Thursday 24 September 2009
Posted in Home improvement, La France at 20:38
A year and a half ago, I fell in love with an antique oak dining table in a secondhand store. Originally it was too expensive, but a month later, the price had fallen to one I could afford — no one wanted its black patina and slight damage. When I cheerily told the secondhand store owner I wanted to buy it, he sighed and said he was sorry about the damage, but that I could always paint over it. I said “oh non, jamais je la peindrais ! Ce n’est pas profond, je vais la poncer.” (“Oh no, I’d never paint it! It’s not deep, I’ll sand it.”) The owner looked at me and smiled, “c’est bien, c’est mieux comme ça.” (“That’s good, it’s better that way.”)
Thanks to a short visit by building management yesterday that required me to take the day off (to document the water damage from two months ago), I had plenty of extra time to do a project. Off to the home improvement store I went, to buy sandpaper and beeswax to redo my dining table. I’d long been ruminating how to restore it, and decided that sanding it by hand would be better than mechanically, since I only wanted to take the patina off and keep some of the table’s history, rather than erase all trace of previous usage. I’d settled on a beeswax finish for several reasons, mainly that oils don’t age well — indeed, linseed oil, which was used often in France (and still is), turns black with age, so it’s quite possible my oak table had been treated with it. Beeswax brings out the natural color of wood, doesn’t cause a patina, and still protects well. Paint and colored varnish were entirely out of the question, since I wanted to keep the table’s character.
Once home I started sanding with nothing more than sandpaper and my hands. The oak’s natural coloring, as shown above, was beautiful, and I was delighted at how the artisan had chosen the different grains for the border and Versailles-style top. It made me feel much better about taking off the patina, since once sanded, it was clear that this was a table whose woodwork was a work of art in and of itself, meant to be seen.
I applied two coats of beeswax (waiting two hours between them), let the table sit all night, then photographed it the next morning. The finished table: from the damaged end (showing how I didn’t sand out damage entirely), a photo with better lighting, and finally, with both extensions out. The beeswax really brought out the oak’s gorgeous coloring.
In a stroke of synchronicity, on my way home from work this evening, I passed an antique store with old books on sale. One of them was a 1967 home improvement book that I picked up as soon as I saw its instructions for reupholstering Louis XIV chairs. It also described some French furniture styles, which finally helped me ID my table, thanks in large part to the very typical legs for its style: it’s a Louis XV, also known as rococo. At home, I made my usual visit to the ApartmentTherapy site, where they had… a retrospect on Louis XV / rococo! I see rococo-style couches all the time in secondhand stores here, and now that I realize they’re from the same period as my dining table, I may well get one!