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Try This Painting Technique: Layering

Dark wood takes me back to my grandparents’ home in Rochester, NY. A two-story structure built in the late 1800s, it contained massive pieces of darkly stained furniture. I felt as though the furniture, heavy and looming, dug into the floorboards and rooted somewhere below the cellar. Yet the forest didn’t frighten me; my thoughts of that home remain a warm memory.

The piece we’re looking at today is an antique American Empire Revival library table. It’s a dark wood, solid mahogany and made around 1900. I love its size — rather diminutive compared to most tables — and the pleasing curves of its scrolled legs. Although the table is solid, built-in wheels allow for easy movement.
American Empire Revival Library Table

As you can see, this table came to us in rough shape. Check out that large white ring mark. Did someone put a washtub on top of it, maybe enthusiastic college students looking to ice their beers?

We couldn’t retain the dark mahogany and still hope to sell the table here in the Sunshine State. I started to piece together a plan. I wanted to paint the bottom part with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. The question at hand: Could the top be saved? Luckily, David came to the rescue. The top absolutely could be saved, but first we had to clean off over a hundred years of grime with Simple Green and some mineral spirits.
American Empire Revival Style

Once we flipped it over, we found number 377 stenciled on the bottom. That’s the only identifying characteristic but not enough to lead us to a manufacturer.
American Empire Revival Style
David shellacked the lower part in preparation for the paint. It’s essential to shellac mahogany if you are going to use ASCP or else you’ll face red bleed through from the wood. We applied two coats of Zinsser Clear Shellac just to be safe.

On the tabletop, David used Citristrip Paint and Varnish Removing Gel to remove the old finish and stain. Two applications. Once he discovered that the top consisted of solid planks, not just a thin veneer over the subsurface, he grabbed the orbital sander. Using a power sander on veneer is a bad idea. The sander will eat through veneer in a heartbeat. But he now had solid planks. He whirred his way down to the natural wood grain — which is beautiful with rich tones and pronounced graining.
American Empire Revival Style

Here’s Pepper Popcorn checking out our work before being whisked back inside.
American Empire Revival Style

David didn’t fill in the dings and dents. We decided to maintain the integrity of the wood, which was still in very good condition. We feel there are times a piece should show its age and use. The rounded edge of the lower shelf, caused by hundreds of shoes resting and rubbing, are reminders of how many lives have touched this table. Sometimes, dings and excessive wear should be celebrated.American Empire Revival Style

On to the painting. Inspired by Leslie Stocker of Colorways, I wanted to try a new technique. Leslie layers paint tones to create light and shadows. I didn’t plan to use Dark Wax on this table; I wanted tonal highlights to carry the effect. Here’s Leslie’s inspirational image:
Leslie Stocker, Colorways

Before moving on to my tonal technique, I first painted two coats of Old White.
American Empire Revival Style
Next, I created my mixture. Moving from top to bottom, the containers hold

  • Old White
  • Arles : Old White, 2:2
  • Arles : Old White, 4:3
  • Arles

I anticipated my color to be a bit lighter than Leslie’s cabinet.
Annie Sloan Chalk Paint

I relied on the two Arles/Old White mixtures the most, using the Old White for highlights and  pure Arles for shadow. Here’s the beginning of my paint going down. As you see, I’m just applying patches of different tones randomly. A simple layering technique.
ASCP Arles and Old White

After I finished painting, David put on the first coat of MinWax Polyurethane. That’s where we are in this next picture. No wax on the paint yet, but light and shadows coming through. It’s subtle.
Annie Sloan Chalk Paint Arles and Old White

A problem cropped up with the polyurethane. David brushed it on in the shade and left it to dry but when the unseasonably warm sun came out, bubbles formed and dried on the table top. An unhappy David snatched up his sandpaper (180 and 220-grit) and set to it.

