Furniture Tips: Oops!

Just like the rest of life, it’s usually better to prevent a bad thing from happening than it is to fix it afterwards. You made a significant investment in your wood furniture, to keep it beautiful for longer:

• Maintain even humidity in your home since the rise and fall of moisture in the air can lead to the splitting and cracking of the wood.

• Use a pad under your writing paper to avoid bleed through marking or the scratches caused by a pen.

• Keep your furniture out of direct sunlight. Direct sunlight can fade a finish.

• Toss those rubber-based plastic placemats. The materials in them can discolor furniture.

• Never clean your furniture with glass cleaner. The ammonia base can discolor and dull a finish.

• Use trivets and hot pads. Hot kettles, pots, etc. will damage the finish on furniture.

• Be picky about your coasters. Metal coasters can sweat moisture underneath them and plastic ones can cause a chemical interaction with the finish, marring it. Those with a cork or felt underside are best.

• Wipe up spills immediately. Water marks can cloud a finish.

• Avoid silicone-based furniture polishes. They can bleed into a finish over time. To tell if it’s silicone-based, run your finger over the piece after you’ve polished it. If you can see the line, there’s silicone.

Despite the best of care, accidents happen. When something happens to your wood furniture, you’ve got 2 choices.fix it or hide it. Refinishing is best but it takes a lot of time and some skill, so here’s a bunch of sneaky little tips for hiding what’s wrong.

Water Marks and Rings: Often, rings are in the wax, not the finish. Cover the stain with a clean, thick blotter, press down with a warm iron, and repeat. Or rub with salad oil, mayonnaise or white toothpaste. Wipe dry and wax or polish. Why toothpaste? It has just a little grit in it so it works like a very, very, very fine sanding.

White Marks: Rub with a cloth dipped in a mixture of cigarette ashes and lemon juice or salad oil. Or rub with a cloth dipped in lighter fluid, followed by a mixture of rottenstone and salad oil. Wipe dry and wax or polish.

Milk or Alcohol: Use your fingers to rub liquid or paste wax into the stain. Or rub in a paste of boiled linseed oil and rottenstone with the grain, substituting pumice for dull finishes. Or rub with ammonia on a dampened cloth. Wipe dry and wax or polish.

Dark Wood or Stain: Fill scratches with shoe polish that matches the lightest shade of the finish, or rub with walnut or Brazil nut meat in the direction of the scratch. A child’s crayon or felt-tipped marker can also be used.

Cherry: Fill the scratches with cordovan or reddish shoe polish that matches the wood, or apply darkened iodine with a cotton swab or thin artist’s brush.

Light Wood or Stain: Fill scratches with a tan or natural shoe polish, or apply darkened iodine diluted 50 percent with denatured alcohol. There’re several commercial products on the market. My favorite is Howard’s Restor-A-Finish which comes in several different colors (golden oak, cherry, mahogany, etc.). It’s basically a wipe-on, wipe-off refinisher. Although I rarely use them, some folks really like the marking pens made to cover scratches. And they come in a variety ofcolors.

Unless the piece of furniture has a really uniform finish that hides the grain of the wood, like a highly lacquered piano or a coat of paint, you can use the variation in the wood grain to your advantage. Imperfections in color or variation in the grain will mostly go unnoticed. It’s the variation in the shine that will be most noticeable. The good news is that this can usually be fixed by applyinga good uniform polish over whatever fixes you’ve made.

If you have questions about any of these articles, or suggestions for future columns, you can always drop me a line at ken@olyfurnitureworks.com.

Change in the weather

How quickly we’ve morphed from Spring to Summer.  It seems like yesterday I was wearing sweaters and now I’m sweating.  A change in the weather alters the affairs of daily life, so it makes sense to alter your home to match. Subtle changes in décor can turn a living room or bed room into a space that’s comfortable for different seasons.  This isn’t about doing costly makeovers, but  keeping the major furnishings and swapping in some versatile, seasonal accessories. You’ll find that your rooms are more appealing.  Putting items away for half the year they look new when you bring them out again.

The idea that household embellishments should reflect the time of year is an old one.  In eighteenth century France, wealthy people owned sets of curtains and coverings that were switched with the season.   These transformations don’t have to be the stuff of royalty, of course.  In fact, they can be as commonplace as it is to slip on a cardigan in winter or a linen shirt in summer.  Throws and curtains in lush textures, for instance, offer warmth when the ground is outside is covered in snow and set a formal tone that is approiate for holiday celebrations.  Fabrics in bold patterns are in keeping with the more casual lifestyle of spring and summer.  In short, your decorating should be rooted in practicality.

Summer is the time for dressing casually and mixing things up in the fun way.  Think seersucker, batiks and sheers and brighter colors such as shell white, ocean blue and green grass.  Winter is layered in quiet and ice, layer the indoors in textures and heavy fabrics.  Velvet, wool and silk are not only warm they’re dressy.  Richer colors like forest greens, midnight blues and silvers are a perfect compliment.

