Late last fall, I undertook the job of refinishing our nearly 30-year-old kitchen table and chairs. (Wow, that just sounds so…old.)
The table is a well-made classic oak clawfoot table – it goes from a 4-foot round to a 5- or 6-foot oval with the addition of one or two leaves.
The chairs are Windsor-style. The table was a hand-picked gift from my parents and four chairs were bought as unfinished from Builders Square (before they were bought out by The Home Depot.)
If you’re not a kid, you remember oak in the mid-80s. It came in one glowing hue, fondly termed “golden.” Mine was a tad darker than some, but it still gleamed brightly. When Swimmer Girl outgrew her high chair, baby made five, and I found a pair of chairs similar to the others. They were pre-finished and didn’t match the others, but at least we had seats for everyone and one to spare.
I overlooked the set’s dated and mismatched stains as long as possible, but the table’s top was starting to show its age in profound ways. In many places, the finish was finished. Gone. Finis. Drinking glasses left dark water rings that soaked into the wood and took forever to dry. This is the “before” picture.
And truth be told, I finished those four chairs in haste so we would have seating – they were never my proudest project. Looking back, I was juggling a toddler, a full course load in college and trying to manage household duties. In those days, DIY was just coming into vogue – there were no blogs or cable shows to inspire us, and home improvement store selection was pretty bare bones. I had little time or money to spend on stain and sealers, so I did what I could with what I was readily available. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
As I started stripping and sanding, I had to smile at the chair that was the designated toddler seat: it had bare spots rubbed where the booster seat slid back and forth. And it had a chewed spot on one of the rungs. My best guess is frequent toddler food spills led to enthusiastic dog licking…and occasional gnawing.
After a quick strip and light sanding, my pieces were ready to stain. I used General Finishes gel stains in nutmeg for the table and java for the chairs, and a waterproof sealer. That sounds really fast, but the fact is I did it as the season was cooling down into damp, rainy weather, so there were several days’ drying time between coats, and I changed my mind on the finish coat, so instead of finishing in a week, it was more like a….month? (I’d like to say we ate in the dining room every night in the interim, but the truth is, we ate out more than we ate in that month.)
I admit my mind wandered while I researched stains and labored over the refinishing process. I thought of my friends who either have or covet a rustic farmhouse table: rectangular shape, plank top, and chunky legs. Bench seating mixed with old-style sturdy chairs.
I briefly contemplated changing out our table and chairs for something new – either a farmhouse table, or an old-fashioned school table with swing-out seats, like this one from World MarketBut I couldn’t justify the expense OR the waste of discarding a perfectly good table and chairs that just needed a little TLC.
When I was I looking around at my options, I discovered that “farmhouse table” isn’t as narrowly defined as I thought. It seems the common tie that binds this style is rusticity. No sleek, glossy, polished glass, brass or chrome in sight. No lovely, delicate Queen Anne-style cherry legs. Those pretty tables are reserved for formal dinners and diners.
A farmhouse table is for leisurely, boisterous, talkative family suppers and hearty breakfasts. Claw-foot and other pedestal tables, be they square, round or rectangular, are now incorporated into the farmhouse family. And that suits me fine…now that its finish is updated, it will hopefully serve as our family’s favorite eating spot for many more years. No pretense, just a sturdy spot to gather us together for the holidays and the everydays.
Have you refinished any furniture lately? It’s not hard, just time-consuming. But I can vouch for the fact that the time you spend sanding and staining may give you time to reminisce…and that can be a pretty good use of your time.