books

Scavenging With The Furniture Bible’s Christophe Pourney

by Maxwell Tielman

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If you’re at all interested in the world of antique furniture restoration, you’ve probably encountered the name Christophe Pourny. One of New York City’s preeminent furniture experts and restorers, Christophe has had his hands on furniture since he was a young boy, working alongside his parents at their antique store in the Var region of France. Over the years, Christophe has earned a name for himself and the interest of some of the region’s most esteemed designers and publications. Up until recently, his work has been relegated to high-end clients and the interior design trade. This November, however, Christophe published his first book, The Furniture Bible, an indispensable tome that puts all of Christophe’s encyclopedic knowledge into one place. Whether you want to refresh your mother’s outdated bureau, refinish a set of vintage Danish Modern chairs, or restore antique marquetry to its former glory, this volume’s got you covered and then some.

This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to meet up in Brooklyn with Christophe and his partner in crime, Jason Jobson, to really put his knowledge to the test—with some good ole thrifting and scavenging. We started the day bright and early at Crown Heights’ mecca for vintage goods and hip artisanal wares—The Brooklyn Flea. As we perused the aisles, I watched Christophe jump from stand to stand, pausing and exclaiming when something caught his eye. Tips and tricks of the trade seemed to fall effortlessly from his lips, a veritable font of furniture knowledge. A rusty old desk? Nothing some steel wool and elbow grease can’t fix! A mid-century teak chair? Oil that bad boy up!

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Still, despite being able to offer some bit of information for practically every object at the Flea, we all felt like something was missing. While the artfully-arranged objects and expertly-curated ephemera on sale at the Brooklyn Flea were no doubt beautiful, the pickings were slim—especially for those on a budget and an appetite for restoration. “I don’t see anything super weird or whacky,” Christophe sighed, clearly as dismayed as I was.

Luckily, I knew the neighborhood well and had a Plan B. We hightailed it out of the flea, ran to my car, and made a mad dash for the place I knew would not disappoint: Quincy Avenue’s gigantic (and dare I say iconic) Salvation Army. As soon as we stepped in, we knew that we had hit the jackpot. A goldmine of discarded diamonds in the rough greeted us, ready to be stripped down and spruced up. Even better? They all had price tags of barely over $50. This is what The Furniture Bible was made for.

All-in-all, we spent a good hour gorging ourselves on the hidden gems that the shop had to offer and came away with some truly killer finds. We might have even taken a ride on a defunct Nordic Track. Maybe. Check out all of the photos from our visit, plus Christophe’s ace restoration advice for each piece, after the jump! —Max

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Click here to purchase a copy of Christophe’s book, The Furniture Bible.

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Metal Desk/8Metal Dresser

Industrial and commercial vintage metal furniture has a great look. If they have their original paint, be aware that the coating was meant to last and resist wear and tear and will be much harder to strip clean than a regular coat of paint on wood. I would advise to embrace the wear and tear and give the piece a clear coat of wax to clean it up and give a bit of shine. If the piece is stripped, a coat of spray lacquer primer is the best thing to keep the metal rustless. If rust appears, clean it with very fine steel wool (#OOOO) dipped in odorless paint thinner or Citrus oil. Dry carefully and protect with a coat of clear wax.

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Mid-Century Armchair

Mid-century furniture is a great trend now; credenzas, desks, chests of drawers, seats. [It’s very popular] for its sober design and natural finishes. They were originally finished with natural linseed oil, tung oil, or Danish oil, which is a mix of natural oils but colored. Use the same products, wiped on with a clean rag, to clean the wood and provide regular maintenance.

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Hardware

Nothing is more frustrating than a missing or broken piece of hardware on a vintage piece. Or maybe the hardware is not appealing or not original. On top of practical use, hardware is like jewelry—it has to embellish the piece. In flea markets, you will often find a booth that carries old hardware. If you do not find the missing piece you need, do not hesitate to change the entire set! You can always keep the old set aside if you are a purist. Remember, a broken piece of hardware left uncared for will bring more damage to the piece as you use it.

