Restoring a Duncan Phyfe-Style Writing DeskComments (0)
When a refurbishing project crosses my path, I listen to what the client’s requests are. After taking inspection of the project, there comes to mind a host of questions before ever working on the item. Repairing the item based on sight or conversing with obvious questions to the owner is just the beginning of providing a solution. There are additional concerns that will help the project restoration. Understanding the connection of the piece to the client, such as what the item means to them; what the environment will be in its placement and surroundings; and attaining a clearer perception of the history, as well as the heritage of the piece; can also be important.
This desk was passed down from a deceased family member and
sat in a basement until it was needed for a work from home time period. The
initial idea was to clean it up and decide to either paint it with a flare of
current upcycling style, or restore the natural look of the wood, as the client
was not yet sure as to where the desk would be used. I offered to look into its
value first, based on its history, before making a final decision.
Determining the difference between antique furniture and reproductions comes down to wood, upholstery, construction, joinery, odor and branding. True antiques are typically branded, whereas reproductions are not, due to assembly type production as opposed to being individually handcrafted.
Reproductions may be
constructed of a
single type of wood,
whereas antiques were often
constructed using multiple types of wood
due to scarcity and expense. Reproductions tend to have consistent signs
of wear, while authentic antiques will have varying degrees of
wear due to years of use. However, this unit was mostly surface worn from sitting
in a damp environment.
After cleaning it up along with some initial sanding, I found the desk had no markings, stampings, or brandings. The construction consisted of Mahogany and mixed wood species. The drawers had dovetail construction, and the entire assembly, although very dry, seemed to be sturdy and quite solid. Two of the console-styled legs were loose with single heavy bolt attachments.
The desktop had three framed insets
from previous leather upholstery material, which were no longer present, and a
small corner surface area was warped, seemingly raised from dampness or water.
Nothing that a bit of sanding time wouldn’t take care of.
As I restored the desk, I did some due diligence by comparing
photos online to my project. It was difficult to place the creator and design
style initially. I finally came across a very close style
resemblance to the 18th century furniture maker, Duncan Phyfe. My project did not have
any vintage style carvings along the edges typical to antique history designs. Additionally,
notice the lip design below under the first drawers, as well as the drawer’s
curvature, and the console legs on both the vintage Duncan Phyfe (L) and the
Phyfe-style design, (R). Comparatively, the maple leaf drawer pulls were pretty close in
design. You might ask, what’s the
difference between vintage Phyfe and Phyfe-style furniture? When it comes to
monetary value, the difference is based upon what someone paid for an antique,
vintage, or reproduction piece. Be sure to investigate before shelling out more
than you may need to.
The sanding was made easier
with the use of a Festool Rotex RO 90 Multi-Purpose Sander by switching between
the round and triangular pads. I went thru 120-400 grits during the sanding
process. Edges and detailed areas were sanded by hand. The trim and console
legs were the toughest areas to remove the old finish and top coat. There
seemed to also be a lot of polish residue, leaving surfaces with a caked on
appearance. Now onto a pre-stain conditioner.
At this point, the desk owner had a choice: a finished
aesthetic of different wood shades due to original construction using several
woods or a more even color achieved by using a General Finishes Pre-Stain first to help blend
her choice of stain application. The lightest area to consider blending was the
inset desktop and the two drop lip drawer areas.
I applied four topcoats of General Finishes Arm-R-Seal Semi-Gloss and sanded with Norton P1500-P1200 Micro Fine Grit Sanding Sponges in between coats, to build the finish.
Taking the desk outside, I applied two additional final
coats. Let us spray….
The old maple leaf-shaped drawer pulls were replaced with
new pulls. The existing drawer pull screw holes were a larger diameter than the
new pull screws, which would have too much gap for the handle to possibly
loosen and shift over time through use. I filled all of the previous screw
holes with wood dowels followed by gluing and re-drilling for the new handles
with smaller diameter screws. The desk drawers consisted of three flat exterior
drawers and five curved surface drawers. The bottom right drawer extrinsically looked
like two separate drawers, but was actually one deep drawer with two handle
pulls. Finding drawer pulls that had curved posts to match the curved drawer exterior
profile was difficult. The solution I used, was to grind the flat pull post
backs to match the curved drawer surface. I drilled countersink holes to the
interior drawer backs, so that the screw heads would lay flat to the surface.
Each drawer was internally sanded, pre-stain conditioned,
stained and given a topcoat. One of the bottom drawer compartments needed new
drawer stops. I made my own by taking two L-shaped brass brackets and ground
them down just below the compartment glide height for the drawer to slide over,
and stop in the correct position to match the other drawer closures.
Additionally, to make all of the drawers slide much easier, I applied a clear
wax Carnauba bar over the glide areas on both the compartments and the drawer
Let’s take a glance back in time before the refurb and
compare! I love it when a plan comes together!
adhesive bumper pads were added for a custom glass top for the final touch, and
I delivered the desk to the owner.
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