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Refinishing Mid Century

I never knew, as I started out refinishing furniture, that this topic could be considered controversial. I of course realize that everyone has different tastes, styles, likes and dislikes when it comes to décor, but I had no idea just how heated people could get when it came to mid century pieces.  I love the style, lines and overall look of these vintage 1950s pieces, but many times, when I find them, they have long been forgotten.  Their drawers and patina badly weathered, often times with deep scratches, large water marks and other visible damage on the tops, that it would never occur to me to keep the piece ‘as is’.  In my eyes, these pieces are screaming for a fresh update.

I do understand, however, that many mid century collectors, serious furniture collectors, would strongly disagree with my view on this.  From their eyes, keeping the piece ‘original’ or ‘pure’ is the only way to go.  I get why they feel that way.  Although I am not a serious collector and have only begun to research some of the big design names of this era, I agree that even in their original beat up shape, these pieces stand out among the rest of the forgotten furniture in any vintage shop.

Although I get this passion that many people have for the original lines of a mid century piece, I don’t understand why many of them can’t calmly handle seeing one of these pieces refinished.  Many furniture refinishers that I follow take very special, thoughtful care in the way they redesign and update these pieces.  I truly believe that although we are giving these pieces a slightly more updated look, we are at the same time still highlighting the features that make these pieces MCM.  We want these pieces to stay true to their era, but at the same time fit into this era, fit into our lifestyles and households today.  It’s a tough balance, though, and it’s obvious that not everyone will be pleased with the end result.

As I stated earlier, I am not an expert in this era, and have only worked on a few truly ‘mid century’ pieces.  Here are a few of my favorite past MCM pieces.

Our Kent-Coffey piece is one of my favorite pieces we have worked on up till this point.  I loved the lines and subtle hardware of this highboy and couldn’t wait to freshen it up.  You’ll notice as I sanded the drawers down I was able to create a two tone look on the fronts which really pops against the pure white frame.  This piece had some serious damage on the top, which after some sanding, small repairs, and fresh paint had completely disappeared.  I can’t wait to work on other Kent-Coffey pieces in the future.

This is a before and after of a recent low dresser I refinished.  I loved this piece and spotted it shortly after I completed the Kent-Coffey.  I am in love with the stained wood and white combination on these pieces and did a similar style with this low nine drawer dresser.  When I originally refinished this piece I sanded six of the drawer fronts down to the original wood and stained them a dark ebony stain.  I hated the way it looked and felt it really didn’t keep the mid century feel of the piece.  It was obvious others felt the same as it didn’t sell, barely got any views on our shop.  I knew what I needed to do and re-sanded each drawer back to its original raw wood, then sealed that natural wood with some satin polyurethane to protect it – next thing I knew the piece had sold!  I am so much happier with this finished product!

We just got a new highboy in that I am very excited about.  This will be my next project.  This piece is a five drawer highboy dresser.  Here are some before photos:

I can’t wait to get started on this piece and right now am just brainstorming how I’d like this piece to look when it’s completely refinished.  I’d really like to highlight the wood on the door panels and drawer fronts again, but not sure if I will go back to a white paint again. Maybe a darker color with this one?  I know some of you are screaming to leave it as is, right!?  Check back here soon for updates on this piece!

Would love to hear your thoughts on refinished mid century pieces.   Where do you stand?


Grove Job Shop

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