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Last updated: April 19, 2022 • Lifestyle

Restoring Antique Furniture: Where to Begin

For most of us, the primary purpose of furniture is function, followed closely by aesthetic appeal. We surround ourselves with furniture that serves a useful purpose while also improving the overall look and feel of our homes. From hardwood tables and book-lined shelves to sleek modern desks and desk chairs, furniture is a big part of what makes a house a home. 

There are plenty of different types of furniture. In a single outing to your local Ikea, you’re likely to see modern furniture, classic furniture, contemporary furniture and a plethora of other styles and pieces. The art of making furniture has been around for millennia, something that is readily apparent in the sheer variety of what’s available on the furniture market. 

Most types of furniture suffer from one fatal flaw. No matter how ornate or aesthetically pleasing the furniture you buy at the furniture outlet may be, it’s still not unique! With mass production lines working at full tilt, virtually every piece of furniture you’ll find in a store is merely one of hundreds, if not thousands or tens of thousands. 

No, if you want something truly unique, you’re going to have to explore other options. A furniture craftsman is one of these options, which will allow you to commission custom furniture built from scratch by a skilled professional. This may net you a unique interior design style for your home, but it is also prohibitively, exorbitantly expensive. There’s got to be another option, right? 

The beauty and charm of antique furniture 

vintage green armchairs

If authenticity and uniqueness are what you’re after, you need look no further than antique furniture. Often as unique and one-of-a-kind as something can be, these pieces of furniture are guaranteed to brighten up whatever room you put them in, and add a great deal of functionality to it to boot. They can be found in many different places, and they’re often quite inexpensive too! What’s more, they’re also a great way to reduce your carbon footprint

There’s only one problem with this: oftentimes antique furniture has seen a lot in its journey through life. Paint peels, wood wears and lacquer things, as do many other things with time. The obvious solution to this? Restoration, of course! With some hard work, a few dollars in materials and the will to make it happen, you can have a truly beautiful and unique piece of furniture all your own. Not sure where to start? Read on! 

Restoring antique furniture for beginners

wood furniture restoration

If you want to try out antique furniture restoration for yourself, there’s a good chance you’re not entirely sure where to start. With a myriad of different types of furniture to choose from and no clear direction in sight, you might quickly become overwhelmed and uncertain. If you feel like this, don’t worry; we’re here to help! 

Choosing a piece to start with 

Before you can set to work overhauling an early 20th century bureau, you’re going to need to get a feel for how furniture restoration works and how to go about the process. Everything has to start somewhere, and in this case it’s usually better to start small rather than big. There’s no shame in finishing a couple smaller projects before you take on something big! 

To start off with, you’re going to want to find something simple and uncomplicated to learn on. A kitchen chair maybe, or perhaps an inconspicuous end table. The piece itself and its place in your home aren’t particularly important, but it is important that it be a piece of furniture that won’t be financially damaging or aesthetically deal breaking to mess up on. 

Before you run down to the antique shop and buy whatever random piece of furniture the owner recommends, it’s best to have a fairly solid idea regarding what piece of furniture you want and where it will go in your home. This will help you choose how to refinish it if you choose to do so, and will also help you avoid getting ripped off. 

Buying the piece

stylish classy furniture pieces

Now that you know what you want and where it’s going to go, the time has come to approach the task of buying one such piece of furniture. There are a few options at your disposal, so don’t stress if you don’t find what you’re looking for immediately. The key downside of something being unique is that you’re unlikely to find it right away! 

Before you explore other options, check your local thrift and antique shops to see if they have anything that has been donated and fits the bill. This way, you’ll save yourself the cost and hassle of shipping from an online vendor, and you’ll be supporting your local businesses. What’s more, the owners will likely be more than happy to help you find what you’re looking for. 

If this doesn’t work, it’s time to break out the ol’ laptop and scour the internet. There are a number of different platforms available that can be searched for the type of furniture you’re looking for, so keep at it and be creative with your search terms. Much of the time, sellers aren’t exactly sure how to describe the item they’re selling. Keep this in mind and use the simplest search terms possible! 

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Preparing for the restoration 

repair antique chair

Once you’ve got the furniture you plan to restore, it’s time to take inventory of what you’ve got and what you’re going to need. We’ll assume you don’t have a workshop or suite of tools, so we’re going to tell you what you need to buy and what you can skip or circumvent in a cheaper way. For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume you’re restoring an antique wooden coffee table, but these tools and techniques will work on a wide variety of other types of furniture. 

We’ll start off by listing some of the things you’ll need to pick up from your local hardware store. Going with our assumption that the article of furniture you’ve decided to restore is a wooden coffee table, you’ll likely need the following items: sandpaper, wood stain, wood varnish, paint brushes to apply lacquer and a mask to prevent fume inhalation. Moving on to tools, you’ll likely need a belt or palm sander (possibly both), a pair of sturdy gloves, and a power drill. 

Since you don’t have a shop, you’ll have to find a clean, well lit and well ventilated area to work in. A garage will do nicely, or a driveway if you don’t have a garage. If you’re extremely tight on space, you can even complete this project inside, provided you have some drop cloths and are willing to dedicate some space to the project for an extended period of time. Just make sure you    keep the windows open! 

Learning to restore antique furniture

close up restorer hands

Once you reach this step, the ball is almost entirely in your court. The process of restoring an old piece of furniture differs greatly from piece to piece, but we’ll give you a few tips that apply to all projects of this type. First of all, don’t be too hard on yourself. If you make a few mistakes, that’s ok. It’s bound to happen, and those mistakes will likely be unnoticable in time. 

Second, use the internet. Seriously, we cannot stress this enough. There is a wealth of free information available online, waiting for you to take advantage of it. We can’t describe the process of restoring every antique piece of furniture here, but chances are there is someone online who can. Search for video and written tutorials and you’ll have a much easier time! 

Lastly, take your time. When it comes to projects like these, it doesn’t matter if it takes longer than you expected. A project in progress might present a minor inconvenience, but it’s better to take your time and do things right the first time around than to potentially ruin a one-of-a-kind piece of antique furniture. Go slow and do things right; you’ll be grateful you did! 

Conclusion

Once you finish your first restoration project, chances are you’ll feel a strange but highly enjoyable sensation. A feeling of pride, that seems to well up from the very center of your being, that grows and envelopes you with a quiet sense of joy. The restored piece may show signs of your inexperience, and it probably won’t be perfect, but it’s yours. There aren’t any others like it, and you made it a reality with your own two hands. We’re willing to bet this won’t be your last!

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