Tuesday, December 11, 2007


I am refinishing an old oak table, that belonged to my mother-in-law. We will use it as our diningroom table in the new house. In the past I would have stripped the old finish, but I opted to take it to someone to strip it for me. The old finish was light and had turned very, very yellow. I want it a little darker.

Here are the base and a leaf. I am rather proud of the leaf, which I just built myself. The table was made to accept leaves, but they had long since disappeared. The guy who stripped the table (he answers the phone, "this is Tim, the male stripper") said the table is more than a hundred years old and had a customs mark on the bottom. Unfortunately Bertha acquired it from a secondhand store with no story about its past.

The top will probably get another coat, but I am nearly finished.

When I was young and furnishing my first house I decided I really liked old oak furniture. It was just becoming collectible at the time. It was the furniture of my grandparents' and great grandparents' generation. My mother grew up in a house full of it and considered it "ugly old stuff." Nevertheless, when my great grandmother died and her house was emptied Mom brought this old washstand back from Colorado for me. She knew I would love it.

Mom kept, for herself, her grandmother's china cupboard, which was entirely out of place among my parents' modern Scandinavian furniture, but was very sentimental to her. It came to me when my mother died.

The colored photo, by the way, is my parents. The oval portrait hanging above the cupboard is my greatgrandmother, the original owner. I have several other oak pieces I have acquired through the years, but these are my favorites.

I bought this little book in 1975. It is filled with photos of vintage oak furniture. I still enjoy looking at it.

The back section of the book are pages reproduced from a 1902 Sears catalog—the source of much of that style of furniture.

It shows the original prices and the approximate values of each piece in 1975 when the book was published. In 1902 a table, similar to mine, sold for $12.45. In 1975 they valued it at between $125 and $275. I have no idea what it would be worth now. This kind of old oak has kind of gone out of favor again, I think. The hot collectible stuff now is the mid-century Scandinavian furniture of my parents' generation. Funny. To me it's ugly old stuff.


  1. Wow you HAVE been a busy lady! Looks like you are really transforming that place, it is good to have before and after photos to remind you how much you accomplished! I also love old oak, and even though dark mahogany clean lined modern stuff is the latest flavour of the month here, I wouldn't want to part with the old pieces i have lovingly restored over the years.

  2. I have to tell you that the bed on the cover of your oak furniture book is just like the one that we have in our master bedroom. It belonged to my husband's great grandmother. How interesting to see your little book!

  3. Oh ! I loved this post. What beautiful pieces you have. I love oak furniture too ! It's so warm and rich and - well - comfortable !

  4. My mother is an oak lover. I think that it represents (among other things) financial stability for her. When I was growing up (a looong time ago!), my parents rarely could afford anything new but one thing I do remember learning was "Buy the absolute best quality that you can afford and always pay cash." I guess that translated to oak pieces.

    As for me, I think it's ugly old stuff :-) I hope my mom lives forever.

  5. I am with you. I love my oak pieces that I have inherited. I love the look of natural wood. Could this be a textural thing we quilter's have? My mom also disliked the old and went for Danish -ugh.

  6. Isn't it funny how "ugly" pieces become the next generation's treasures? I'm glad you have your family pieces. There's a good feeling having that history I bet. My late uncle rescued "ugly" furniture from alleyways in Pasadena in the 1960s - it's mission oak furniture.

  7. I am so impressed that you have made your own table leaves! My maternal grandmother had a similar china cabinet when I was growing up. I loved it. Somehow I managed to keep most of her lovely china, but the cabinet went to the junkman (thanks to my mother, God Bless Her!) when my grandmother came to live with my parents.

  8. Terry, is there anything that you can't do? Once again, so impressed with your virtuosity.

    The furniture is elegant and how lovely that you have these treasures from your past.

    The house seems to be coming along nicely - next year, no dust and chaos - just your little granddaughter opening presents under a tree! Much success.

    Love her red hat (catching up on your posts)!