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Life with Liz: Old furniture

Back to school, my semi-new year holiday, has brought with it a flurry of projects that I’m determined to get finished before the actual holidays arrive. Chief among them is refurbishing furniture for the master bedroom. The kids’ rooms have been mostly finished off, the small projects throughout the rest of the house have been completed, and I felt like it was time to do something for myself. Well, the wonderful husband is also a little tired of living out of laundry baskets, and I needed to make some decisions about the room we have stockpiled with old furniture so we could move forward with the major project of renovating that room from floor to ceiling.

I believe we had a lot of relatives who lived in houses without closets, because we have collected an ungodly number of dressers and chifforobes. Between the WH and I, we had four sets of grandparents, and each of those grandparents had more than one bedroom in their homes, and I’m also pretty sure that dressers multiply like rabbits when they’re in proximity to each other.

For a split second, I considered purchasing something that I liked for our bedroom. One trip through a furniture store, and a quick browse on the internet looking at custom pieces, and I realized that even today’s best quality furniture cannot hold a candle to the quality of even less expensive furniture made over a half century ago, or if they do, they come with a price tag that is way out of my reach.

I only have to compare the dresser I grew up with, and my father grew up with, that was purchased by his mother, to the one that I got for the boys when they moved into their shared room together. Both dressers were used by a set of young boys. One of them looks more like it was used heavily by a pack of tyrannosauruses. With one major exception, the other one looks about how it did when it rolled off the back of the delivery truck in the 1940s.

The only damage that the 1940s dresser has sustained was my fault. As a child, I had the entire collection of Avon’s character perfume bottles. Each one was full of Sweet Honesty. I kept them carefully arranged on the dresser top, guarding my earring holders and my baskets full of hair ties. Hair tie. That’s such an innocuous name for those two rock-solid hard plastic knobs located on either end of an elastic that had to be wound round and round your ponytail and then crisscrossed to fix them. Kids these days have no concept of the pain you endured trying to stretch that just 1 millimeter farther to tighten it as much as possible so your pony didn’t fall down, only to have it snap back and unwind at lightning speed, rapping you on the knuckle with each unravel.

At any rate, at some point in time, whether it was due to carelessness, or just old age, a few of my old perfume bottles cracked and leaked all over the dresser top, which eventually ruined the finish. Since the rest of the dresser was in tiptop shape, and it also had the largest drawers, it was a no-brainer to quickly refinish the top of the dresser and get a functional piece of furniture back into circulation.

As I got to work with my sander, I noticed that in addition to the warm sawdust smell I usually get, the scent of Sweet Honesty also wafted up, taking me back to Easter mornings when a new Avon bottle was in my Easter basket. Say what you will about it as a fragrance, that stuff has some serious staying power.

When I took the hardware off the drawers to give them a once-over, I noticed that the pulls had two tiny little fangs on each of them, which helped them to dig into the wood once they were seated, and prevented them from twisting and, ultimately, becoming unscrewed. I have replaced tons of hardware on many doors and drawers, and this was the first time I came across such an ingenious little trick. Maybe I’ve just been buying all the wrong replacement knobs, but since I was at Lowe’s anyway, I rummaged through all their replacement knobs and didn’t find a single model with these little prongs. I was planning to change out the pulls with something a little more modern, but those little guys changed my mind.

Two weekends of elbow grease and I had a slightly upgraded addition to our bedroom. The WH was thrilled to have a place to sort out his laundry and had his own fun rediscovering T-shirts he’d thought were long gone but were just at the very bottom of his very tall laundry pile. I know that I did a good job because the kids were also circling it like vultures, suggesting that maybe the “new” piece of furniture might be a better fit for their bedrooms.

As much as I love new stuff, I have to say rescuing a piece of furniture that I already have an attachment to and giving it a makeover is a much better way to go. I also found an old bookcase, no relation to the dresser, but a well-made piece just the same. Even though they were from two completely different bedroom sets, a little bit of refinishing, and they look like they belong together. As I puttered around with my projects for the weekend, I thought of the last sets of hands that put these beautiful pieces of furniture together, the illegible scribble on the paper tag that was still attached to the bottom of one drawer, and, I thought about the next set of hands that might be upgrading them in the future.

Liz Pinkey is a contributing writer to the Times News. Her column appears weekly in our Saturday feature section.