Recently, we had a customer ask us to find them a mid century era piece to use as a bar in a man cave. Something steampunkish and industrial, vintage and clean lined. So when I stumbled across this awesome 1960’s rolling metal typing desk stashed behind some old bookshelves and a discarded desk, I knew I’d found “the one”.
This style of desk was a staple in many offices during the 60’s & 70’s, and this beauty still had the original government “Property of…” sticker on the underside. The only thing that would have made this desk any cooler would have been the words “CIA” or “FBI” (instead of the County office in which it once resided). Loaded with a cool c. 1952 whiskey decanter, some retro cocktail tumblers and a shiny, vintage Kromex ice bucket (you should really check out our store!) this bar quickly took shape. Sturdy & vintage, this bar cart is a cool piece of history – I wonder if the person who once sat typing at this desk daily, ever imagined it would one day serve this very swoon inspiring function?
This piece really didn’t require much restoration, it was in great shape. Custom wooden wine bottle racks slide on to the bottom shelf and there is room for hanging wine glasses underneath. Perfect!
Once in a while I come across a makeover project that makes me think “oh, easy!” and this little sewing cabinet was no exception. I mean, lots of flat surfaces and straight lines, an easy strip, stain and seal and “Bob’s your uncle!” Well, no. Not this time. I loved this little table from the get-go, I hated it for moments, but in the end, I’m still enamored. That top drawer that flips around to hold bobbins and reels, so unusual and unique. Hard to pass up.
It wasn’t the 50 years of peeling paint underneath that was work, it was the freshest coat that had been slapped on top recently to cover it that made this project a sticky, messy nightmare. And all those straight lines? Hmm, yes, well, except for the grooves on the trim. The MANY grooves on the trim. Not fun. And then there’s the drawer fronts. Yep, they’re flat alright, flat…but textured. With this odd layer of some kind of raffia or thatched laminate stuff. Stripping wasn’t even an option for those parts.
So to say the prep was difficult, is an understatement. This wee gem took days of paint stripping, and for moments, a little piece of my soul. Then, those grooves…well, I tried everything from scrapers to wire brushes to steel wool to skewers. I finally got there, but in hindsight, sandblasting would have been the more effective option. Note to self.
Next up, sanding. This part was the easiest of all. My snazzy Black & Decker orbital sander whizzed through and made the surface silky smooth in a jiffy. Things were looking up, because the last step in front of me, staining, is the easiest thing ever, right? I tried Minwax stain in Special Walnut, it’s a favorite of mine. And do you think this wood would take the stain? Oh puhlease, no way. Admittedly, there were two types of wood in this cabinet, and in my enthusiasm I didn’t consider the impact this may have on the staining process….which was evidently huge. So the stain on top looked great, on the sides looked OK, and on the front, looked awful. It was a patchy, streaky mess, no matter what I tried.
It was at this point I went back to the trusty internet and this is where Gel Stain SAVED THE DAY. Gel stain, unlike traditional stain, is more like a paint. So it doesn’t soak into the wood, it sits on the surface. It’s a similar process, wipe on, wipe off, but the result was perfection. I used Minwax Gel stain in Hickory, and it was a rich, gorgeous tone that still let the wood grain shine through. Most importantly, it was even, smooth and consistent. Not a streak in sight. This stuff is GLORIOUS.
The last step was the drawer fronts which, as mentioned earlier, were this weird textured stuff which I actually kinda liked the look of, but wasn’t able to strip or stain (or remove completely without having to replace the entire face of the drawers. More effort than I was willing to put in at this point). So I painted. I had some amazing aqua blue “Island Oasis” paint left over from a table makeover, so I used that. A couple of chrome drawer knobs later, and a coat of Minwax polyurethane to seal the whole thing, and the cabinet looks stunning.
Worth the labor intensive process (I can say that now it’s over and I’m not knee deep in paint stripper and desperation)
My love of all things Mid Century left me with little choice but to get sucked into the vortex that was Mad Men (binge watching TV series on Netflix is a favorite past time round these parts) And as sad as I am to see it finish, its impact on modern design trends is undeniable. Even Target has come out with a range of Vintage Modern homewares and furnishings. Which is lovely, but to me, nothing beats an original piece. A sumptuous lava drip glazed lamp from the 50’s, a walnut end table from the 60’s…these things sing to me in a way that a replica can’t.
Of course much of the time spent watching each episode of Mad Men was spent coveting the gorgeous furnishings and backdrops. From divine credenzas to burnt orange sofas to atomic ashtrays and bronze crane statuettes, it was Mid Century perfection. Oh to be a set designer on Mad Men!
I seem to do this a lot. Another perfect example recently was Hitchcock’s 1958 movie “Vertigo”. Yes, the movie is visually stunning and the story captivates, but it was the little details that grabbed my attention. The coffee percolator in James Stewart’s apartment, the cocktail glasses in the restaurant, a pin on Kim Novak’s coat. All eye candy for the accessory obsessed. It’s not lost on me that a good portion of the movie was spent trying to determine the manufacturer of the white chair in Midge’s apartment – was it Woodard or was it Knoll – rather than following the storyline. It’s a bad case of mid-mod design ADD.
But…surely I can’t be the only one? What movies have hit you in the design bone? What movie or TV set would you love to ransack? Or replicate? We’d love to know!
Every now and again we come across a piece that makes us swoon. This lamp did just that. With its textured base, featuring gorgeous orange and gold diamond shaped detailing, and stunning walnut neck, this mid-century beauty is absolutely fantastic.
We have several fabulous lamps hitting our store in the coming weeks, be sure to stay tuned.