50s And 60s Buffet Table Decor – Since you are here and have clicked on an article about furniture restoration, I am willing to bet that you will agree with me on one or more of the following:
If you answered YES to any or all of the above, I know a man you need to meet. Bob Kennedy and his wife Amanda own and operate Atomic Age Modern vintage furniture store and restaurant in Mesa, Arizona. I first met the couple through a Facebook group they moderate called The Mid Century Modern Furniture Refinishing Resource. The group is a lively and informative community of MCM purists who show off their amazing furniture transformations, share tricks of the trade and ask each other questions. to help solve problems that Google just can’t answer.
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Generous with his wisdom, Bob has graciously offered a wealth of insight in the interview below to help us newbies avoid common makeup pitfalls and face our own transformations.
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Q: Hi Bob! Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your business and the groups you run?
A: Hello! I own Atomic Age Modern in Mesa, Arizona with my wife Amanda. We sell mid-century goods and eclectic vintage finds. We also offer professional furniture repairs, refurbishing and restoration. We’ve been selling mid-century goods to some extent for years, and almost two years ago we took the leap and opened a brick-and-mortar store.
I have been restoring furniture for about 5 years. Prior to that, I worked for several years in several local antique and fine furniture restoration shops. During this time I was apprenticed to two highly respected master finishers who taught me the craft. We have also created two very successful Facebook groups focusing on furniture restoration.
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Mid Century Modern Furniture Refinishing Resource is a premier group specializing in the repair, refinishing and restoration of mid century modern furniture. It’s free to join and we currently have over 12,000 members and growing! Another group, Furniture Refinishing 101 with Bob Kennedy, is a unique subscription group where I provide personal assistance to members. This group has proven to be extremely beneficial to resellers as it helps them maintain a decent profit margin as they can avoid sending parts for reconditioning. In addition, they learn the appropriate finishing skills and techniques to provide a better product to their customers.
Bob replaced the weathered and worn finish of this Broyhill Emphasis cabinet with a new finish that highlights the piece’s walnut veneer.
Q: Your store and work is focused on MCM. What do you love about mid-century modern design in general, furniture and vintage in particular?
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A: I loved mid-century modern design before I knew it existed! My grandmother’s house was like a modern time capsule from 1957, and from a young age I was in love with all those “old things” in her house. Bright colors, textures, fun designs. I love the optimism and forward thinking that “modern” or “space age” furniture meant back then. The lines are clean, simple and uncluttered. Some call it utilitarian, I call it timeless. The wood used, especially walnut and teak, is naturally beautiful and durable.
The construction of furniture changed significantly in the middle of the century. Handcrafted solid wood pieces gave way to serial, mostly veneered pieces. A better way to fit long-lasting, well-made furniture into the homes of the common masses.
That’s why ribs are so important! With too many water bottle rings to count, a worn and faded finish, and giant lines of unknown origin, this coffee table could be considered “too far” and a good candidate for paint. However, Bob managed to bring out the beautiful shine of the grain that hides under all those water spots.
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A: The problems I often see with mid-century furniture are almost always due to improper care or a lack of care. Polishes that have failed due to spilled chemicals such as nail polish remover, using products containing oils or silicone on furniture, wetting the furniture, etc. Probably the worst things I see are pieces that an inexperienced person tried to redo.
Those with experience know that stain can be difficult to work with. Not only do different woods absorb stains differently, but different areas of the same board can absorb stains differently, leaving stains. Bob recommends ditching the wood stain and using a tinted varnish, especially on parts from the Lane Acclaim line, where a tinted varnish will recreate the original look of the factory finish.
A: Some common hobbyist mistakes I see are people using over the counter (home store) products, sanding veneer, using foam glue, using home remedies like mayonnaise on furniture, using oil or polyurethane as a finish.
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Most mistakenly assume that all mid-century furniture was finished with teak or Danish oil. This couldn’t be further from the truth. About 98% of mass-produced American furniture has been finished with colored spray lacquer. There are very few exceptions to this.
A shortcut can be a top coat of Danish or teak oil, as the improvement in wood color is immediate. However, oil finishes are not permanent and you may discover new damage sooner than you would like.
These pieces can be stripped, sanded and oiled, but they will not look the same due to the different woods used in the construction. A great example is Lane Acclaim. I’m sure we’ve all seen Acclaim parts that have been sanded down and “retouched” with Danish oil by a well-intentioned weekend warrior. The contrast between the different woods becomes stark and false. Not to mention that oils offer little protection.
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An excellent finish for home users is toners and pre-catalyzed varnishes. These are commercial coatings and are available in aerosol cans at commercial paint stores or online. As for the Danish pieces, almost everyone assumes that they were all treated with “teak oil”. This is simply not the case. While some of the higher-end parts were treated with a specific type of oil, most mass-produced parts were finished with a spray-on conversion paint that is quite durable. Conversion varnish requires expensive spray equipment and special mixing requirements, making it a poor choice for the home user. A good alternative for these Danish pieces is a pre-catalyzed matte varnish.
Grain painting, the art of recreating the pattern and color of the grain around wood in an area
Q: When should the average person decide to send their part to a professional instead of trying to do the job themselves?
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A: Although achieving a good finish is relatively easy if the correct process and products are used, there are situations where the average finisher will want to send it to the professionals. Things like structural and veneer repairs are best left to the professionals.
I teach these types of repairs in my membership group, but they are a learned skill that requires an investment in special tools and products. If you find a lot of rare pieces (especially Danish ones) that have a swollen area or bubbles on top, pass them on. These are way too far gone and beyond repair. This type of damage occurs due to wetting of the substrate, which is often chipboard.
Fashionable paintwork can look stylish, but a “colorful” color is likely to negatively affect the value of a vintage piece. Very few pieces are “too far” for the professional or amateur who wants to learn.
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A: Painted furniture. At these two words, many modernists get chills! When someone paints a beautiful piece of mid-century modern, they usually qualify it with words like “it was too far away.” In most cases, all problems can be fixed. Burns, sanding, scratches, scuffs, stains, chipped/missing veneers can all be repaired.
In principle, I don’t have too many problems with painting furniture, as long as it’s done tastefully and correctly. The problem comes when people don’t know how to do it right. Removing chalk paint is a terrible idea. It doesn’t look good and it doesn’t last. Spray paint from the home improvement store is also a bad idea.
As with any furniture finishing, a special process is involved. When customers come to me for painting, I mix up a colored vinyl sealer and spray it on. Then I spray a clear pre-catalyzed varnish over that. Fillers are included if a smooth piano-like finish is desired. These finishes are generally beyond the scope of most hobbyists, but if you’re determined, it’s possible. If you come across a piece that seems “too far”, it’s best to leave it to someone more skilled than painting it.
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The pictures above show the Broyhill Brazil dining room raw and ready to go. At this point it was removed and sanded and any surface irregularities treated. On the bottom, the kit is tinted to match the original look. All it needs now is padding!
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