What’s Old Is New Again
Repurposing found furniture treasures.
by Kevin Hamby
Do you ever stand in the middle of your living room and stare at the hodge-podge of furniture and accessories that you have accumulated, and wonder, “What is all of this stuff?” Your first thought is to get rid of it all and just go out and purchase new furnishings, but then reality sinks in and you realize that you just don’t have the funds to start over.
Never fear, because most of those antiques and hand-me-downs that Aunt Bernice or Grandma Betty gave you are good-quality pieces that can be repurposed to create a more updated environment. With a few simple interior-design guidelines and a couple of great local resources, you can re-make your home from “drab” to “fab.”
Let’s start with a small history lesson. Furniture has been manufactured in America since the first settlers and was originally made by small family-owned shops. These manufacturers were creating well-made solid-wood products and were mostly located on the East Coast. After materials started becoming scarce, manufacturers looked to the forests of Michigan, which helped the furniture industry grow in the early 1900s.
Before and after World War II, there was a shortage of wood due to massive home building (the early suburbs) that slowed the furniture industry. The 1950s saw a slow recovery in furniture manufacturing, and when the decade of excess hit in the 1980s, furniture imports from Asia were dominating the U.S. markets due to the low import prices. Since then, over 40 percent of China’s furniture production has been exported to the United States. But, keep in mind, a low price does not always mean good or even high quality when speaking of furniture.
Good-quality furniture can be identified in a couple of ways. First, examine the furniture to see if it is made from solid wood, or mainly plywood and veneer. Solid-wood furniture would have been produced pre-1980s and is highly valued. Second, identify the quality of the “joinery” in the drawers and leg connections, which might also contain dowels and/or screws. Mortise-and-tenon and dovetail joints are the “gold standard” of quality furniture.
You can find pre-owned quality furniture in and around Houston at affordable prices. Margie Beegle Sales is one of Houston’s best-kept secrets and is known for operating well-managed Houston estate sales. Margie and her team hold sales from River Oaks to Memorial to Meyerland, where most sale items are from the original owners. Other places to look for good-quality furniture would be The Guild Shop on Dunlavy in Montrose (they always have a great inventory of furniture, accessories, artwork, and outdoor furniture that is ever-changing) and the antique shops in Tomball on East Main.
Now that you have the furniture, it will probably need to be refinished. Well, never fear—Houston has a lot of great resources to turn that old piece into something new. Painted furniture is a trend that has come full circle since its last heyday in the 1960s. It’s easy to do and can be a weekend DIY project if you feel ambitious. There are a couple of YouTube videos that give you a step-by-step “how-to” on different applications. One of my favorites is a milk-paint application with a glaze. But if you are not up to the challenge, there are places out there to help, such as Segreto Fine Paint Finishes and Plasters on Antoine. They offer all kinds of faux finishes for any type of furniture, from seating to casegoods. Also, Alvarado Refinishing off of Shepherd is a small family-owned business that can make repairs on wood carvings and can re-stain or paint any wood furniture.
Some of the furniture that you find out there will have exposed wood frames that can be painted and then re-upholstered. Remember to be cohesive in your choice of paint colors. Neutrals, grays, blacks, and whites are always safe. But, if you want a “pop” in the room, try a sophisticated color like kelly green, crimson red, or navy blue.
Once you have painted your exposed wood-frame furniture, you’ll probably need to have it re-upholstered. There are plenty of upholstery workrooms around Houston, but most work only with designers and/or decorators. So, just ask first. You will need to have them give you an estimate of the fabric yardage that is required and the cost of the labor.
Once you have that information, you are ready for the exciting part of making fabric selections. High Fashion Home on Travis in Midtown is a great place to purchase fabric by the yard. They are friendly and helpful and have an enormous selection of fabrics. Be careful about selecting colors, as you want your fabrics to have a “relationship” to other colors and/or textures in the room. Remember to select appropriate textiles that are meant for upholstery seating.
So don’t throw that old piece of furniture away—there is still some life in it! With appropriate refinishing and re-upholstering, you can keep it “in the family” and enjoy it for years to come.
• Margie Beegle Sales
• The Guild Shop
• Segreto Fine Paint Finishes and Plasters
• High Fashion Home
Kevin Hamby, RID, ASID, is a Texas-registered interior designer and a faculty member at Houston Community College Interior Design Program.