A Two-Fold Restoration Ensues

by admin | August 16, 2012 3:52 pm

The convent table is a bit battered and dirty. Dirt daubers have built homes beneath a few of the table’s leaves. A few pieces of the intricately carved cross-pieced legs have chunks missing. Several more are loose. For more than a decade, the convent table has sat unused in the carport’s storeroom behind my father in-law’s house. It begs for a twofold restoration. It deserves to be brought back to its former grandeur because it once was a handsome table, which with all its leaves likely could seat 16. And the convent table deserves to be inside a home, gracing a dining room, its surface laden with plates of food and glasses of drink, surrounded by friends and family gathered on holidays — or enjoying each other’s company just because.

The convent table last performed yeoman’s duty as the desk upon which my Beautiful Mystery Companion wrote her doctoral dissertation a dozen or so years ago, long before we met. After that, it sat unused, resting after uncounted moves — so many that her younger brother, upon helping put it together that last time in the storage room in Gilmer that served as her dissertation office, warned her that it might not survive another move without serious restoration — its joints reglued, new screws, considerable TLC.

My BMC and her companion at the time (alas, at our age we all have a past) bought the table from a Catholic convent in Austin 30 years ago at the near-steal price of $100. Hence the name. The table is likely built out of black walnut, though right now it is so dark with stain and grunge that it is impossible to tell. I am guessing here, but judging from the workmanship — pieces pegged together, curved, hand-carved joinery, rounded legs seated on wooden wheels — the table is probably from the late 19th century and likely was built in Europe. It is pretty fancy for American furniture.

The convent table was designed to be taken apart. I was worried when I saw the narrow space we would have to negotiate getting it out in 100-degree heat if it didn’t come part. Luckily it was designed cleverly to break down into several pieces that made it easy to get out of that tight space. My BMC’s brother was right, though. The table wouldn’t survive many more moves without restoration.

Summer decided to sleep late on a mid-August morning the other day, so after walking I pulled the tarp off the trailer, set up sawhorses in the driveway and pulled out one of the convent table leg pieces. The table is constructed with two legs on each end connected with a curved piece at the bottom. The table’s top rests on a three-piece pedestal at the top of each leg. Intricate, hand-carved designs cover every surface, though the table’s top is quite plain. Some benighted and possibly color-blind soul stained the table’s top a garish cherry color that clashes with the rest of the table. I am going to go through a few gallons of Formby’s Furniture Refinisher on this project, a few dozen packages of steel wool, untold piles of rags, several toothbrushes, and many, many hours spent in the driveway.

After a couple hours, summer rolled out of bed. The temperatures made stripping furniture outside unpleasant. Stripping furniture is an unpleasant task under cool climes, with a heady smell that requires it be done outdoors, wearing thick rubber gloves and taking care not to get the solvent on one’s skin. Unlike building furniture, I can’t say I enjoy the process as much as I do the result. It is smelly, tedious work.

But it is worth it. It has been in the past. A china cabinet, sans glass, stood neglected for years in my parent’s storage building. It had belonged to my grandfather. Decades of grime obscured a delicate wooden inlay, and now the cabinet serves as a bookcase. An old combination recliner/trundle bed serves as the guest chair in the study. I am grateful not to have been forced to actually sleep in the bed, which was designed for a person smaller than me, more willing to endure hard surfaces. But with its barley twist legs, that chair is a fine piece. My BMC has similar pieces she has carried around for years, restored to former grandeur.

My hope is that the convent table by Thanksgiving proudly holds a platter of bronzed turkey, plates of vegetables and salads, and is surrounded by chairs filled with family and friends. If not Thanksgiving, then Christmas. OK, maybe New Year’s. Maybe even the Super Bowl if the weather doesn’t cooperate.

I have learned not to rush such matters, to avoid hard deadlines. Easy does it, after all.

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