Friday, April 24, 2015

Ciré Rempli Desk

I was given Christophe Pourny's new book, The Furniture Bible, as a Christmas gift (and I love it!).  One of the techniques I was most drawn to is ciré rempli, which involves rubbing a slurry of wax, pumice powder, and alcohol into the wood resulting in a finish that is rich but not too glossy.

I decided to try it out on our well worn and wobbly desk.  This little desk was a victim of a poor refinishing job.  Sections of finish were raised and bumpy like it was applied by sponge painting.
Orange-y color.
Bumpy and worn finish.
 The drawer, which admittedly we over filled, stuck and didn't slide smoothly.
Beat up drawer.
The first step was to strip the old finish off and sand until smooth, up to 220 grit sandpaper.  I also re-glued some loose joints.
Sanded and ready for stain.
Applying the water-based stain the ciré rempli technique calls for was tricky.  I suggest practicing on scrap wood if you've never worked with it.  I had only used oil-based stain previously, and I wish I'd practiced first.  It came out fine in the end, but I found the water-based stain didn't have as long of an open time as oil-based, and was less forgiving.  It took two coats, but was already looking better in its new mahogany color!
First coat of stain.
The rest of the ciré rempli technique involves working in layers of wax, pumice stone, and alcohol.  Ultimately, I am really happy with how the finish turned out, but I don't think I did it completely correctly.  I used too little of the wax, and so in some areas I rubbed through it with the alcohol dampened pad.  But, the best part about this technique is that it is easily fixed and doesn't require removal of the first application.  In fact, its whole point is to build up layers of wax.

The final result is wonderful!  Almost glass-like to the touch, it has a much more subtle sheen than a polyurethane finish.  Antique pulls complete the look.  They are mismatched but I like that, for now.

To solve the issues with the drawer, I rubbed a block of beeswax on the underside of the drawer that comes in contact with the guides on the inside of the desk.  It certainly helps and can be reapplied as needed.  To help corral our clutter, I added balsa wood dividers.  These aren't glued in, just cut to be snug, so this is reversible.  The bottom of the drawer is lined with a pretty fabric.
New (old) hardware.
Latest thrift score - brass task lamp.

One more look at the before...

Sunday, April 12, 2015


This is a project I am so excited to share and its a long post!  We found this pair of chairs at a tag sale not long after moving to California.  I hadn't yet restored anything really and David thought I was crazy.  These chairs had been stored in a basement and were covered in cat hair, the upholstery was shredded, and there were cat scratches and bite marks on the arm details.  However, they were also a steal because of the damage.


We brought them home and got to work removing the old fabric and foam.  We were finding staples in our living room for months!  That was the easy part.  The finish on the show wood was flaking and did not showcase the wood or the intricate carvings.  Despite its poor condition, the finish was so difficult to remove requiring multiple applications of heavy duty stripper, AND we had to use toothpicks to get in the carvings. I stained it in a darker tone and finished with polyurethane.

Because I was new at this, I decided to restore one chair entirely before moving onto the second.  I upholstered it in a green brocade fabric but I was not thrilled that I couldn't get the interior of the back smooth.  I found the stripping and upholstery so trying that I needed a break before tackling the second. 

Six years later...I decided it was time to complete this project.  But, my aesthetic had changed and I wanted to replicate the look of french hemp linen or a vintage grain sack, which I use elsewhere in my living room.  I adapted the instructions from Miss Mustard Seed and bleached two large cotton/poly blend drop cloths from Home Depot.  Although some people report that they can come out blotchy, mine lightened to a lovely ecru. 

My first challenge was to figure out how to get rid of the wrinkles and gathers of the inside of the back.  I eventually reconfigured how the foam sits within the back and used three panels of fabric.  This allowed me to add two vertical rows of double welting.

Another advantage to using such inexpensive and readily available fabric was that I could be really generous with my cuts.  I stapled on oversized panels of the fabric, and then used a rotary cutter to cut it precisely to the staple line.  It ruined the rotary blade, but hey, they are replaceable!  It was much easier to stretch and mold the fabric around the curves with so much excess.

Making double welted piping is about the easiest thing to do on a sewing machine with a double welt sewing foot.  I prefer it over gimp.  It is adhered with hot glue. 

The final detail, which I love, is the row of blue stitching on the back reminiscent of those vintage grain sacks that inspired these chairs.


From this...
 to this...