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 Whether you want to refresh your mother’s outdated bureau, refinish a set of vintage Danish Modern chairs, or restore antique marquetry to its former glory, this volume’s got you covered and then some.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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!