Saturday, April 17, 2010

Refinishing History

Some pieces of furniture are just that -- furniture. They serve a function and over the years come and go as family needs change. Other pieces of furniture are much, much more. They form part of the history of a family and, in many cases, link generations. I am blessed to be the caretaker of several pieces of furniture that form part of a legacy of my family. My bedroom suite belonged to my parents and traveled with them across Canada as my father was transferred by the Air Force over the years of his career. My nightstand is crafted from bentwood and belonged to my grandmother's grandmother and she gifted it to me before she transitioned to the next life when I was still in high school. I treasure both of these pieces of history but the crowning jewel of the family legacy is an art deco style dining room set that was a figure in my grandparents' dining room for as long as most of my generation can remember. It is complete with a pedestal table, six chairs, a buffet and china cabinet.

Considering I am one of easily 200 plus direct descendants of my maternal grandparents, you probably are wondering how this piece of family history ended up in my suburban dining room. Growing up eating Sunday dinners at this table and putting the good dishes away in the bottom of the china cabinet, I surely did not expect to be serving my own meals at the same tables thirty years later. And even though my adult style choices were informed by my childhood influences (my cedar chest is a duplicate of the 'waterfall' style of the table and buffet), didn't think I would be choosing my houses based primarily on have a place for the table and chairs.

It was actually kind of funny how I found out about my legacy. We were at bingo. Before my Mom crossed over to the next life, family bonding time featured frequent trips to Winners' Bingo in Lethbridge. Mom was a regular there with a gaggle of octogenarian buddies who all had their specified seats. On this particular occasion several of my sisters and adult nieces were in town and we were chatting between games. The family home in Cardston was being sold and the furnishings had to be re-homed. My niece was buying the living room set for her basement rec room and other items were being donated to charity. I had gotten up to go grab something from the snake bar and when I got back to the table I heard my older sister asking my mom, "So what are you going to do with your dining room suite."

"I guess Elizabeth will get it," she replied as she set up her Bonanza cards.

I sat down and said, "What?"

Without missing a beat, Mom continued, "She's the only one of you who is into old junk."

I sat down and looked around the table at my sisters, nieces and Mom. My older sister, Catherine, started to fill in the blanks for me. "Mom and Father bought the dining set for Grandma and Grandpa in the 1940s so she gets it back now that the house is being sold. You want it?"

"Of course," I responded without hesitation notwithstanding the fact that my spouse and I were living in a small 90 year old 'character' home with no where to put the set.

So, just over a year later when we moved into our new house with our 4 month old daughter, the dining room table took up residence in the large eat-in kitchen and become a part of my own family's history. Well that house was sold years ago and the dining room suite has survived several moves -- first to Northern Alberta and then back to Southern Alberta when we relocated here four years ago. After two moves in as many years around Southern Alberta, the dining set has come to rest in my new home in Lethbridge. I am hoping to stay put for a few years, perhaps till Chicklet graduates from High School. In divorcing my dear ex-husband, I also lost his employer that is intent on moving him every few years 'just because'.

Anyway, I am finally getting around to putting a new face on the dining room suite. The last time anything was replaced was at least twenty years ago when my Mom took apart the six chairs and recovered the worn seat covers with a golden velvet that has now see far better days. The finish has never been touched. I do recall my my uncle wanting put 'mac-tac' on both the buffet and the table to hide where the finish has been marked by years of use. My Mom put the kibosh on that quicker than you can say permanent adhesive.

So, I have selected a new fabric for the chairs -- it is a deep rusty red and I am going to cut up an unused memory foam mattress topper to provide some cushioning where none has been. Today I picked out paint. Now I know that many of you are screaming: "PAINT? NO!!" But the reality is that the thin laminate would not survive the sanding needed to refinish it with stain. I know I'll be losing the wood grain patterns, most notably on the front of the buffet, but I will be able to preserve the dining room suite for perhaps another generation. The paint is a colour called 'red brick' and I think it will look fresh and classic at the same time. Tomorrow I start sanding and will do one chair to see how it looks. I'll post pictures and I promise to be gentle and loving with my piece of the family legacy.


  1. Hear me scream...DO NOT PAINT !!!! PUT A TABLE CLOTH ON THE TABLE !!!

  2. I can see Chevy embellishing the paint with some art of her own--very funky.