When the cold weather arrives, have a collection of cozy, fluffy throws to place on your furniture for snuggling. Remove them or replace with soft cotton or silk throws for warmer months.  Remove the toasty down-filled duvet from your bed in the spring and substitute a light cotton matalasse bed cover or a simple cotton blanket.  Floral arrangements of pine and holiday colors can be changed for light, colorful ones for the spring and summer. Put away dark brass or pottery containers and bring out clear glass or crystal vases. Change dark-patterned decorative pillows by covering them with fresh, floral prints or plaids for warmer weather. Either change out the pillows with a second set or alternate the decorative covers.

If you have a collection of plates on display, put classic holiday designs away for the winter and replace with pretty floral china from grandma.  Have your draperies made so they are reversible allowing you to easily turn them from lively to neutral with the seasonal changes.  A plain ivory on one side can be a neutral option while a more colorful stripe on the reverse offers a fresh look for another season. Be sure to put garden magazines and flower books out on the coffee table in the spring and summer. That will help bring the outside in and add color to your interior.

Changing with the seasons gives you an opportunity to get out some long-lost pieces and make them the center of attention for a while. The change of decor can come all at one time, like spring house cleaning, or over a period of several days or weeks.  You’ll be surprised what a difference just a small change can make. If winter seems especially long, forget the calendar and get your spring things out even if there’s snow on the ground. You may still need the warm blankets, but the look can be light and uplifting.  My thanks to my associate Stephanie Jollie for authoring this article.

Dangerous Furniture

Even the most indifferent observer may have noticed that not all the money we give our government is well-spent (“pith helmets for postal workers?”) but I confess that I have fallen in love with the U.S. Census Bureau.  I would gladly take them out for dinner and drinks.  If only my love were requited, I would send them a dozen roses.

How casually, how glibly, they provide the most intimate information about ourselves.  They tell me that in 1997, almost 110,000 people went to emergency rooms from accidents with their sofas, couches and davenports.

This number is about half of those injured by their own tables or by their chairs.  I’d go lie down and think about it but 400,000 people were injured involving their beds.  In other words, every day 1000 of our fellow Americans are involved with dangerous bedding.  Mind you these are not the casual accident of waking up with chenille lines on your face, but emergency room visits.

Despite my breathless exhortations, the Census Bureau seems unwilling, however, to tell me how this could happen.  Pulling on a sweater while walking around the living room? Eating the stuffing?  Refusing to move the furniture before a living room re-enactment of Disco Dance Party?  Perhaps we’ve simply become a nation of careless sitters.  Let’s hope not.  There were 43,000 accidents with toilets.

And, worse yet, accidents with sofas are almost three times the number of accidents with scissors.  Clearly, Mom was wrong.  She should have told us not to run with couches.

The obvious solution is to augment the warning labels.  “Kids, this sofa is not a toy.  It is not a very good trampoline.” But, it’s not like they don’t warn us about things already.  There’s a bottle of dried bobcat urine (to keep pests out of the garden) that says “Not for human consumption” or the ovenware that says “Ovenware will get hot when used in oven”.  There’s a heat gun that says “Do not use this tool as a hairdryer”.  My package of Austin Peanut Butter Crackers includes the warning that the package includes peanut ingredients.  Perhaps I should take some cold comfort in this.  After all, Heinz does sell both cider vinegar and imitation cider vinegar.

But, back to the topic at hand (such as it is).  The Furniture Fire Safety Act requires upholstered furniture to be labeled with:

“This product contains polyurethane foam and presents a severe fire hazard! In case of fire, serious personal injury or death can result from extreme heat, rapid oxygen depletion, and the production of toxic gases. Do not expose this product to any intense radiant heat or open flames such as space heaters, open burning, cigarettes, naked lights, matches, electrical sparks, or other intense heat sources.”  And so I would strongly encourage you not to smoke your sofa.

I’d go fix myself a cup of coffee and sit down and worry about all of this if I weren’t so scared of the coffee maker.  Maybe I’ll just go and write a thank you to the Census Bureau.  I couldn’t find any statistics on accidents with pen and paper.

Everything you know is wrong

I’ve been married for more than 15 years so I’m accustomed to being told I’m wrong.  I used to think that maybe I was occasionally right, but now I know even that was a mistake.  And as a note to my wife, honey, if I really was right, I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to be.  Like most folks, I’ve even been wrong about furniture. In this article, we’ll tackle a few myths about furniture that I used to cherish.

Furniture made long ago was built better than today’s furniture.  Yes, the quality of the wood was probably better because first growth forests were plentiful with tighter grains and there were some cuts of wood (like quarter sawn oak) and kinds of wood (like Cuban mahogany) available that are not available anymore but the tools of today’s trade allow for accuracy in cutting and joinery that were impossible a hundred years ago.  In addition, most furniture is glued and the glues of today are much better than the old hide glues especially the polymer glues like Gorilla Glue.  Finishes of today are also much more resistant to wear and tear than was the shellac of yesteryear.

