, looked at me like, “No going back now!” and LIT MY FURNITURE RESTORATION ON FIRE. For about a second, then she snuffed the flame with a wad of cloth and kept buffing the area for a few seconds. Worked a charm.

I tried using a varnish stripping chemical for the feet and sides (I couldn’t not re-do the sides, I was doing everything else…), but it honestly didn’t work much better than just sanding and sanding and sanding. I used a soldering iron to melt furniture repair wax into the bigger dings and holes in the tops and fronts, and then brushed a new coat of varnish over the whole exterior. That was that!


The nachtkastjes moved with my client in November 2021 to their new home in Noord.

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