I’ve been taking time out from writing my latest historical mystery suspense to engage in a little house restoration. One of the joys and tribulations of living in an old house is what might turn up expectedly during renovation.
For the last week I’ve been engrossed in getting some work done in my study – not writing this time, but stripping (although the new book is coming on apace, I’m delighted to say). I’ve been working on the Arts and Crafts window seat which crosses the entire width of the windows and was stained such a dark colour that it sucked all the light out of the room.
It wasn’t an easy decision. I’ve seen too many over-restored houses to let that happen to this one. Too often woodwork that was supposed to have been painted from the start is stripped back to a naked surface and limed or left parched and bare. I agonised over what to do for the best and the question I asked myself was: is this an original finish to the Douglas fir and oak bench, or a later addition? A test strip painted a pale, neutral colour looked terrible, leaving me no other option than to take the plunge and remove layers of sludgy ‘mahogany’ varnish.
The varnish turned out to be a modern polyurethane finish. Removing the varnish allowed not only the warmth of the wood to glow through, but also the strong grain – giving texture and depth. It also revealed that two oak panels had been replaced with…vinyl laminate flooring. Delightful. It worked, I suppose, when covered with gooy varnish, but stripped back looked exactly as it was – plastic. Carefully removing the laminate revealed the badly wormed oak panels. My helpful decorator supplied some oak sheet he had tucked away in his garage and that will be my next task – to cut two panels from it to replace the placky stuff. Then I’ll stain the fresh oak to match the 1900 wood, and use a beeswax and turpentine mix to unify the colours, feed the wood and give it some protection.
Even with this much done, the room feels lighter and more inviting and closer to the original finish desired by Edward Toronto Sturdy when he first commissioned the building. I’ll post some more photos when the job’s completed.