I deeply believe that a sense of aesthetics is something that you need to have in your genes. I'm lucky to have a father who’s an artist, and a very pragmatic mom. The rest came with Japan, travels...
If you have so far associated furniture restoration with an experience close to meditation, I'm afraid I will disappoint you. Instead, it has a lot of the feel of an action film. There is a fight against time and one's own weaknesses. There is a brawl, there are sharp instruments, puzzles and comedic elements. And, at the end, tears of emotion that good has once again won over evil. And this velvet feeling of polished wood. And a sense of meaning, in this world made of plastic and cardboard.
I love wood restoration. And wood in general. For the fact that it is wood, for its smell, for the fact that it can be refinished almost endlessly. For the colours, species, drawings, details, inlays and joints. I also love the wood restoration process itself and the entourage in which it takes place and in which I feel like a child in a toy shop. And I am not alone in this love.
Some time ago I watched a documentary about Børge Mogensen, one of the most famous designers of the midcentury modern era. „Designs for life” is the story of the private and professional life of a designer in love with wood, candidly told by his son Thomas. Børge was one hell of a designer. Talented, intelligent, hard-working, astonishingly prolific, stubborn and ... very humble. Jasper Morrison called him ''the well-guarded secret'' of Denmark. For his part, Christian Holmsted Olsen, head of the Designmuseum of Denmark, emphasised that although Mogensen ''did not get the recognition he deserved during the heyday of Danish design, (...) the worldwide demand for high-quality materials and attention to detail ensures that Mogensen's time will come quickly''. It seems to have already arrived. His love of wood, his uncompromising commitment to high quality and the special atmosphere of ''modest luxury'' that characterises his designs mean that Mogensen's designs, which continue to be produced by the Fredericia Furniture brand, are growing in popularity. Thomas Graversen, owner of Fredericia, spoke of one of Mogensen's flagship designs, The Spanish Chair, in this way: When you acquire a Spanish Chair, it is like buying a pair of Lloyd’s shoes for their beauty and love more and more each day as the stiff leather gives way to the form of your foot and becomes a fantastic natural extension of your feet. The more you sit in a Spanish chair, the more it patinates and molds to your own body’s curves and eventually the story of you and your chair becomes an inseparably treasured relationship. It is this relationship, the one created between human and object, that is uniquely ‘The Børge Feeling’. Such a relationship and such a piece of furniture can't be just thrown away when it wears off. Instead, it can be renovated. And it's a history of one renovation I wanted to tell you about today.
Every time I leave a furniture restoration workshop after another successful restoration I have two somewhat contradictory thoughts in my head: that I sincerely admire carpenters for their physical and mental stamina, and that physical work is a must-do for human well-being. For someone like me, who works mentally on other kinds of projects, a weekend spent in an atmospheric workshop combined with an antique depot is a balm for the head and soul. And since my dad's - artist and exhibitionist - place of work has always been the workshop (room number 64, to this day I still have my dad's key ring in my desk), for me it is always a bit of a sentimental journey. Each time, I also feel grateful that I can creatively work on restoring furniture or creating content on nito nito on the loose, in my free time. It's a luxury, because routine or compulsion can sometimes be unbearable.
But to the point. This time I took a 1950s bedside cabinet I found on the internet a few years ago to a furniture restoration workshop and art gallery „Stara Praga”. The print on its back indicates that it belonged to the American army that stationed in Munich. The cabinet captivated me with its gracefulness, lightness and simplicity of ornamentation. However, I should have guessed that the thick layer of chocolate stain and varnish was not just a crazy fantasy of the previous owner but an indication that this piece of furniture was a real pandora's box.
After disassembling the cabinet and removing the first coats of varnish, manually, with the help of paint stripper gel and cyclers, and mechanically - with the help of a sander and even a blowtorch - it turned out that my cabinet was a hybrid when it came to the types of wood used. On a few of the most visible surfaces - the tabletop, sides, shelf and drawer - I discovered a mahogany veneer that was not only very thin but had also 'drenched' in a nightmarish mahogany brown stain. And so I was left with a washed-out pink, and all attempts to sand the veneer deeper ended predictably, i.e. with its localised deficiencies. Solid wood elements such as the carved base with legs required superhuman patience, repeated baths in paint stripping gel and treatments with steel wool, a sander, sandpaper and .... chisels. For it turned out that the only way to remove the stain from the carved crevices was to deepen them, in other words, de facto re-carve them. A final cleaning of the whole thing with spirit revealed several types of wood with completely different grain and colour. I swear I was already fantasising in my mind about a black lacquer-like polish, although in my original plans I had a light Thonet walnut semi-matte finish. However, I decided not to give up and experiment with stains. With a professional carpenter supervising me, we prepared a mixture of walnut, oak and mahogany stain, which proved to be the perfect remedy for the furniture's piercing pink and patchy colour scheme. It was light enough to leave the grain of the wood visible and at the same time dark enough to colourfully unify the entire piece. The veneer missing in some places was dealt with perfectly by retouching pens. A few coats of polish gave durability, depth and a slight shine to the whole, to which I applied a natural oil varnish after drying. I now intend to polish the cabinet with a woollen cloth and enjoy it for many years to come.
I was very pleased with the result of the restoration, although even the professional carpenter admitted he had serious concerns about the final result after cleaning the cabinet. I am delighted to have another piece of furniture in which I have left a part of myself and with which I have fond weekend memories. When I remember how much work it cost me to clean it, I know that it will certainly not be harmed by ordinary domestic use for decades to come. Unlike mass-produced furniture, which, as I found out, does not even use furniture board anymore, but rather suitably shaped ... cardboard. I leave you with this thought and wholeheartedly encourage you to embark on a renovation adventure. Just look how incredibly beautiful wood furniture can be. It's hard not to fall in love.