Home

Can it be salvaged? Identifying if a piece is beyond help

Have you ever passed up on a neglected piece of furniture because you weren’t sure you could save it? A lot can be said for refinished furniture: it adds a touch of uniqueness to your home and you also prevent that piece from potentially ending up in a landfill. A mixture of old and new furniture always makes a home more interesting, so the next time you see a chair on the side of the road or find an old dresser at a thrift store keep these things in mind if you’re thinking of salvaging that piece:

Things can always be reupholstered

One time I found a pair of mid-century chairs on the side of the road in New York City. The garbage truck was two blocks away heading straight towards them and I was standing in the middle, about to witness the sad demise of two beautiful diamonds in the rough. Even though I didn’t live in the city and wasn’t sure how I’d ever get them home I knew I had to save them. The old leather was cracked and ugly and they smelled terribly, but they had beautiful lines and were solidly built so I knew that they could be salvaged. Long story short, my husband and I carried them 20 blocks back to our hotel on top of our heads and kept them in our hotel room until I rented a car and drove them back to our home in Maryland. The smell was so bad that I had to buy plastic wrap and completely wrap them up in order to contain the stench. My husband thought I was crazy, but I knew they had promise! If the fabric stinks, you’ll almost always need to replace it rather than just clean it. More often than not, the smell has also seeped into the padding of the furniture so that will need to be replaced as well. Professional upholstery is expensive for things like wingback chairs and sofas (and you’ll want a professional to handle these types of pieces), so if your budget is small then it may be best to pass up on that stinky piece with good bones. If the item you found has a slip seat (like dining chairs) or is something simple like a bench, you can easily reupholster it yourself with some new padding, batting, fabric, and a staple gun. There’s a learning curve when you first start this kind of DIY project but it’s easy to get the hang of.

Check for craftsmanship

Inspect furniture for dovetail joints or manufacturer marks. Dovetailing will tell you that the piece was well-built. Irregular dovetailing can be a sign of a true handmade antique, and perfect, symmetrical dovetailing often means the piece was made by machines. Not a bad thing, it just means it’s not an antique. If furniture is held together with cheap dowels and screws it probably isn’t worth saving if it’s in bad shape. Manufacturer marks are great because they allow you to do a little research on the piece. These can often be found on the inside of drawers or on the bottom of the piece.

Don’t let little issues deter you

Sometimes an item may just be missing screws or footpads, so if something is a little wobbly or if a drawer isn’t seated properly make sure to thoroughly inspect the piece to see find out what the issue is. In the case of wonky-looking drawers, sometimes they’ve simply been placed in the wrong order. Pull them all out and check the backs for labeling to see what order they should be in. They aren’t always labeled but they often are. Missing hardware isn’t a big deal because you can always replace it with something new. In fact, this is actually a great way to bring a piece into the current decade. If drawers are squeaky you can fix this with WD-40.

Inspect the wood

In most cases, furniture made with solid wood is better than furniture made with particle board or wood veneer. Wood that isn’t solid may be more difficult to salvage or paint over, so be sure to inspect the piece to figure out what you’re dealing with. In most cases, particle board furniture is synonymous with cheap furniture and isn’t worth saving, especially if it’s damaged. As for solid wood, sometimes all you need is a little finishing wax to bring it back to life.

Chipped or ugly paint is no big deal

If a piece is solid but ugly just give it a makeover. Sand the piece well and then paint it a color you like. A fresh coat of paint can work wonders!

Smell the drawers

This may sound odd, but if the piece has drawers give them a good sniff. Sometimes smells are really difficult to remove from wood, so if the drawers are really stinky then you may want to pass on the piece. If the odor isn’t too bad you can always line the drawers with paper and use cedar or charcoal to help absorb the smell.

Salvaging a piece of furniture requires a good bit of work and lots of imagination, but if you’re up for the challenge you’ll be rewarded with a one-of-a-kind piece and a pretty incredible sense of accomplishment.