Furniture repair and restoration is a challenging task.
We often get asked about how to approach a variety of refinishing jobs and, to be honest, we have mixed feelings about the subject.
The truth is that we feel most mid-century modern furniture restoration should really only be carried out by professionals. After all, so much craftsmanship went into creating these pieces that it seems foolish to risk undermining all that work for the sake of a few quid here and there.
However, we also appreciate that the appeal of mid century furniture is broad and that most of us are on a budget. With this in mind, we have put together a collection of hints and tips that we hope will help you make the right furniture restoration decisions.
Before You Start
Be aware of the following when undertaking any furniture repairs, restoration or refurbishments:
- We strongly discourage anyone from undertaking mid century modern furniture refurbishments that do not return the item to its former glory. If you want to upcycle vintage furniture, opt for something cheap and cheerful.
- If you suspect that the piece you are about to work on may be valuable, do nothing. Contact an expert (or us) and ask for guidance as the item may be worth far more in its current state than it would be when you’re done.
- Sand veneer furniture with caution, if at all. While most mid century veneer is of a good quality, some items will have a thinner layer of wood than others and it would not be hard to cause lasting damage by applying too much pressure.
- Don’t start a restoration project until you have the right tools and materials. Jump the gun and you may end up with a half-finished project and no will to continue.
- Re-upholstering lounges, armchairs and dining chairs requires skill and patience. Getting this work done by a professional will save you a great deal of time and stress and will ensure a high-quality finish.
Never start a restoration project unless you:
- are able to work in a well-ventilated room. This is of paramount importance when working with oils, thinners and strippers.
- have a pair of safety goggles and, where applicable, a mask.
- have an adequate pair of safety gloves. Note, some materials will require stronger gloves than others.
Starting Again with Wooden Furniture
The first thing to do is establish whether the wood needs anything more than a good clean. You might find that a good wipe with a damp sponge and a coat of Danish Oil solves all your problems. If it doesn’t, or if your needs are more specialist, try the following:
- If your item needs a deeper level of cleaning, you may need to apply a layer of acetone and scrub it with wire wool. This stuff is pretty nasty, though, so make sure you have the right gloves before starting.
- If you are sanding an item back in its totality, consider applying a layer of denatured alcohol to the wood when you think the job is done. This will help you identify areas that need more work so you don’t apply the finish ahead of time.
- If someone has been foolish enough to paint the wood, the first thing you will want to do is remove this paint with a layer of stripper and a scraper. Apply a generous, even layer and use the least amount of force necessary.
Minor Repairs to Wooden Furniture
These are probably the easiest and most rewarding of all restoration tasks because you don’t need to be an expert to get good results. Use the following techniques to achieve your goals:
- Water marks, cup rings and other blemishes can often be removed through sanding. Start with 150 grit paper and move to something finer as you progress.
- If you need to remove paint marks that have accumulated over the years, use a small amount of thinners or gently scrape them off with a razor blade.
- Scratches and scuffs can often be hidden by scratch cover. A dent can be fixed by making several small slits in the groove with a razor blade and filling it with water. This should lead the wood to expand back into shape. Repeat and finish as necessary.
This is perhaps the most taxing of all furniture repair tasks and we think that it’s a job best left to the professionals. As such, we have chosen to fill this section with tips on choosing the right materials rather than how-to techniques:
- We highly recommend that you choose a plain, neutral coloured fabric and avoid patterns. This will mean the piece will fit seamlessly into a larger number of décor schemes (ideal if you move home) and that it will be easier to re-sell if the need arises.
- Choose a fabric that suits how it will be used. For example, a sofa will need to cope with far more traffic than a bedroom chair. If you’re unsure of what you need, opt for a soft, hardwearing material like brushed cotton.
- You have several options when it comes to cushioning. Foam is the most common (high-density foam would be our choice) but you may also wish to consider down cushioning for a more luxurious feel.
Re-webbing the likes of an Ercol sofa or a Danish Modern chair is another task that beginners are unlikely to find straightforward. However, with determination and a bit of elbow grease, it is possible. Be aware of the following before you set off:
- There are two main types of webbing, namely rubber and polypropylene. The higher levels of elasticity in rubber are likely to make for a more comfortable seating or sleeping experience.
- Webbing can either be stapled to the frame or, where applicable, attached with a dowel. The latter creates a more professional finish that may increase re-sale value but the difference between the overall effect of both is likely to be slight.
- The hardest part about re-webbing is achieving the requisite tension and keeping the tension consistent across every strap. A webbing stretcher may help you achieve better results with less effort.
If you have an item of furniture that you would like some assistance with, or if you have decided that restoration is too much effort, contact us today or visit our mid century furniture collection to view pieces that have already been painstakingly returned to their former glory.