Dining Room on a Budget – Part 1
Queen Anne Revival homes such as ours built in 1901 typically have an asymmetrical layout featuring a double parlour. The room or parlour situated closest to the kitchen was the original dining room of this old house. Dining rooms of this period were one of the most important rooms in the house, and commonly featured a fireplace such as ours.
When we moved here several years ago and the kids were young, we had no need for a formal dining room so we set up our old table and chairs in the small room off the kitchen and sold our “fancy” dining room set. Our previous house had a family room and a living room so we piled all our couches and chairs in the two adjoining rooms.
This worked for a very long time until I had a light bulb moment.
I think we’ve all experienced this – when habits ingrained over several years are revealed in a moment of clarity to be impractical. Mine was: now that our family consists of fairly large (a couple over 6 feet) children and their various significant others, why are we continuing to crowd around a smallish dining table in a smallish room. To put it mildly it was getting a tad crowded.
It was time to take back the dining room.
Part one of my quest for the renewal of the dining room was – you guessed it – the search for a table and chairs. After checking out the new furniture stores in town, I realized that new was not for me and aesthetics aside, simply not in the budget. For example, the “Toronto” set from Costco costs $2249.99.
A good source for vintage furniture is Kijiji – a free online site for local classified advertisements. It is important to note that Kijiji ads are constantly changing, so keep checking if you are searching for a particular piece. There is even an option for receiving email updates for a particular item. We’ve used Kijiji several times to sell unwanted pieces of furniture and have always had great luck with it.
I kept my eye out for a couple of weeks, but nothing feasible came up. There were a couple of contenders but since I wanted a table and chairs without the matching hutch, I was out of luck.
Then in a casual conversation, a friend suggested I start checking out some country auctions.
Most rural communities have them – google auctions and your area and they will come up. There are a few in a 100 km radius around my city.
So there I was – an auction newbie – not too sure how it all worked – but boy did I get the hang of it fast. It is fun! Crowding into a big warehouse-like room lined with all kinds of stuff, basic fold up chairs, even a snack bar while the auctioneer rattles off the items lot by lot. There are great bargains with some odds and ends going for as little as two bucks.
I spied my dining set right away – it was definitely old, a bit scratched up, I really didn’t like the shiny, formal mahogany finish, the chair cushions were frankly kind of ugly but the wood was in great shape and the table and chairs were very solid – no shakiness at all. And…I had a vision.
I didn’t get around to photographing the dining set until it was taken apart and ready for re-finishing but you can get a good idea of the quality of this set. Each piece had an old label with “Hespeler Fine Furniture” and a little internet research turned up that these pieces were probably manufactured in the 1920’s in Hespeler (now part of Guelph, Ontario).
I am proud of my bargains and it still amazes me that I acquired this set for $50!
I won’t downplay the amount of work that went into refurbishing this set, but it was worth it.
I started off with Circa 1850 Furniture Stripper, ideal for removing old varnish, this stripper claims that it is safe for old furniture. After gently scraping off the old varnish, it was time to remove the reddish mahogany stain since that was not the look I was aiming for. This was the hardest part of the project since I removed the stain by hand sanding. I was afraid to use my electric sander since I was worried it would gouge the wood. I started off with 150 grit and worked up to 220 grit sandpaper.
Many, many (did I say many?) hours later, this table was bare! Love that wood grain.
I needed a low-maintenance dining table – as in wipe with a damp cloth (I have teens and young adults in my house!) – so after a little more internet research on oil vs water based finishes, I chose to go with the oil based finish – specifically Minwax Fast-Drying Polyurethane. considered one of the most durable furniture finishes. I applied four coats, taking care to sand very lightly between coats with 320 grit sandpaper.
Now, what to do with the lovely pedestals and the chairs?
Since there is already a lot of natural wood in this room – the wood trim has been left in its original state – I decided to paint these pieces white to provide contrast and freshness to the space.
I chose Annie Sloan Chalk Paint in Pure White, which I have used on many projects, so I am familiar with this great product. Annie Sloan is basically a fool proof paint and requires no priming. I love the chalky flat finish. Since there is no source in my city I ordered it from an Annie Sloan stockist.
I then lightly sanded the edges of the chairs and pedestals. While I am not a fan of extreme furniture distressing. I find that lightly distressing the edges of well used pieces such as chairs prevents the need to touch up the inevitable dings and scrapes that comes with a busy household of kids and pets.
After the paint had dried for at least 24 hours, I followed up with a coat of Annie Sloan Clear Soft Wax to provide further protection.
The final step was deciding what to do with the seat cushions. I turned to one of my favourite online Canadian fabric sources (also available in the US) Tonic Living.
I love all shades of blue, and since I consider navy, timeless and classic, I chose this fabric – Bristol Indigo for $21.95 per yard, a beautiful, textured solid navy made of 100% cotton canvas with a soil and stain resistant finish.
I didn’t trust my DIY skills for re-upholstering the chairs – after all, the cost of this set including materials was less than $150 so I took the seat cushions and the fabric (I just needed a couple of yards) to a local re-upholsterer, Cormier Upholstery Ltd. I felt like a proud mom, when Mr. Cormier told me he rarely came across such well built chairs!