Updated: Apr 26
Note: My use of the word ‘old’ is referring to furniture that is either vintage (older than twenty years) or antique (older than 100 years) and not referring to the idea that it’s neither of those, but something you’ve grown tired of. I suppose, however, that the same questions could be asked if it is the latter. ;)
You like a more modern aesthetic, but you have your grandma’s hutch and your great aunt’s desk. The pieces sounded like a marvelous idea when your mom suggested you take them home, but now that they’re there…meh, not so much. They don’t quite fit with your style and you don’t want to get rid of them, but now what? Does this sound familiar?
You have a little bit of this, a little bit of that, can’t quite identify the style you’re going for and then Mom pulls up one day, trailer in tow, with an armoire that just has to stay in the family. She has no room for it at her house and she remembered you saying you needed extra storage in your bedroom, so this piece should work just fine. You don’t necessarily like the piece, but it ‘needs to stay in the family.’ Does this sound familiar?
You love the thrill of the hunt and enjoy perusing estate sales, flea markets, thrift stores and have managed over the years to find some amazing pieces that are made of real wood and have a style and quality that you just can’t find now-a-days. The pieces are cohabitating with your other furnishings, but the overall look feels scattered and not put together. Does this sound familiar?
Each scenario is different, but they all ask the same fundamental question…is mixing old and new possible? The answer is yes, but it takes a bit of work to mix the two. Before I give the nuances for why that’s possible, let’s back up a bit and ask yourself a couple other questions.
Do you LOVE the piece? If the answer is yes, then the work will be worth it. If the answer is no, there will be other people who will love the piece and it’s better to part with it now so it can find its forever home.
Do you TOLERATE the piece? It’s ‘meh’ and perpetually stuck in that space between you think you could love it, but you just don’t know how. This is a great place to start. There’s a possibility that this piece is going to be the star of the whole room if you let it.
Do you ABHOR the piece? It’s an eyesore and no matter what you do to it your feelings will never change. You’re only keeping it because there’s a small sentimental attachment to it, but it’s strongly tethered to the warning you received when you got it in the first place…’it needs to stay in the family.’ This one’s tricky, but I’m a strong believer that gift giving with strings attached isn’t gift giving at all and if you need permission to say good-bye to the piece so you can move on with your life, I’m giving you that permission. Someone else is going to love that piece in a way that you couldn’t. Pinky promise.
Whew…now that we have that settled, let’s move on. More questions.
When you’re determining if an old piece is a good fit for your home and compatible with your style sometimes you need to asses if you like it in its current state or if it needs to be altered. Here’s my litmus test for deciding if a piece should stay as is or be re-worked (ie painted or re-stained). More questions.
Does the piece look like it’s in its original condition - like Grandma spent every Saturday morning for the past fifty years polishing it? This is an excellent candidate for keeping the piece as is! Don’t touch it. No painting. No sanding. No re-staining. These pieces, in their original pristine condition, can look stunning in a home with more modern furnishings (more details in Part 2).
Does the piece have a sturdy frame, but more scratches and water marks than you can count on two hands? Not only that, but man is it stinky. This is a great candidate for painting or re-staining. Sometimes you can work out a water stain, minimize the appearance of scratches and even remove the stink. Try the following tricks if you think the original wood is a keeper. If these fixes don’t work, then re-paint or re-stain.
If the scratches are minimal and not too deep, try using a walnut to restore its original wood coloring. Yes, you read that correctly. A walnut. Use a whole shelled walnut and rub it along the length of the scratch. The oils from the walnut won’t fill the scratch, but it should restore the wood to its natural color making the scratch less apparent.
I don’t entirely understand the science behind this, but…get out an iron and an old white t-shirt. It’s important to use a t-shirt rather than an old sock or Terry cloth rag because you don’t want the fibers from those materials transferring to your furniture piece. Fold the t-shirt so there’s a double layer then place it on top of the water stain. Turn the iron on low. Once it’s ready, gently iron on top of the t-shirt. The heat should remove the water stain from your furniture piece.
Having a lovely piece of furniture with a nasty smell can be a non-starter. Try kitty litter. Fill an old dish pan or a cardboard box with kitty litter and place it inside the furniture. Be patient. Removing the stink this way can take several days to a week.
You’ve done the hard part…you’ve asked all the questions. If you don’t have the answers, ask them of yourself again and again. Once you have the answers you’re ready to read Part 2. This is where we dive into how two worlds can cohabitate in the same space as beautifully, and sometimes as ironically, as in the theory of opposites attract.