Transforming high quality vintage pieces, from dated and ugly, to modern and beautiful (like this table), is extremely satisfying. I’ve been doing this since I was 7 years old when I refinished my first desk by painting it a blush pink. I subsequently entered it into the county 4-H fair where I’m pretty sure I must have won the purple ribbon for cutest, most fashion forward desk ever. I did it the correct way, with coat after coat of shellac and sanding in between coats. It turned out so BEAUTIFUL. Oh if I still had that desk and could hand it down to Elliot or Charlie I would be so happy. Lesson learned – NEVER GET RID OF ANYTHING. EVER. And if you are going to get rid of something that you made yourself, at least take a photo of it!!!
One of my biggest/best tips that I try to hammer into people’s heads is that you can ALWAYS change the finish of a piece of furniture, but rarely the shape. So when thrifting look for great shapes, and if you love the shape ignore the finish. Just keep in mind the money it costs to change the finish – both in upholstering and refinishing.
For Nicolette’s makeover we needed an oval table because the space was narrow but long. An oval table provides better flow than a rectangle and would be more proportional to the space than a round one. Oval tables are not that easy to find, folks. I thought about using the oval Saarinen (or any of it’s knock offs, sorry Sir Saarinen) but we had just used one in the Ban.do project, so I was hoping to find something else. Besides, it was a bit wide for the space and we needed something more narrow.
I was shopping at one of my favorite thrift stores when I found this hideous number:
It’s a Baker piece (a really good American made company that has been around for a century). The shape was so simple and pretty, what with those sexy legs and all, but that shiny cherry finish was not something anybody should live with. It was originally $275, but I think it was down to $225 at the time. It came with 2 additional leaves and sat up to 12 people. I wanted it for me and thought about hoarding it, but then realized that once refinished it would be the perfect table for Nicolette.
But refinishing isn’t cheap, friends, so we needed to weigh all our options:
1. Strip and re-stain as a pretty wood tone. This is what I wanted to do, but Nicolette really didn’t want wood in there and she is the client so she won (and I felt confidant that white would also look good). I didn’t know what the original wood tone actually was, but on the under side of the table where the cherry stain hadn’t reached it looked like it could be a beautiful light tone. If this were for my house, and if I had the time, I could have done this myself. The shape of the table is so simple with no carving or intricate detailing, so it would be a pretty easy refinish job. But I was pregnant, and slammed with work/family so this wasn’t an option anyway. But the point is that I hire out some things but stripping/staining is expensive (because it’s so time consuming) so I would consider doing a table like this myself instead of paying a professional to do it.
2. Lacquer it a color. Since Nicolette didn’t want wood this was our other option. Now lacquering is something that you can’t do yourself. Sure, you can paint a table but generally if it’s a high use table, like a dining table, you need it to be lacquered to stand up long term to the wear and tear. Lacquer is a really thick high quality paint made from something fancier than paint (I’m not an expert on lacquer, I just know it’s better than painting). This needs to be done by a pro (generally) because it takes a lot of prep and equipment. You have to spray it so you need a booth, and the dry time between coats is long so you can’t have ANY elements (even wind) that could get dirt on it, etc. It’s just a tricky job that is best left to a pro that has a shop set up to do it.
Lacquering was the final choice. We thought about doing it in a color, but only briefly. For such a large purchase I didn’t want to give them a trendy color – but selfishly I was dying to do it in a lavender or baby blue. . . We received a few quotes: 1 for $740, one for $3500, and one for $690. We ended up using Greg’s Refinishing (the $690 quote) because his yelp review page was great.
Oh, one more note about lacquering – it doesn’t always have to be high gloss and what we chose was very low sheen.
I don’t buy vintage only because it can be less expensive. I like it because you get something one of a kind, but most importantly, it’s typically higher quality. If it’s really inexpensive (which it can be) then that’s just a bonus. A high quality oval dining table that can seat up to 12 people new is well over $1500 and is typically closer to $2500. So while the total of this table turned out to be $1000, it was still a great price for the perfect piece.
Greg took about a week to lacquer the table. Brady checked in on him and snapped a few of the fancy set up. As you can see it’s not just a simple paint job, but I’m sure that if you have the time and can rent some equipment it’s something you could do yourself. We just didn’t.
In case you missed that whole makeover here’s the fun before/after:
There she is, folks. So pretty. . . if I do say so myself. She’s now scratch resistant, chip resistant, and totally modern. Sometimes you find just the right vintage piece, and can make it work. Showing our client the photo of the table in the thrift store was difficult but I wanted her approval. In the case that she hated it, I was going to strip/stain it a wood tone for me. It took some convincing as you can imagine, but once it was in the space we were SO excited and confident that it was worth the splurge and effort.
If anyone has lacquered furniture themselves, or has hired a pro and has any tips for others (and me) please leave them in the comments.
Want more about how we got to here? Check out the Design Plan, the Final Reveal, watch the video, and see the feature on Refinery29. Want more Weekend Crashers? Check out our Mid Century Eclectic Makeover.