Trash to treasurePublished on October 21, 2008

  • Local refinisher expert Christina Masotti, founder and owner of Carriage House Ottawa (www.carriagehouseottawa) recently renovated this dining set in a creamy beige finish for a client. Photo supplied.

Do you have a passion for antiquing, garage sales, and curb-hunting, but often feel overwhelmed by the scope of the renovation task? Christina Masotti, founder and owner of Carriage House Ottawa, answers your questions about furniture refinishing and restoration.

How do I find out if my grandmother's dinning room set is worth restoring or refinishing? I inherited it last year and I believe she purchased it in the 1930s. Elizabeth Z., Ottawa

There are many rewards to restoring and refinishing. Restoration of a full set can cost up to a third less when comparing the same quality of wood, finish and construction methods over purchasing new. You are also given the opportunity to make a unique design statement by being creative and customizing your older furniture. There is also the karmic plus of keeping your business local and repurposing our natural resources. There are three main factors in determining whether or not to restore an old dining set.

1. Do you like the style?

At this stage in the decision making process you need to look past the grungy old finish, nicks and scratches and see the lines of the furniture. Squint your eyes - can you see this set reupholstered and refinished in a lighter or darker colour? High gloss finishes were common in the past, so remember that when renewing, a satin sheen finish will make the most impact in its style and update the look even if you keep with the original stain colour. Another great way to keep the lines, but change and update the look is to paint out the wood. Don't cringe! A professionally applied custom coloured lacquer in a cream, black or any shade that floats your boat and room design can make a huge impact on the overall style. Very chic!

2. Do the dimensions of the set fit your room size?

The scale of furniture has changed over the years to fit the great rooms and open concept living that has become so popular. Don't be afraid to break up a set. If your inherited dinning room set has all the frills, such as a large table, eight chairs, corner hutch, sideboard, and buffet hutch, think about other areas in the home these pieces may work for you. Then you can restore them in different ways to suit the space.

3. If you have determined that the style and scale of the furniture will work, the last question is are the economics worth while? Is the money you are putting into the job of restoring or refinishing your older set a good investment?

The answer lies within the structure and materials. The advantages you will find with older furniture were the joinery methods commonly utilized and the higher quality materials that were customary. For example, dovetailed drawer construction, inset drawers and doors, dust panels, mortised locks, frame and panels, and doweled chair joinery are all good signs of well built heirloom furniture that's worth the investment. For dining room tables, don't be discouraged if your set has a veneered top. Older furniture was often veneered onto solid wood for decoration purposes. The thickness of the veneer was machined substantially thicker than cuts today. Nailed or stapled drawer construction, quarter inch veneered -unframed side gables, plastic drawer glides, and bolt or screw-only assembled chairs are sure signs that the set was not well built initially. The cost of labour may not be worth it, however sentimental value may always prevail. There is also a misconception that refinishing will devalue your older furniture. Furniture built prior to 1880 needs to be carefully evaluated for this reason; however 99 per cent of mass-produced furniture from the 1900s only has value for it's esthetic and function.

How can you tell if a piece of furniture isn't worth salvaging? Alyssa S., Kanata

- Many splits in the joints of the wood (shrinkage) - Excessive warped wood - Screwed or bolt assembly only - Water or rot damage to the base or main parts of a piece - Many missing or peeling areas of veneer - No dovetailing or other time-honoured joinery - Plastic runners or other plastic components - Thin unframed veneered panels, gables, doors etc - Particle board substrates

Furniture stripping essentials

When working with furniture at home, Christina offers the following advice: "Always strip from the top down, always stain from the bottom up, and always use a sample board." She also recommends having the following items on hand. - Safety goggles - Carbon face mask - Long sleeve shirt and painters cap - Ventilation - Soft wire brush, plastic scrub brushes, brillo pads, old toothbrushes - Long gloves- chemical grade - Sandpaper (80 to 180 grit) - Coffee cans to hold liquid products - Heavy-duty varnish brush for stripping - TSP (trisodium phosphate) for neutralizing stripper - Rags, sissors - Three- to six-inch drywall mud spackles - Cardboard, poly - Wood shavings or cat litter to clean up spills - Small air compressor (optional )

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