Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The controversy of painting antique furniture


This antique Australian Western red cedar dresser is probably the most controversial piece I've ever painted. So controversial in fact that it's taken me several months to blog about it. It nearly turned me off painting for a while and the controversy over it on my facebook page really made me consolidate my thoughts on painting valuable old furniture. 

I thought I might share my thoughts with you but I'm sure lots of people are going to disagree with me. While I'm more than happy to hear and learn your thoughts and perhaps even be persuaded otherwise, I'd appreciate your politeness and kindness. I've had enough rude comments and it's just not appreciated. I think people at the time forgot that I was PAID to paint it and the decision to paint it was not mine.

So my feeling about painting antiques or beautiful timber is unless it's in an actual museum, realise that you own the piece and you can do what you want with it. If that means painting it so you love it, then understand that you may possibly be decreasing its value but if you are okay with that, then go ahead and paint. It is yours, do what you want with it. However my advice is ensure that you do a good job of refinishing it. You won't want to regret your decision.

Cate inherited this piece from her beloved grandmother. Cate has strong memories of this piece and her nana's house and playing hide and seek around it and she really wanted it in her house, now her grandmother has died. Saying all that, Cate did not want it unpainted in her house, she has floorboards that would clash with that red timber. Cate wanted the piece to be a dramatic black and planned to have the piece as a statement piece in her dining room.




Here is how the piece came to me. It's obviously been sitting in dusty storage for a while. 
I spent ages cleaning it up. Dust is the enemy of a good paint job. This piece is very old and has lots of signs of age but wow it came up beautifully with a good clean. 



I almost started to doubt Cate's decision to paint at this point because the timber is obviously beautiful and Cate and I had long discussions about what her vision was and why she wanted it painted. She said she would love this piece painted and even though she was potentially decreasing the value of it, she didn't care as she's never selling it as she loves the memories of her grandmother it brings. The only value of it for Cate is sentimental value. And Cate wanted the dresser black!

We even discussed the potential value of the dresser, a thousand dollars at auction possibly, but Cate wanted the dresser to treasure forever so selling is not an option.









So I started painting. I used ASCP Graphite and it made the piece very dramatic and definitely a statement piece. Love or hate it, it doesn't really matter as Cate and her husband loved it so really that's all that matters.


You'll have to forgive my photography of this piece I never got to take proper photos of it, just iPhone snapped not in the best light.







It now sits in Cate's dining room, pride of palace and brings much joy to Cate every time she walks in the room. 

So I think that if you have a piece that you absolutely love and treasure but you want it painted, then get it painted. Just make sure it's definitely what you want as it's almost impossible to strip the paint off and restore the original patina and finish.

While I was reading about painting antiques I read this comment in a forum "There is no point in living with something you don't love - and just because it has been painted won't take away the fact you still got it from your great-grandmother." So true.

If you are painting an antique to resell, then I'd definitely get an appraisal and possibly choose less valuable pieces. It's funny though if a French woman painted a piece of furniture 150 years ago then people would be horrified if someone was going to strip off the paint. You just can't win sometimes.

If you are going to love it "ruined by painting" then that is OK!

What are your thoughts?
Fiona x




30 comments:

  1. Oh Fiona...it's gorgeous! I saw it on FB and couldn't wait to read all about it. You are very brave to take on a project such as this. I have an intense fear of taking on custom jobs...with the 'what if' syndrome as in 'what if they don't like what I've done to their family heirloom'. Cate was brave to see this lovely piece through a different lense...and you transformed her vision magnificently! Bravo to both of you!
    xoxo
    Robin

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    1. thanks Robin. I always stress more with custom painting than just buying something and selling it but in return I don't have to worry about selling it and it doesn't sit around my house waiting to sell so I manage it that way. I also feel privileged to be painting such beautiful pieces!

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  2. Fiona,
    You are brave to tackle this issue...I totally agree with you. It is the decision of the person that owns it. My experience is that most people think heirloom furniture is far more valuable monetarily, than it actually is. I'm not dismissing the importance of family connections and sentimental feelings associated, but it doesn't necessarily diminish those by painting it. Better to have it used and cherished than sitting in storage somewhere. Thanks for speaking up on this subject.

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    1. thanks Leslie - it bores me when people say don't paint the timber. What about don't cut down the trees?? LOL.
      and I agree people always over estimate the value of antique pieces.

