Vintage and Modern Furniture
Here are key elements of a genuine midcentury modern piece of furniture:
1. The wood. Most midcentury pieces are made of solid teak, rosewood or walnut. You may find veneers in these species on tabletops and other flat surfaces, but that doesn’t mean it's not good.
2. Seamless construction. A true classic is rarely nailed or screwed. The Danish (who were at the forefront of this design) mastered the technique of fitting wood together using dowels and threaded bolts. This makes them easily repairable.
3. The finish: Midcentury mod finishes are almost always natural, showing off the true beauty of the wood. Occasionally a piece may be painted a solid color such as black.
We found this teak chair at a retro furniture store. Even though it looked shabby, the chair still had good bones. None of the wood was broken, and the denting and scratching on the surface were minor, less than 1/8 inch deep, which is crucial on a natural finish; if you can't sand out the damage, it will show through on the finished piece. Also, the chair had the original seat cushions, which meant it'd be easy to duplicate a new set of cushions.
Remove the cushions and the loop springs that hold tension under the seat cushion. Fortunately the loops on our chair are in good shape — these can be the hardest part to replace on one of these chairs. When purchasing a chair to refurbish, make sure the loops are intact or at least get a steep discount on the price if they are missing.
We used Jasco brand stripper because it contains wax that will help keep the stripping vapors locked onto the surface of the wood longer. Wear safety glasses and rubber gloves. With a paintbrush, apply an even coat of stripper over the entire chair. Have water nearby in case of a mishap. Apply liberally and don't brush over areas that are already coated because it will break down the chemicals and they won't work as well.
To speed up the process time and help the stripper along, cover the chair in black plastic garbage bags for about 20 minutes. It doesn't have to be completely sealed, but if you can fit the whole chair in a big bag, that is the best. After the 20 minutes, remove the bags and use a metal paint scraper to remove the finish and stripper from the chair.
Use odorless mineral spirits and a plastic-bristle brush to scrub off the access stripper and finish. Mineral spirits will deactivate the stripper and if any got down into the pores of the wood, it will be safe to refinish over a trace amount. It should be turning a bit white at this point, but don't worry; it can be sanded off later.
You may ask why now and not earlier. Stripper is a bear to work with when you have nothing to grab, so keeping the chair intact while doing it makes the process a lot easier. Plus, it is easier to sand (with the grain) when in pieces. Separate the chair into as many pieces as you can easily take apart. Our chair has four pieces: a right side, left side, seat and back.
This is where you make or break the project, so take your time and be methodical. Use 150-grit sandpaper on a palm sander and follow the contours of the chair. (Good sandpaper is worth the extra cost, so buy the good stuff. It will last longer and won't tear as quickly.) Sand everything evenly, and be careful not to "chatter" the sander on the edges, as it will leave marks on the wood you are trying to smooth out. If you get into a tight area, just leave it for hand sanding.
Cut sandpaper into manageable squares. You should be able to get four squares out of each full-size sheet of sandpaper. Fold each square in half and start working in the hard-to-reach areas that you couldn't get with the palm sander. Try to sand with the grain even if it means going in short strokes when butting up against a constricting area.