Erik’s most recent restoration project was this 9-drawer, mid-century modern dresser of unknown origin.
We’re always a little frustrated by piece of furniture that don’t identify themselves. Normally, the manufacturer puts a brand or label in one of the upper drawers. Not so with this piece, so we can’t figure out who designed or manufacturer it.
Still, it makes for a lovely, mid-century dresser with lots of room. It measures 60 1/4″ wide x 17 1/2″ deep x 30 1/2″ high.
When we picked it up, the dresser was in rough shape, with very wobbly legs. Erik has created reinforcement pieces for the bottom sides. He also inserted a new board on the lower bottom, between the legs, salvaging the trim piece from the old board so that the design of the dresser would remain intact. With these fixes, the dresser is now sturdy. No more leg wobble.
Erik is known for taking on furniture restoration challenges that few others are willing to tackle. When we picked up this Jens Risom credenza, all the defects weren’t apparent until we got it into the shop. This project took at least 20 hours for Erik to finish and there were points in the process where he felt it was going to kick his ass. But, he prevailed and the end result is beautiful.
Below are photos showing some of the defects, parts of the repair process, and the final result.
Risom Credenza Drawers
Once Erik started examining the Risom credenza, it became obvious that someone had attempted to refinish it before. The finish had been applied haphazardly and it was a sticky mess to remove. Typically, during refinishing, especially when someone is inexpert at it, the interior of the piece is not touched. Not so with this credenza. Even the insides of the drawers had been poorly refinished.
Erik had to disassemble the drawers and remove the hardware in order to properly strip and refinish them. The top picture shows the foreground drawer after sanding and the background drawer in its original state. Note the stain slopped on the original Risom label. We love labels in furniture and do our best to preserve them, which Erik managed to do as seen in the bottom picture.
He did not restain the insides of the drawers, but gave them 2 coats of shellac and 1 coat of lacquer to protect the wood.
Repairing Holes in the Top of the Credenza
This Risom credenza is actually the return from an executive desk, which means that the two pieces would have been joined together to form an “L” shape. The holes in the top of the credenza are where the desk is attached to the credenza. When selling the credenza separate from the desk, you have to repair the holes. The above photos show this process.
The first photo shows the holes before any work has been done.
The second shows the piece after sanding, with epoxy filling the holes.
The third photo is the piece after staining, 2 coats of shellac, and 1 thin coat of lacquer. Note how the epoxy-filled holes are still visible. It’s at this point that Erik had to use his artistry to grain-paint these spots, making them blend in to the rest of the finish.
The fourth photo is the finished product.
The Left End of the Credenza
The left end of the Risom credenza needed a lot of work, including removing an unneeded mounting board for the privacy panel, gluing to tighten joints, epoxy-filling a corner and more holes (lotta holes in this piece!), and a couple of other veneer repairs. The same process was followed as for repairing the holes in the top and you can see the end result.
Replacing a Piece of Trim
This Risom credenza is meant to float in the middle of the room, so the entire thing was designed to be finished, even on the back side. A portion of the trim on the back left corner was broken off and jagged, so Erik had to fabricate a new piece, glue it on, and shape it so that it matched the profile of the original. By the time he had the credenza finished, you could barely tell he had replaced this piece.
The Risom Credenza Brought Back to Life
Ta da! Here it is, the Jens Risom credenza fully restored and ready to be used by someone new. This piece would make a great entertainment center, with a slide-out tray, 5 drawers, and a space for vinyl albums or books.
If you’re a knitter and you’ve been knitting from patterns for any length of time, you will have run across the advice to knit a test swatch using the yarn and needles intended for your particular project. I cringe at the thought of making test swatches because they feel like a waste of time. Let me get to work on the actual thing I want to make, please!
Usually I bypass the swatch and jump right into the project. When I’m finished, I am often annoyed to find that my piece is not the size I hoped it would be. Usually, it is too big. That’s the value of a test swatch in knitting. If I would do them, I would know whether I needed to adjust my needles in order to get the proper gauge.
Now that Erik has been seriously refinishing furniture for the past 5+ years, he has come around to learning the value of test swatches in refinishing.
As I’ve watched his process evolve, I’m amazed at how many variables there are to consider in refinishing a piece of mid-century modern furniture. Here are some of the variables he has to contend with:
Type of wood – Some woods, like walnut, take stain evenly; others, like birch, don’t and will turn out blotchy if not dealt with properly.
The stain – Color is a big part of this, but so are the composition (gel vs. dye vs. pigmented vs. wiping & etc.) and brand of stain.
How finely a piece is sanded – If coarse-grit sandpaper is used before staining, more pigment will lodge into the wood and the stain will appear darker.
The various protective coats – There are usually several layers of protective coats on a given piece. These can include shellac, de-waxed shellac, lacquer, polyurethane (known as “Poly” in the business), vinyl sealer, conversion varnish, and curing oils. The lacquer can be nitrocellulose, pre-catalyzed lacquer, post-catalyzed lacquer, or water-based.
The condition a piece is in – If an old piece of furniture has been impregnated with a silicone furniture polish over time, this will contaminate a new finish if it is not properly sealed in. If it has been water-damaged, this damage has to be treated so that a shadow of it doesn’t reappear after the piece has been refinished. If a piece has faded due to sun damage, this will also affect the final outcome.
As you can see, refinishing a piece of furniture is not a simple matter of slapping on a new finish coat.
Because of all these variables (and more!) and the time it takes Erik to strip and sand a piece to bare wood, he has become a fan of test swatches. This is especially true when he’s trying a new finishing technique. He doesn’t want to get to the end of a project and find he doesn’t like the result. That would mean restripping the entire piece over again.
To create a test swatch, he finds a scrap piece of wood that is the same or similar to the furniture he is working on and tries a few finishing techniques on it, marking each trial with the variables so he can remember how to recreate the finish he prefers on the furniture.
The final result from the middle test swatches in the above photos is the finish on these matching lounge chairs: