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Stripping Antique Furniture - Should You Take it All Off Or Leave Something Chic For the Imaginatio

When I examine an antique piece of furniture, it's the details that capture my attention. If the details are unique, I salivate thinking - What legs, what shape, what form, what possibilities - I lust, I lust! Before any refinishing begins, especially any stripping, a decision must be made. In my opinion, there are two schools of thought -Take it all off? Or leave a little to the imagination?

When my husband refinishes an antique, he might apply a thick layer of acid stripper on all of the surfaces, removing the finish to the bare wood, sand and then add paint or stain. When finished, his piece will look almost new. He takes it all off. And that, to me, is old school refinishing and would ruin the whole effect because, most of all, I crave patina. I want to leave a lot to romance. This romantic look is most desirable today and is often referred to as shabby, chic, romantic, or French Country styles. There are many repros available which try to capture the essence of vintage cottage furniture. Most romantic purists won't spare reproduced pieces even a glance. Too often a refinisher, unfamilar with the nuances of true shabby chic, paints the piece of vintage furniture institutional white then hits it with an electric sander ripping the paint to the wood - with a result that looks as if it has been chained and drug behind a truck on a graveled road. That's not the look nor the effect that appeals to the buying public. Again, no romance nor patina there.

The romance comes into play when one is still able to look at a refinished piece of furniture and speculate about where this fetching antique has been in a previous life, how many lives it may have touched, how aging formed the warm patina. Personally, I often find myself swept away wondering if the piece was a treasured heirloom before it became a sad cast-away. It is so easy to develop an intimate relationship with a piece that later makes it difficult for me to sell it. Since turning trash to treasures is my pleasure; yet, I have to sell to support my passion - I try to keep in mind that I'm refinishing this piece for someone else. Still, I do it as lovingly and with as much wonder as if I were going to keep it. After all, if I don't love it, why would anyone?

It's no surprise that In contrast to my husband's methodical, practical refinishing methods, when I'm stripping furniture, I usually choose to work with a thin paint-solvent dampened cloth -enabling me to remove the veils of yesterday one sheer layer at a time.The solvent, sparingly applied, dissolves and blends the hues, leaving bared wood areas pickled with streaked stains that speak to me. The trick in stripping, to me, is always judging how much to leave and how much to remove. I love knowing I have found others, one at a time, who feel the same as I. We know what beauty is and we understand what makes this style of layered chippy paint on vintage furniture so hot --it's feminine, a marriage of yesterday and today, and it's romantic- even sexy!

For this very coveted French Country look, always remember, less is definitely more. Once totally stripped, all of the mystique and romance is lost forever.

An artist and designer whose artwork, furniture and paintings are sold nationally, recognizable by her simple signature, Devonia.

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