Chair rehab

I am ashamed to think about, let alone admit, how little I’ve been cooking lately. I didn’t expect to experience the usual rush of activity come September, but we definitely have nevertheless. I hope in the next couple weeks that we can get back into a normal schedule and work our way through, say, the 900 bell peppers in the produce drawer. (A major upside to the CSA: Since I’m getting such very, very fresh produce, it lasts forever in the fridge! I know we should be eating it as quickly as possible but at least not much has gone to waste.)

There have been a few interesting additions to the apartment lately, so in lieu of any food today I thought I’d share some of the excitement. Part one: The chairs.

We went to Brimfield at the beginning of the month, wandering out around noon for the last day of the fair. I was a little overwhelmed but had chosen to make it a scouting trip so that next time I didn’t have newbie jitters. For the most part I picked up a couple random bits and bobs: a gorgeous antique L-Square with a rosewood handle, a lovely folding ruler, some Czech glass buttons, clothespins, an alphabet block with K (for me), B (for Ben) and T (for Tom) on it…

I would like to make some sort of tufted bulletin board (in rough natural linen) with these someday:

At the very end I found a set of four chairs that I loved and Ben hated. They were super-sturdy and had padded seats so I can cross one leg under me during long dinners without that bony bit on the side of my ankle hurting (this is key for comfort, if not good manners). They were a pale color that I don’t love for our dining room, but I got the guy to sell them for cheap. Then I forced Ben to get on board. My plan is to stain them ebony and recover the seats. Of course, once I got home I started poking around and posted a Good Question at Apartment Therapy and Anna at Door16 and someone else both said they’re probably Heywood Wakefield. I spent a few days agonizing over whether to re-sell them or go ahead and strip them and re-stain them, thus removing pretty much any value they might have had. I couldn’t find any photos of HW chairs with this style of back, and finally I decided I would just go for it.

Here is one of the chairs (I got four):

I took the seats off and put some plastic sheeting on the deck, then started brushing on paint stripper (it’s the slightly-less-toxic orange goo; the guy at the hardware store wouldn’t even sell me the really toxic stuff, not that I wanted it). Once the varnish was bubbled I scraped it with a plastic scraper (later I used a small metal one for narrow spots).



That took a while, but on the flat surfaces, at least, it was super-satisfying. The next day I did some final touch-ups with the stripper, then rubbed the whole thing down with (I think) denatured alcohol. Or Thinner, or something. I will check all the labels at home. That ate away the not-exactly-solvent-resistant gloves I was wearing, so I need to get a pair of good solvent resistant ones before I move on to chairs two through four. After it dried out, I sanded the whole thing.


You can’t really tell from the photos, but after the stripping process the grain of the wood was raised and rough. The sanding made it nice and smooth, though I think there might be some spots where I didn’t really get all the varnish all the way off, especially around the joints.

I am terrified to start staining. I’ve never used stain and everyone says it’s a blotchy nightmare, especially on hard woods like maple (which I think these are), plus once I stain this there’s no going back and maybe I will have ruined a valuable mid-century antique. Agh! But imagine that in a nice dark stain with a fabulous print on the seat! I should go forward, right?

8 thoughts on “Chair rehab”

  1. Staining is not so bad. I stained the small round table next to the bed in our guest room and was really happy with it. We are contemplating stripping and restaining an old dining table and chairs, but I am daunted by all the detail work in the legs and am afraid I will lose motivation fast. But you should go forward, I’m sure you will make them beautiful!

  2. Staining isn’t so bad. I have done two dressers and two tables and they all turned out fine.

    I would suggest using a pre-stain conditioner that you put on so that the stain takes evenly to your chair. It doesn’t cost alot and helps make it less splotchy.

  3. I agree with Henna. We used a pre-stain conditioner when we refinished the bureau we use as a buffet. Worked like a charm.


    p.s. LOVE the chairs.

  4. check out chairloom, molly has a great eye for re-vamping chairs and infusing new life. I myself think that they would look fabulous painted a dark ebony or even in a charcoal with grey flannel or a grey velvet….
    they are lovely chairs.

  5. Thanks, everybody. I will go pick up some pre-stain conditioner before I do a sample with the stain.

    PVE, you’re in my head–I’m doing dark ebony and debating either a dark grey fabric or some more striking design. Maybe if a stain sample doesn’t look good, I’ll start looking for the right shade of charcoal paint; I love that idea.
    And WOW, Chairloom is very inspiring. (I recognize the style of that sketch on the first page, too!)

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