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Oak Chest

Maybe my favorite find of the day! Sturdy and in perfect structural shape, with stylish decorative hardware (all intact and none missing), no foul smell inside the drawers (safe to put away your clean clothes), great solid oak wood with great figured grain. Only trouble, a boring blah brown finish. Solution: strip the piece with paint stripper and coarse steel wool and a couple of coats of clear wax. The clean, natural tone of the wood with the satin shine of wax is unparalleled. If you feel more daring, wax with a white or grey colored wax. The color will emphasize the grain and give the piece a great white wash or driftwood look. Leave the hardware with its dark aged look or polish with a soft rag and a brass cleaning product. In that case, always remove it first, clean, and reattach.

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Walnut Dresser

A great piece with the same great structural integrity as the Oak chest and a perfect item to use as an entertainment unit. TV on top and electronic stuff inside. The walnut wood has a fantastic two-tone appearance that need only be revived and spiffed up with a good coat of Linseed oil or a clear coat of satin polyurethane varnish. All the carved accent details can be accentuated with a good silver or gold cream (available in most art or hobby stores), rubbed on with your finger or on a clean rag to give great highlights.

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Painted Dresser

Ever dreamed of this French provincial look, with aged and distressed paint and great patina? Here is the perfect piece— already painted, just sand the edges of the frame, drawers and anywhere else you feel, to let the wood underneath show. Buy an assorted grit pack of sand paper, so you can play with a finer or coarser grit, and remove paint at will. Once pleased with the result, apply a good coat of brown colored wax to create a patina, let dry an hour or so and buff to a light shine.

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Gramophone

The gramophone inside was missing, but what a great piece to create a dry bar! Store bottles insde the top part which lifts, and glasses and utensils in the lower compartments that open with the doors. As for the look, use a good oil polish (linseed or tung oil to revive the finish) and you are good to go.

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Sideboard

I liked the formal look of this Victorian piece—the open legs, the fact that the mahogany veneer was very light in color and the great white Carrara marble on top. Clean the wood and the marble with a rag damp with denatured alcohol (not too wet, damp only). You will remove a lot of grime from the wood, which probably has a shellac-based finish. Alcohol is a great way to clean marble, too. Once done, you do not have to get into a French polish shellac-based finish again; a great coat of clear wax on the wood and on the marble will protect both materials.

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Burl Credenza

I wish I had had some wax to revive the great walnut burl that is on the face of this piece. That would have been a great example of before and after. As a rule, never let yourself get discouraged by the appearance of an old piece if you like the shape and it is sound structurally—possibilities are endless and wood can be brought back to life so easily!

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Comments

  • I absolutely loved this post ! I have no time to shop antiques now (thank you heavy renovations in my house), but I feel like I went shopping with you guys. And I wish I had !

    I have a 1890 gramophone in my living room, a beloved inheritance that absolutely nobody wanted but my husband and me. I fell so happy knowing I’m not the only one interested in beautiful gramophones. Mine is complete, black as was most of furnitures during that time in France (I’m French), and I even have some disks to play on it ! Most of those discs are in German, as I have German ancestors, but I put one of them on and I’m a century younger. Fantastic way to time travel, and the gramophone itself is beautiful.

    Thanks again for those minutes of pleasure I had reading this article. (and I hope to recognize one of these piece on Manhattan Nest ! I’m a huge fan of both blogs).

  • First of all, this is my favorite post of all time. I love the way the events of the day were outlined, and it is as I imagine, in that off the beaten path is where the good stuff is. That being said, it seems like too good a deal to find the Simmons desk and other metal dresser (even some cool yellow chairs in the background) in a Salvation Army. Especially under $50.

    Additionally, I appreciated his comment to “embrace the wear and tear and give the piece a clear coat of wax”. It seemed very French to accept the imperfections.