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  3. I think like you do. If it has more sentimental than monetary value do what you want with the piece. I like to have pretty things in my home and if painting a piece makes it more beautiful, go for it. In this case it has made it more attractive. I also wonder what it would have looked like in other colours such as white, red or the deep blue. :)

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    1. Thanks very much for commenting Jan. I agree about making things how you want to treasure them. Hope you’ve had a lovely weekend
      Fiona x

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  4. I saw a gorgeous piece on another blog quite a while back that had been painted. I fell in love with it, but the blogger had taken some heat for painting it as well. As you did, she had painted the piece for a client. It had belonged to a family member and had been stored in a back room. The person who inherited it chose to paint and use it rather than store it. I say kudos to anyone who wants to incorporate a treasured piece into their decor. How much better to paint and use something rather than store it someplace where it's never seen just because you don't like it the way it is.

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  5. You have turned a heavy looking piece of furniture into something delightful to look at!! If a person owns furniture and wants to paint it, its theirs to do what they like with. I personally am not a fan of dark wood antique furniture I find it dreary. Keep on painting!!

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    1. thanks Roberta. I don't mind one of two pieces in a house being timber but not everything. it is definitely a bit dreary that way.

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  6. You did a beautiful job!! I agree with you, if it's your furniture and you want to paint it - do it! :)

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  7. Still one of my very favourite pieces of all time. I absolutely love it painted black x

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  8. I think it is just beautiful in black! And absolutely yes, the opinion that really matters is the owner of the piece! I think people get hung up on the issue of "value". What does that really mean? A rare antique stashed away in the attic may have value, but if it's not being enjoyed and loved, then what's the point? In the example above, Cate is now happy and enjoying her piece. That's what it's all about!

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    1. Thanks Sharon, things are much better to be loved and used than stashed away.

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  9. Hi Fiona,
    Ive agonised over similar issues but after several 'updates' I find that a 'good' paint finish not only enhances old furniture but gives it a new life. Ive been using the Colourbond Monument which has a lovely gun metal effect. :)

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    1. I will have to have a look at that paint next time i'm at bunnings. thanks Patricia. I see so many pieces of timber furniture literally being loved again after paint (it's why I love what i do) If i was just selling the before photos of my work, no one would be lining up to buy them!

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  10. I have a lot of antiques some heirlooms some I have bought that I would never paint I want them the way they are. I also have painted furniture that I have painted and some that I have bought (I was lucky to get a couple of yours) Now I chose to have these pieces painted and I chose to leave the pieces unpainted.Its no ones business what I do with my furniture or if I buy more painted antiques (hopefully from you ) so to the people who are outraged at painting wood Get a life...worry about your own business and grow up...I want to say more but my swear jar is quite full -love dee x

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    1. I’m the same Dee, some things I wouldn’t paint and well you know how much I love painting most things!!
      Love the swear jar reference I need one of those jars…
      Hope you are having a good week and not in too much pain.
      Love fiona

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  12. I can see both sides. Many do not want to have old pieces painted because the wood they are made from is often not available anymore. I believe it is up to the owner as how they want a piece to look. Since she plans on keeping it for a long time, then she should be able to do as she likes. Let her treasure it as she wants.

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    1. Thank you Rose, I agree. It all depends on what the owner wants. Cheers Fiona

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  13. If I owned a piece that I thought was valuable in it's orginal state and I liked it, I would probably leave it alone. However, if I had an antique piece that I wanted to paint, I would paint it! I have a primitive early 1800's small chest that goes back many generations in my family. I have no idea what color it was originally since it is absolutely black with age though I have a suspicion that it was painted deep red. The dovetails are all hand cut and the bottom of the drawer has a "drawn" bottom. All that being said, it is freaking hideous right now. I am painting it.

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    1. Oh I laughed out loud Suzan , you are funny!

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  14. You've done it up beautifully..... and it's wonderful she loves it and wanted to keep it.... I totally agree it is up to the individual what they want to do .. value is in the heart more than the purse????
    Hugz

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  15. Oh Fiona ...that is STUNNING !!!! The happy owner of this is quite right in her thinking....what a beautiful focal point thats going to be....WOW . AND once again..my god, your workmanship is just outstanding......WOW again...xx

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    1. thanks you so much. i spent hours and hours and hours working on this piece. I was a huge effort but worth it.
      cheers fiona

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  16. As a trader of Antiques and fine art I was horrified to see such a wonderful item painted. You can argue that the owner has ever right to do with it what they like but you have just destroyed patina, that is well over a 100 years old. If you are talking about finishes then how will someone interpret your finish in years to come? We are caretakers and it is of the utmost importance to retain originality on age old pieces. If it was a common piece of Antique furniture I wouldn't argue with you but 1870-80's dressing tables such as yours, are rare. I honestly breaks my heart to see such a wonderful piece ruined by present day ignorance

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Thanks for taking the time to comment! (Sorry if you have trouble commenting, I'm trying to sort it out)