My Pappy is a very special man. He’s a real class act, he’s got the best head of hair you’ve ever seen, he’s a dynamite story teller, and his doting love for my grandmother has been such an example to all of us.
Pappy recently gave me this mid century Lane cedar chest. It’s been sitting in his attic in Louisiana for over 50 years and the heat and humidity had taken its toll.
Why did this sit in the attic for so long, you ask? Well, there’s a funny little story to this piece. My grandfather was dating a girl who really wanted a ring. He knew she wasn’t the one so he got her a cedar chest instead. She was less than pleased and returned it. When he met and married my grandmother, she was less than pleased to have a cedar chest he bought for another woman so it was banished to the attic where it remained until recently.
Heat, humidity, and years of unuse do a number on veneer. There were chips, cracks, flakes, bubbles, and warping. Inside, however, the cedar was pristine and the original advertising papers looked brand new. Even after years in an attic there was still hope for this piece!
Gluing the chipped veneer hadn’t worked so I simply pulled it off. It was dry and brittle, so a lot came off easily from one side. The wood underneath was gorgeous so I got the crazy idea to remove all the veneer and stain the wood.
I looked up tutorials. It would be easy, they said. It would be quick, they said. Place a damp towel over the veneer for a few hours and it’ll pull away in big sheets and be scraped off easily. If it needs a little more help, simply steam it off with an iron. That was a fun way to spend my time. After two days of steaming, scraping, and struggling to peel little bits of veneer from the top I finally removed it all. Oh, and it took a LOT of sanding. And my iron was ruined by old red varnish so TwinDad couldn’t iron his shirts. And the wood underneath the veneer looked HORRIBLE.
I had to adapt. New plan: sand the finish off the veneer then re-stain. I took my trusty little sander to the rest of the chest and was disappointed. I was going to have to buy a heavy duty orbital sander to tackle this job and I didn’t have the budget or the patience to deal with that sort of work load. Adapt again. Painting is what I do so I’ll paint. When pieces are beyond restoring and are looked over because of it, I step in. There’s a way to give it another chance. Something can be salvaged more often than not.
For a hot mess of a cedar chest, this baby still had a chance. I used wood filler to patch little areas of missing veneer and to fill the holes left by the old handles. It wasn’t perfect, but paint covers a fair amount of imperfections, and distressing and strategic waxing cover more. First, I stained the top. I worked so hard to remove that veneer so I was at least going to stain that part. I originally wanted a lighter stain but the red varnish left behind after so much sanding wasn’t going anywhere and was going to bleed through a light stain. Dark walnut gel stain it was. After two coats of satin finish polyurethane, it had a great tough weathered look. Time to paint.
I know I’ve said I’m breaking up with Americana Decor, but I had already bought this green color, “New Life”, so I gave it a try. After 3-4 coats, I remembered why we’re breaking up. I’m working on another piece with a different brand of paint and it’s only taking 1-2 coats to very thoroughly cover the entire piece. I don’t have time for so many coats. So long, Americana Decor.
I do love this green, though. (TIP: you can find almost the exact same color for almost half the price in a different brand.) I plan to use this chest in a future guest bedroom. The cedar will provide great storage for extra linens that aren’t used frequently while the top provides guests a useful surface. It also means I don’t have to worry that this green doesn’t go with the decor in any other room in my home right now. I plan on having a classic navy, white, and green guest suite with this chest as a focal point.
However, just plain green it’s a little much. Even after distressing it seemed much, and a little flat. My custom-mixed wax around the edges gave it just the aged look I was going for, but it took a little tweaking. I used too much at first (don’t wax at night by lamp light). Simple fix: brush some more green over the too-heavily waxed areas. Perfect. (Aren’t the new knobs great? Already looking more classic and less mid century).
My last dilemma is the legs. They’re part of a built-in base and can’t simply be unscrewed and swapped out. The crazy in me wants to take a reciprocating saw to the base and be done with it. My father’s voice in my head won’t let me do that. Limited as I am with tools, I’m waiting until my dad comes to visit and can take a look at it. He’s a genius at figuring things out and I always regret not talking it through with him before tackling more difficult projects.
There you have it (for now)…Pappy’s cedar chest. I had copies made of some old photos that I plan to display once they arrive in the mail. Given a chance and a new life, I hope this cedar chest can carry on to my children someday.