    Great post.

  • Hey, Charles! I’m so glad you like the post! I had a total blast putting it together.

    Regarding the Simmons desk and metal dresser—that was actually at the Brooklyn flea (on of the few things we found there)!

  • So awesome! I do a Thursday Thrifting series on my blog where I scour my local Salvation Army (in San Francisco) or Craigslist for finds of the week. Thrifting is not a hobby; it’s a necessity.

  • Ya ya ya! I did a Masters of Fine and Decorative Art and I wish that Christophe’s book was around then. It’s exactly what we all needed as a study guide and this doesn’t exist in many other forms. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • that Salvy is right around the corner from my apartment! Best thing I ever found there was a red velvet round love seat back in 2000 for $50.

  • 1) I want that Albert’s Organics Tshirt.
    2) This book will be my Christmas present for this year! Thank you for this post. I started renovating furniture this year and this will be the BEST resource. I just found a Broyhill Brasilia bar cart for $50 (hyperventilating happened, while trying to play it cool and failing miserably) and I’m super nervous about renovating it. I don’t want to mess it up! So thank you for the wonderful timing.

  • Man, I always look in Salvation Army and Goodwill stores and have never, ever seen any furniture of this caliber. Boo! That said, I’m so glad to learn about this book. I have a set of mid-century dining chairs rescued from a friend’s shed (they were going to be taken to the dump – noon!) They’re in horrible, awful no good condition and I can’t afford professional restoration, so I’m gonna give it a go myself. Most of the furniture restoration/upholstery books I’ve looked at so far feature more traditional pieces. Maybe this book will have useful info for me.

  • This was an amazing article about Christophe Pourny and his wonderful new book the Furniture Bible! The book has become my “it” gift for Xmas this year. It was a real pleasure to follow Christoohe and Jason on a day trip through flea markets and enjoy his expertise first hand.
    Never saw a Salvation Army store with furniture like this before! Thank you so much!
    I will look forward to checking your site on a regular basis.

  • Fantastic post!! I so often wish we had the kind of stuff out here on the west coast that you have there.. I am absolutely going to have to get that book and try some of those treatments, I like the more minimal subtle approach that you seem to have in showing a pieces beauty and its blemishes!!!!

  • Great Post, it is so refreshing to see others who appreciate the value of discarded wood pieces that also do not feel the urge to paint everything. Your advice is sound and really does give the basics you need to restore wood’s beauty, so follow their example. I do love that walnut dresser with the varied wood, I can see it used as a bar set up on top with more bottles and essentials stored inside.

  • My daughter gave me The Furniture Bible as an early Christmas present this year because I am refurbishing what I think is a hand made oak chest. As a matter of fact we found it together at a west coast Goodwill and she gifted it to me for my birthday. Enough said, I sooo love Christophe’s book. It explains so many processes of refinishing furniture that I have always wanted to know. The process in pictures is fantastic. I am going to use his milk paint finish on my old chest. So happy for this book and my lovely daughter.

    • Gwen

      I’m so glad you enjoy the book- it’s amazing, right? I’ve been blown away by how much information is inside and how I’m going to use it for years and years to come.

      Grace

  • Omg I just finished reading the book. I am so glad I read it as my husband and I are thinking on starting refurbishing few antiques we have home. BTW we just bought a similar gramophone that plays records.
    I totally recommend the book, it is so inspiring that I am ready to quit my job and working on refurbishing furniture :).

  • Christophe is in one word wonderful. My mother taught me her version of refinishing when I was a kid. She was the queen of the sander. I can still taste wood dust when I cough. Now that I am re-starting my home, and learning how to seat weave, his book has been an enlightenment and a god send. In the area I live in there are amazing things to be found in old garages and barns. How about a painted Baltimore chair for $10. Some museum wax and a new cane seat that is in process, she is in the process of being transformed. With Christophe’s encouragement and advise in his book, my dreams for my home can come true.

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