Wood finish needs to be fed.  As we talked some months ago, there’s nothing you can add to a finish (unless it is more finish) that it can absorb or bond to.  The only thing a finish needs is a good waxing with a paste wax once a year and that’s just to put a protective layer between you and the finish.

Wood is alive and needs to breathe.  Sorry, once the tree was cut down, the wood died.  In fact, there’s some reason not to expose wood to the air since that makes it more likely it will absorb (and give off) moisture, making the wood move and causing cracks and loosening joints.

Wood veneer is bad.  Plywood, with its grain running in alternating direction with each leaf is actually more stable and harder to break than straight lumber.  What we’ve sadly become accustomed to is cheap pressboard furniture where the veneer is just painted paper that can peel off.  Real wood veneer is an opportunity to have visible wood grains that would be impossible to purchase if the entire piece were made of them.  And the choice of veneer can be one of style.  I’ve seen solid oak furniture from the 1940’s with a walnut veneer because oak was not a popular “look”.

All the wood in a set will exactly match.  Even if all the wood came from the same tree, there will significant differences in the grain between areas of the tree.  As the saying goes, wood is a natural product…some variation is to be expected.

The most expensive fabric is the most durable.  Silks and damasks can be gorgeous looking fabrics (and quite expensive) but they won’t hold up like some of the new nylon and olefin materials.  If you really like the look of silk, consider a blend.

You can’t clean leather or keep it looking clean.  Leather does change with time as the oils and dyes in the leather shift but this can be as much an affect of the type of dye as it is the leather.  Pigmented leather will change color less than aniline dyes.  Most of the places you can buy leather furniture will come with recommendations for how to clean it.

Fabric on the bottom of leather cushion is a cheap shortcut.  When you sit on the cushion, air escapes.  The fabric helps the air to get out of the cushion quickly.  Otherwise a leather sofa would feel like sitting on blown up furniture.

Box springs don’t need to be replaced as often as mattresses.  Sometimes the sag can be the box springs and not the mattress.  Most manufactures design box springs and mattresses to work together, when it’s time for one to go, they both should.

That said, I still prefer real wood to veneer, older furniture to newer and organic fabrics to synthetic.  What the heck, I may be wrong but at least I’ve got my opinions.

The Color Wheel

Except for political extremists, most of us don’t live in a black and white world.  But, given more than a rainbow of hues to choose from, how can we pick compatible colors for our home?  That’s what we’re talking about today.

Contemporary color theory was developed by the Swiss artist and designer Johannes Itten while he was teaching at the School of Applied Arts in Weimar, Germany.  In his seminal book, The Art of Color, he wrote, “Color is life, for a world without color seems dead. As a flame produces light, light produces color. As intonation lends color to the spoken word, color lends spiritually realized sound to form.”   Itten took the primary (red, yellow, blue) and secondary (green, yellow and orange) colors and laid them out by how we feel about the colors as a way to find harmony. The image included in this post is a great example.

Colors in harmony create a sense of balance and order.  The idea is to reject either an extreme where everything is so bland as to not even be noticed, or the extreme where everything is competing with each other so if feels like noise.

It’s really pretty simple to do.  There’s at least six ways to use the color wheel, but we’re only going to talk about five of them. Hey, this column has a 600 word limit.

The first is monochromatic.  These color schemes use variations in the hue and saturation of a single color (pale green, light green, green, dark green for example).  Usually, one of these will predominate. Think of the variegation in a plant leaf.  There may be cream colors, deep blue-greens and light greens, but the colors are all next to each other on the color wheel and usually there’s more of one than the others.  This scheme is easy to manage but it lacks the vibrancy of combining different colors.  If you like to keep it simple, a better choice is…

Analogous color schemes using several colors which are next to each other on the color wheel.  For instance, yellow, brown and orange are analogous colors.  Usually, one color will predominate in the scheme and the other used as accents.  It is as easy to manage as the monochromatic scheme but looks a little richer.  It still lacks some of the excitement of contrasting colors, so you may want…

Complementary colors, which are two colors that lie opposite each other on the wheel.  For instance, green and red.  I’m sure you’ve noticed how striking a red flower on a green plant can look.  Think of roses.  Basically, you’re contrasting cool and warm colors and you can desaturate, or lighten, your cool colors to make the warm colors stand out.  For instance, a bright red with a pale green will be more pleasing than a pale red with a bright green.  You can balance three different colors by laying a triangle over the color wheel.  Of course, there’s a name for this, it’s …

Triadic colors, which can bring lots of different color into a room.  Three colors won’t have the contrast of two and it’s usually a good idea to lighten one or more of these three to prevent the room from looking too gaudy.  My favorite, however is…

A split complementary color scheme that picks one color from one side of the wheel and two colors lying next to each other on the other side.  As an example, reds with blue and teal or orange and blue and violet.  It’s usually best to choose one warm color and two cooler colors.  The advantage to this type of scheme is that it combines the idea of contrast and analogous colors into a single set.

You can find more information online at http://www.colormatters.com or stop by my store and we’ll play around with different combinations.