Sunday, July 17, 2011

Crazed and Confused

Years ago when we moved into our house, Mark’s parents gave us an old “petticoat table” as a house warming present. It was an antique and looked like it had been banging around in garages for the last hundred years. The finish was crazed, the marble dull and cracked, and although it had claw feet which I liked, it was not something I was wild about having in the entry hall of our new house.

Now, I knew from early in our relationship that Mark’s parents were into antiques.

I was not.

I couldn’t get past the smell. The four of us would go check out some barn full of antiques somewhere, and the minute we walked in I’d want to leave. Maybe it’s because antiques are just old and have been stored in the basement and the attic and the shed and the garage (because, hey, nobody really wants them in their house!) Or maybe it’s because antique furniture was stuffed with horse hair and hundred year old horse hair can’t smell anything but bad. (What is horse hair anyway? From the tails? What are they thinking, stuffing furniture with horsey tails. Giddy up?)

Anyway, the point is, antique “warehouses” smell, and then there’s the issue of springs. Do not sit on antique furniture. If it doesn’t crumble underneath you, it fights back.


The seats are full of perilously bound springs. You have to worry about placing your bottom down carefully and just so, or risk getting goosed by an old rusty spring (wrapped in stinky horse hair).

Now, I might have appreciated the wood and the unique carvings on some of the furniture if it wasn’t for the fact that antique collectors insist that you can’t remove the “patina.” (Also known as crazing.) Crazing is a combination of dust, decay, and wood finish. It’s like the shellac (which, by the way, is made from a secretion of the female lac bug) in a state of cloudy decay makes the piece more valuable than if it’s stripped and newly finished. After all, it would be a crime to get rid of all that history of neglect and garage storage.

So, yeah, the last thing I wanted in my brand new house was a crazed old petticoat table.

And besides, a petticoat table?

What the heck'sa petticoat table?

And who’s wearing petticoats around here?

(Just so I don’t leave these questions unanswered, 1) the table is about three and a half feet tall, four feet wide, and two feet deep with a mirror against its back wall which dainty ladies could use to check their petticoats before leaving the house. 2) Nobody.)

So no, I didn’t want the senseless, ugly, crazed, outdated, smelly thing in my house.

But my in-laws are awesome and I didn’t want to hurt their feelings.

After all, in their view they were giving us a family heirloom.

A rare and wondrous treasure.

One with valuable patina.

Anyway, Mark, being Mark, saw the potential in this piece of firewood and decided to commit a cardinal sin:

He stripped the thing and refinished it.

Weeks later what emerged from our garage was a breathtaking piece of furniture. (The picture doesn't even begin to do it justice.) It with beautiful, matching grain, stunning feet, and a finely polished (but still historically weathered) marble top.

For the first time I found myself really appreciated wood.

It wasn’t just for building fires!

You could do more with it than frame a house!

You could create furniture that was truly art.

That was our first piece of furniture and now our house is full of antiques. We’ve collected “firewood” furniture which Mark (and a really great upholsterer who’s happy to get rid of horsehair) have brought back to life. Not only is the reworked furniture beautiful, but I like the thought that the people who put such care and artistry into creating it have their work appreciated all over again.

I’ve been told that I make, uh, off beat connections, and I confess that the reason I’m babbling about petticoat tables and stripping antiques is because I realize that I myself am “crazed.” The petticoat table is a good reminder that sometimes you have to let go of the past to really shine in the present.

Underneath the crazing there’s life.


Anonymous said...

That is a beautiful table.I agree that antiques are stinky and hurt but they can be made into wonderful,beautiful things.See,once upon a time that table was beautiful.My grandparents on my mom's side love antiques.My grandfather is great at pointing out the ones that are old and whatnot.
We have a 100 year old painting in our dining room that is really pretty.We actually have an artist that might come live with us for a while,his name is Richard Greene.Currently he is living with a rich man who is giving him shelter and feeding him in exchange for all of the paintings he paints.If he would be thinking of leaving there he would have Literally money,no food,no home to live in,nothing.So my grandfather (he's good friends with Richard Greene and another Artist who's name i can't think of.),told Richard that he could come live with us.My parents we okay with it and agreed that if he wanted to he can.He hasn't yet but we think he may soon.Anyway,my grandparents appreciate art alot and see the beauty that it once was (If it was even pretty :D).
I love art a lot but the smell...not my thing.
Great post!

Caradith Craven said...

Nothing crazed about you. You're just incredibly observant, vividly descriptive, creatively metaphoric, and unquestionably charming. The table is exquisite; the furniture refinisher in your family is extremely talented and gifted. Thanks for another insightful, informative post.

Optimistic4ever said...

thats an amazing table.

Izze said...

Does that mean your house is full of cardinal sins? I guess you have to be careful who you invite over... Don't want it to be the Antique Judgement Gods or anything.

Who knows how you'd get out of that one.

Alexa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alexa said... are a very observant person, y'know. And you get something out of things that would be just what they are to other people. You don't just look at the surface, you dig deeper and get some meaning out of it. And, that, I find truly amazing :)

N3WYORKD3VIL said...

ANTIQUES ARE EVIL! When you're a little girl, grandma will say, "Be CAREFUL *insert some Spanish words here*, you're going to knock over my antique vase!"

That little girl was, like, SIX. Of course she didn't listen. And then she accidently bumped into the table holding the vase and...a million pieces of colored glass.



"Oh, I'm sorry grandma. Is your sister dead?"


And that is the tragic tale of a really mean grandma and her dead vase.

But the table looks really nice. I bet it isn't breakable...

g said...

hahaha ;*) <----that is a glittery paint tattoo hahahaha looks like a flower :D

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Belated comments on comments!

abagayle: Interesting about your family's artist friend. Seems like something out of a different era, but I know there are "starving artists" everywhere. Will paint for food! I have a painting via my Mom that's quite old. I tried to research the artist but got absolutely nowhere. It's one of those little mysteries I hope to someday solve. I mentioned him (her?)on the dedication page of Art of Deception.

Caradith: I am definitely crazed! Need a good sanding and resealing! (I'm talking state of mind, not body. I'm cool with my wrinkles. They're proof I've been living...)

O4E: I agree! (and that rhymes!)

Izze: Thanks for the good laugh. So true! I'm surrounded!

Alexa: Thank you. Very nice of you to say :)

NewYorkAngel: Exactly! Thank you for the funny retelling :-) Antiques can brand your grandchildren with a very negative impression of you! Put them away if you're afraid they'll break or you will wind up in a story somewhere!

ginngle11: A flowery tattoo! Ha! It would sand off, though, so it's faux.

Thanks everyone! See you soon!

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