Four coats of the polyurethane went on. Between each coat David used 220-grit sandpaper  to smooth out imperfections caused by dust or a slightly uneven application. He sanded the final coat of Poly with 600-grit wet/dry sandpaper and lemon oil. The table top feels as smooth and satisfying as soft ice cream on a sizzling day.
MinWax Polyurethane

Meanwhile, I brushed on ASCP Clear Wax and wiped it off with a cloth. We snapped a few pictures and loaded the table into our SUV. American Empire Revival Style
This table is inherently heavy and utilitarian but the lines and upswept curves of its design give lightness to the piece.  It now sits at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery, ready for anyone looking for a desk, or computer table, or television stand.

Our French Bombé is another example of this layering technique.

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Ann Marie and David
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Tips for Identifying Waterford Crystal

David and I visited an amazing estate sale last Friday. Every estate sale is different, and this house overflowed with Waterford Crystal in the Colleen pattern.

We saw sets of wine glasses, champagne glasses, brandy snifters, sherry glasses and others that I cannot begin to name. I remembered Suszi, an owner of Avonlea Antique and Design Gallery, advised me to pick up some Waterford if I happened across any. “It’s quite popular at Christmas.” And why not? It’s ornate, breathtaking, cut glass that dances in sunlight and glows in firelight. Waterford Crystal would make a fabulous gift for  someone special.

I searched the tables of crystal, almost afraid to touch the pieces, and found two items that we could afford: a wine decanter with stopper, and a pitcher. You can see that a estate company rep wrote Waterford at the base with a nonpermanent marker. I appreciated that.

Waterford Decanter and Stopper Colleen Collection

Waterford Crystal Pitcher Colleen Collection

At a previous, sprawling estate sale I foolishly inquired about Waterford crystal. “It’s here but you’ll just have to pull out your magnifying glass and hunt.”  I thought he was kidding — and at that point not only did I not carry a magnifying glass, I had no earthly idea what to look for.

Clearly, I needed to learn more about crystal. I sought out another vendor in the mall, someone willing to share a little knowledge. I’ve had my first tutorial and I’m looking forward to continuing my lessons. But enough about me.

Waterford Crystal originated in Ireland and a factory still produces glass there, offers tours, and has the largest collection of Waterford crystal in the world. Since 1783 the company has undergone mergers and takeovers and a century-long closure. Most Waterford Crystal is now produced in Slovania, Czech Republic and Germany.

Identification of Waterford Crystal can be tricky. The most important step is seeking out a reputable dealer.

The easiest ID is a Waterford sticker. That’s their seahorse in the photo below, followed by an older variation of the sticker.

Waterford crystal label

Waterford crystal sticker

Here’s our decanter’s sticker:

Waterford Sticker

The other method of identification requires that pesky magnifying glass. Hunt for the word “Waterford” etched in gothic type. Using a strong backlight helps, but it’s still a difficult logo to find. Not only did the estate sale rep write “Waterford” in black nonpermanent marker on their crystal, she also circled the etched word.

Waterford pitcher with logo circled

If you had your magnifying glass and/or a bright light and tipped the piece just so, you might see this:

Etched "Waterford" in gothic type
Waterford assures clients that their patterns will never expire. If you want to replace a piece,  all you have to do is contact the company and your crystal will be handmade using wooden molds to shape the handblown, molten crystal. Master cutters would then take the piece and, using a diamond-tipped wheel, cut to specifications.

Waterford Crystal typically has a lead content of 32%. The lead makes it heavier than glass and easier to cut. The baseline for a piece to be classified as crystal is 24%. Now, with this  information I had to do more research. Just how harmful is it to use crystal?

If you are simply drinking a glass of wine, there’s very little chance of lead leaching into the liquid. The cautions I found focused on leaving food or drink in a crystal container for  prolonged periods. For instance, it’s unwise to use the decanter as a permanent storage place for wine or liquor. Similarly, avoid the temptation to store jam in a crystal jam container. Use the crystal for a single sitting, return and remaining contents to a container or jar, and wash the crystal by hand.

I envision enjoying these brilliant, shimmering pieces on special occasions, where you’ll find yourself transported to a magical world of elegance and grace.

Ann Marie and David
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