When we settled in our first apartment, it was fun to scrounge around flea markets and in our parents' attics to find furniture that could be salvaged and used again. The shoestring budget was the mother of invention.
Fast forward to the empty nest and suddenly the furniture with the chipped paint and quirky design has a new name -- shabby chic -- and it's not cheap. Dinette sets made of aluminum and upholstered in that horrid marbleized vinyl are now considered hot items in the "retro" look -- even lava lamps have reappeared. Surely that gooey stuff inside must be hazardous material! But, there are pieces of old furniture that have a definitive style or, as the DIY television hosts like to say, "good bones."
Furniture that is properly proportioned, that has a purpose, never goes out of style, even if it is well worn or well loved.
My father had a love affair with wood, the older the better. He built our house out of old timber and other materials salvaged from the first Macon hospital because he wanted plaster walls. Plaster will crack with age, but not if the wood behind it is seasoned and less likely to shrink; our plaster walls never cracked. He saved and stored wood like my mother stored buttons; he would drop everything to attend an auction of old wood like my mother would slip away to scout shops for her beloved Southern-made antiques.
My father laughed when Mother purchased a mirror frame, painted fire engine red, for $7 at an antique auction. He stopped laughing when a restoration expert gently removed the red paint, revealing the original gold leaf finish on a Federal frame, topped by an eagle holding the American flag with 13 stars.
ENLIST THE HELP OF CRAFTSMEN
The words "broken beyond repair" were not often heard in my household. In Macon there were and are craftsmen who can repair and restore furniture that looks hopeless, ready for the dump. Make friends of those guys, for they can save you a lot of money and heartache over treasured pieces that have seen better days.
Sadly, upholsterers are not as plentiful as they once were, when people took pride in working with their hands. However, there are great frames of old sofas and chairs that my upholsterer will tell me are worth the fabric and labor costs to redo.
He should know -- he's been giving new life to furniture since he could stand up at a work table and sew. Find out what a good frame on a sofa or chair looks like; educate yourself about the construction of furniture and you can discover a Cinderella just waiting for a makeover.
A FAMILY OF ACCLAIMED ARTISTS
Painted furniture has earned its pedigree since faux finishing became so popular in the mid 20th century as an acceptable alternative to traditional stained finishes on case pieces. If your house does not get a lot of natural light, painted surfaces can enhance the reflected light. Paint can add whimsy or introduce an elegant flair depending on the design of the space.
Angela Henigman, a member of a family that has been transforming space with its art for years, has traveled from one coast to the other painting everything from fences to footstools.
Her mother, Shirley Stafford Long, started Art on the Avenue, on Ingleside Avenue, and many people recall her standing on a scaffold on the Corbin Avenue side of the building when she painted the iconic mural for Ingleside Village Pizza.
After living in California, working with her brother, Daniel Henigman, on a series of projects, Angela has returned to Forsyth to be near her mother and family, including Celia and Jim Henigman, who have restored and built stained glass doors and windows all over the world.
Angela is still traveling for clients she met in California, among them Lazertag Arenas and Harley-Davidson; one of her murals for the latter was featured in "Easy Rider" magazine. In the mid 1990s she worked on murals for the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, for the Grand Opera House and for the City Auditorium.
It's difficult to imagine Angela giving new personalities to something as mundane as furniture after taking on those monumental projects. However, she says, "Furniture was my stepping stone (to faux painting) when I discovered the Golden Isles. Then it was on to Miami, Dallas, L.A., the Carolinas, Nevada, France, Panama -- where next?"
She is happy that Forsyth is now her home base and looks forward to involving herself in initiatives to introduce children to art, as she was by her mother. She can paint furniture in her studio without concerns about the elements interrupting her work. Her commissions include outrageous designs for playrooms, playful storybook characters for children and elegant designs for a continental look.
For a comprehensive overview of her work, visit www.henigmanart.com.
DEFINE A NEW LIFESTYLE
In spite of dollar value, some pieces of furniture are hard to give up. As downsizing becomes a catch word for retirees, and streamlining the living environment is appealing to the millennial generation, paring down the inventory is a necessity, but it does not mean giving up style.
The new loft apartment or condominium may not have the architectural details that defined the house you left behind. But you can indulge your creative side and scale back the period antique look to the provincial or add a few contemporary pieces for the eclectic vibe.
I never recommend destroying the value of a priceless antique with paint or by refinishing it, but there are plenty of pieces you have that might look a lot more appealing with a painted design.
THE GIFT OF OLD WOOD
When my father presented me with a birthday gift of several hundred board feet of aged mahogany about 30 years ago, I was not only surprised he would give it away, but humbled he would entrust me with the responsibility.
I needed an armoire for my dining room, one that would be the repository for table linens, china, crystal and silver, easily accessible and all in one place. At a garage sale, I found a pediment from the late Empire period with matching base that was a solid piece of pine, both veneered in crotch mahogany.
Enlisting the help of Jim Hughes, a cabinet maker in Monroe County, I designed the armoire to fit between the old top and base. It was a handsome addition to the dining room, but it was so dark it appeared to loom over the space. My solution was to paint it Napoleon yellow and paint a scene across the four doors depicting the marsh near Apalachicola, Florida.
I got as far as completing the clouds and a few other flourishes when Audrey Raby, a local painter, informed me I knew nothing about painting, although she did grudgingly admit, "They look like Georgia O'Keefe clouds." I was pretty proud of myself, but she took over the project before I made a mess of it and succeeded in giving me the scene I wanted, which I enjoy seeing every day.
My house is full of re-purposed, recycled furniture, some of which I have painted -- recalling my mother's encouraging words, that paint could be removed and no harm would be done -- as long as I was not ruining the value of a documented antique.
Those pieces have become the ones I do not want to part with -- they all have a story to tell.
Katherine Walden is an interior designer and freelance writer in Macon. Contact her at 478-742-2224 or email@example.com.