Painting a tired old table —no regrets!

Before: Nothing like bright daylight to show off one’s true age. It’s time to take this table to the paint spa.
After: Paint covers all the battle wounds that were distracting us from admiring this table’s lovely features. Our grapevine is sexy and elegant again in her new black (well grey) dress.

In our living room, between two wingback chairs, sits a lovely occasional table. We call it the grapevine—named I suppose for the rope or vine detail that wraps around the base’s top perimeter. It is one of those pieces of furniture you inherit in a hodgepodge of stuff family and friends are more than happy to dump on you—er—I mean give you when you first start out to help furnish your first apartment.

An “up close and personal” look at the curly cue details that we love so much.

The professor and I were student newlyweds at the time and we would pretty much take anything that was sent our way. Lets be honest, it was either that or sit on the floor. Needless to say this table was the cream of the crop. It had an antique vibe that suited our sensibilities. The lines of it were curved and delicate. Most importantly the table added a level of sophistication to any space we lived in earning us no small amount of admiration and respect among our student friends.

I began the process by cleaning the table thoroughly with warm sudsy water —just a drop of dish soap and a small handful of baking soda will do.
The table top was badly abused before it came to us. In an attempt to raise the grain on the deep gouge I spot steamed the area using a regular iron and a damp cloth. It was not enough to fix this problem so I used wood filler in the end.

Beautiful as the table was to us, it did show some battle wounds from the start. The top presented a deep gouge and some obvious grease marks. It had been covered with a mahogany wood stain, but remained unvarnished. I had every intention of refurbishing it from the beginning. I was determined to restore it to its original beauty.


Over time the table had become quite wobbly. Taking it apart and applying new glue is the best solution. Taking out the screws is a great job for a buddy DIYer.

For more than 22 years of marriage the table sat waiting for me to give it the promised TLC. My solution in the interim was to cover its flaws with a strategically placed lamp, books, and nicknacks. In the 90s I was able to hide the top under a couple of my grandmother’s doilies. By 2000 I realized that look wasn’t going to cut it anymore.

Before gluing these legs back together I scraped as much of the old crystallized off that I could. This ensures the new application of glue will penetrate into the wood creating a stronger bond.

I have painted the table a dozen times over in my head—a whole array of accent colours—but never for real. I’m sure that part of me was afraid painting an “antique” was a sin. Finally I said enough! I settled on black with the thought that every room needs a bit of black and It would provide some balance for the grand piano, which now dominates the current space it sits in. Let me tell you I got nothing but support from the family: “Black? Why are we painting it black? I hate black … You’re not painting that? Don’t do it mom! I liked it the way it is!”  

Oh, we are such a sentimental troop!

Twenty minutes under the clamp is also essential to a good bond. Be sure to protect delicate wood surfaces from harsh end of the metal clamps.

However, once the decision was made I stuck to my guns and saw it through. I do not have one regret. In the end I could see that it was the table’s shape, rather than it’s finish that was its most beautiful attribute.

In preparation for painting I first took the table down to its basic components. Over time the glue had become brittle giving the table quite the wobble. As I scraped the old glue off I discovered several flaws the table was hiding. The wood wasn’t really that fine after all: the top and base were different species, the legs had some large knots here and there, and one of them had been fractured requiring and emergency repair. These were all flaws I hadn’t noticed simply because I liked the table so much and was content to let be (Hmmm, I feel like there is an analogy hidden here somewhere … about human interactions maybe).

After the first coat of paint with the paint sprayer.

Anyhow, not a problem. With a can of paint, some elbow grease and a little love the flaws are once again hidden. Our grapevine sits clean, fresh and pretty back between the Wingback chairs. I love it, but more than anything I love the idea that when someone asks me about our beautiful occasional table I can tell them I got it the day the professor and I got married—flaws and all!

The humidity was so high this weekend that I brought the table into the air conditioned room to cure properly.



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