17 September 2010

Taking care of old things

Not ancient, but old. As old as I am, some of them. Or nearly. I have quite a few such old things. They include furniture that my father built for me or my family back in the early to middle 1950s.

This shuffleboard table my father built for me when I was a boy,
now newly varnished, will make a good plant stand upstairs.
I also varnished this little table we found here in the house
when we moved to Saint-Aignan.

End tables. Shadow boxes. A little shuffleboard table my father built for me when I was 4 or 5 years old. A piece of furniture that was my aquarium stand when I was a teenager and kept a saltwater aquarium in my bedroom.

My father built this end table (and another identical one,
of course, not pictured) back in the 1950s. And my
parents gave me the lighthouse lamp when I was
a little boy. I varnished the tables
but not the lamp!

Also some pieces of old furniture that Walt and I bought when we lived in Washington DC back between 1982 and 1986. A big old chest of drawers with a round mirror. A nice old buffet for the dining room. A 100-year-old wooden trunk that we keep full of maps of all kinds. An old double bed that my mother gave Walt as a present back then after buying it at an estate sale.

Not to mention some pieces of furniture that were new back then but have become old with the passage of time. Another chest of drawers. A platform bed and a set of little tile-topped tables. A couple of office chairs built by the Bolling Chair Company in North Carolina — I went to college with Bolling's son in the 1960s. Finding Bolling chairs in a second-hand store when I lived in San Francisco in the late 1980s was a surprise.

Here's something I couldn't varnish. It's one of those big old
water fountain bottles. We filled it up with corks back in
the 1980s. It got moved to France by accident in 2003.

And now the old shipping crates that I found in the attic of our house here in Saint-Aignan in 2003. I don't know how old they are. At first I thought I would just use them as storage boxes in the garage.

Old shipping crates, now cleaned up and varnished, will make
nice little tables upstairs.

But then I realized that I had a couple of gallons of varnish left over from finishing the floor and stairs in our new space. I took the old crates out on a sunny day and washed them down with the garden hose and a stiff brush. They dried in the sun. Now I've varnished them. The man who lived here back in the 1970s and '80s spent time in French Guyana, and shipped some of his belongings back to France in these crates when he returned to Saint-Aignan.

A shadow box that my father built when he was a very young man.
Walt's been keeping his collection of miniature
Eiffel Towers on it for a few years.

I'm varnishing everything. As Walt said, don't stand or sit still too long around here — you'll get varnished. It's kind of satisfying to spend time making these old wooden things look clean and cared-for.


  1. I have never been too fond of the completely co-ordinated, "Ideal Home" approach to furnishing the house, where everything is bought a the same time and matches perfectly. A house full of cherished pieces acquired over the years, each with its own history, is so much more interesting.

  2. Jean, I agree completely :))

    Ken, I remember when you showed us those old crates a few months ago. They will look great up there, as do all of these other interesting and nice-looking things!


  3. maybe i need to be varnished

  4. I'm glad your relationship with Walt is not only varnished but also cemented into place. While the both of you do each your own thing.

  5. You are putting the leftover varnish to good use, Ken.

    Your Dad was a talented guy! Did you play shuffleboard on that little table? I like it a lot and I also like the clever end table.

  6. Hiya, Your new room looks great and boxes are really nice, the vintage look has a warm feel, its also special to save the pieces from your Dad, I am in paint mode at the moment, tables chairs anything really, We are over in Palluau next week, I hope the weather is kind, tonight we may get frost in Lancashire.

  7. I'm taking care of myself. But I don't use varnish! LOL

  8. I'm with Jean.

    Are you using, literally, varnish, or are you using polyurethane?

  9. Your blog caught my eye a while back and I just love reading it as often as I can. Saving small items from your childhood is what I've done as well. Maybe I'll get out an old endtable from my grandfather and figure out a place to use it. Thanks for the idea.

    I love the old crates. I collect wine corks too; I've made trivets for gifts out of many (they are lightweight and inexpensive to post to friends in far-off places!)

  10. Hi Chris, the product I'm calling varnish is called vitrificateur in French. It's water-based. I assume that it is the same as polyurethane. It's a pleasure to work with: no odor, fast-drying, clean-up with water.

    CHM, you obviously didn't sit still long enough when you were here a few weeks ago! Otherwise, you'd be plasticized today.

    Mary and everybody, thanks for the comments. If you have anything that needs a good coat of vitrificateur on it, just send it along.


What's on your mind? Qu'avez-vous à me dire ?