How Much Repair Work Can You Handle?
When you find a lovely piece of furniture you’d like to paint from a thrift shop, antique mall or online, you need to evaluate what kind of repairs it will need before a paintbrush ever touches the surface.
Knowing what to look for comes with time and experience. I’ve painted enough pieces of furniture over the years that I can diagnose and evaluate these types of things right away. But if you’re still on the beginning end of things, I thought it would be helpful to introduce you to one of the rougher pieces that has come into my inventory recently – a baby Jacobean style buffet.
As I walk through all of the repairs it will need, my hope is that you will start to learn to watch out for these things yourself and know how to fix them on your own projects!
Let’s start from the top and work our way down, shall we?
The backsplash of the piece is missing all of the overlay trim work from the crown.
While it looks unfortunate now, it won’t once a coat of paint is on the wood. All of those lighter areas where the trim was once adhered will blend in and you’ll never know something was missing!
Damaged Veneer On The Top
In the photo above, you can see the rippled wood veneer that has begun to detach from the top. Here’s a better view:
This is one of the more common things you’ll find on furniture dating from the 1920’s through the 50’s. Wood veneer is a thin layer of decorative wood, like mahogany, that was laid over and glued on to less expensive wood like poplar or oak. Over time, exposure to moisture and temperature swings cause the glue under the veneer to expand and contract. This constant shifting eventually loosens the glue and can buckle it. In severe cases, mildew or mold can begin to grow in between the layers, causing odor issues.
My little buffet doesn’t have any odor issues, but it does have some mildew on the bottom that needs to be cleaned off.
Fixing damaged veneer can go a few ways – you can either remove it completely, patch small missing patches with Bondo or wood putty, or patch in replacement pieces. I usually opt for the first two options. You can read my blog post on how to fix damaged veneer here.
Let’s take a closer look at the drawers.
The first thing you notice is that the bottom left drop pull is missing. I have the pull itself but not the backplate. I could spend the time searching for an identical replacement, but I’ll probably have better luck buying period-specific hardware.
The buckling veneer continues along the bottom drawer and it’s missing a piece of trim.
The veneer will be removed and as far as the trim goes, I’m going to leave it alone. Again, once paint is on the piece, you’ll hardly notice anything is missing. It’s only obvious right now because the color of the wood is much lighter where the trim was.
Inside the Drawers
On the inside, the drawers were lined with a vintage wallpaper that needs to be removed.
I started to pull some of the wallpaper off and it shouldn’t be a huge project. I may need to spend some time removing stubborn spots, but the majority of the paper peeled right up.
The drawers themselves slide in and out easily and the runners and track are all in tact. There are drawer stops in the back which allows the drawers to close flush with the front. If they weren’t there, you could easily replace them following this trick by Fallon of Market|House Restorations.
The Back, Or Lack Thereof
Like I mentioned, this piece doesn’t have a back panel.
It was removed by the previous owner to turn it into a vanity with a vessel sink. (A brilliant idea!) He soon realized that while his idea was super cool, he didn’t have the time to execute it. That’s how I got my hands on this diamond in the rough!
The fix for this situation is to purchase a sheet of backer board from your local hardware store and get it cut to size (or cut it yourself). Use a nail gun to install it and voila!
In addition to the repairs listed above, there will most likely need to be some hole-patching, sanding and stabilizing. This piece has a bit of a wobble going on, so I’ll install corner braces to each of the 4 corners on the back to keep it from shifting back and forth.
Pricing A Piece That Needed Extensive Repairs
When you’re out shopping for project pieces, keep a tally in your mind of all the repairs a potential piece is going to need. If that list is longer than you have time for or outside your skill set, move on. Even if the piece is suuuuuper cheap, don’t buy it. Save yourself the time and the headaches and wait for a piece that’s in better shape and is one you can handle.
Get Your Piece At A Reasonable Price
If you do find a diamond in the rough like mine that you can repair yourself, make sure you’re getting it for a reasonable price. I won’t pay above a certain dollar amount for a piece that needs as much work as mine does. Luckily, I got mine for a very reasonable price, given the condition it’s in. Prices on vintage and antique pieces vary quite a bit from region to region so my price brackets may be very different from yours, so do some shopping around to get a sense for what’s reasonable in your area.
Another thing to consider from the consumer end is all of the time and experience it takes to revive a piece that’s as beat up as mine is.
A Better Perspective
Sometimes I hear people gawk and gasp at the price tags on painted pieces (mine included). Perhaps this post helps you understand the pricing. As a consumer, I didn’t have a clue about these things! I just wanted what was cute and cheap. Now that I’m a producer, I understand why people price their work the way they do.
If you find refinished pieces with a high price tag, perhaps keep your reactions private. You don’t know the amount of work that went into refinishing that piece. Perhaps the shop it’s being sold in has a large commission fee it charges to sellers. At the end of the day, you can always save money and do it yourself! If you do, I hope you get more of an appreciation for what refinishers do on a regular basis. And I honestly don’t mean to sound snarky when I type that out. It’s simply true that you don’t realize how hard something is until you try to do it yourself.
If a piece of furniture requires so much work to refinish that the final price would be outrageous, move on. I’ve seen my fair share of amazing deals on pieces. Unfortunately, the time and effort it would take to get a respectable return on investment simply wasn’t there.
I hope this little write up was helpful to you! Pin this image to reference this blog post when you’re working on your next diamond in the rough!