antique furniture

Iris Abbey’s Top 3 Posts of 2015

With the New Year almost upon us, it’s time to reminisce on 2015. Today’s list is short and sweet. I was tempted to assemble a long list filled with links to my most popular posts, but decided to focus on Iris Abbey’s top 3 posts of 2015. I will feature other popular posts soon but right now I want to give a bit of breathing room to the top 3. They deal with the history of a furniture manufacturer and challenging painting projects. Without further ado, here are Iris Abbey’s top 3 posts of 2015. Click on any of the titles to link to the original.

White Furniture Company of Mebane, NC, Part 1

White Furniture of Mebane NC

After we bought several amazing pieces of White Furniture from an estate sale, I found myself compelled to research the company. In my post I touched on the its history and included photos of pieces that I purchased. White Furniture has an esteemed place in this country’s history of furniture. The crown jewel of my two-part post came with photographs of the White’s Mebane employees taken by professional photographer Bill Bamberger.

Bill photographed the final months of the Mebane factory. He and Cathy N. Davidson published the factory’s story and photos in Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory (1998). It’s a terrific book because it deals with the economy, human dignity, and loss.

Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory
Andrew inspecting bedpost, photo by Bill Bamberger

Several months after my original post, Dennis Jones reached out to provide a lovely and perceptive comment, which I treasure:

How nice to find folks still enjoying some of the finest furniture ever produced. I worked at White’s for three summers while I was still in high school. Many of the folks pictured I knew and admired their skill (even at 16 years old I knew a craftsman when I seen one) these men and women took pride in their job. I picked up wood scraps and delivered them to the boiler to be burned for heat and other energy needs.) At times I would stand and watch for 15 minutes at the skill it takes to cut out the scalloped huge table tops, it was amazing to watch these guys handle these huge pieces with ease. The exact measurements used, the quality of wood, the skill to finish the pieces, the packaging for shipment was second to none. White’s also knew the skill it took to put out furniture of this quality and paid their employees a better than average hourly wage. My uncle worked there nearly 50 years, he and many others were able to raise families and put kids through college because of these fair wages. The book does give a good look of the factory near the end, but the over 100 years before is the real story of American pride. I so miss the folks I worked with there, but my memory of each one always make me smile.

I love his comment. Our White Furniture Company pieces, still available at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery, are showstoppers. Customers regularly comment on their quality of the wood, the craftsmanship, and the designs — everything Dennis wrote about.

Create Shimmer and Style with Modern Masters

Modern Masters Warm Silver

The second most-read post focused on my trying Modern Masters Metallic Paint. I painted and stenciled an antique colonial revival dresser and discovered how easy Modern Masters is to use. I used Royal Stencil Creme for carved highlights and interior drawer stencils. It turned out beautifully and this lovely piece is now settled into a new home.

Antique Mahogany Piano

Annie Sloan Chalk Paint

The transformation of my friend Anne’s antique mahogany piano takes third place. I used ASCP’s Paris Grey with Old White to highlight the carvings on the front panel. Since I wrote that post Anne informed me she bought the piano over 40 years ago in Rio de Janerio from a military couple originally from New York. I like the idea of the piano traveling internationally. This beautiful girl has a richer history than I thought. Since I painted the piano, Anne’s numerous visitors have remarked that it’s not as massive and foreboding and the carvings are much easier to see now that they’re highlighted. Good deal.

I’d like to give thanks to our many readers, supporters, patrons, and friends for making 2015 our best year yet. Happy New Year. May it be filled with joy, inspiration and success.

Ann Marie and David

An Antique Piano and Annie Sloan Chalk Paint

My friend, Anne, recently decided to spruce up her spacious ranch home. Fed up with her carpet, she had it ripped out and replaced with eye-catching porcelain tile. The soft white and grey hues look gorgeous. It’s like pale wooden planks cover her floors. The faux wood tile even has indentations to simulate hand-hewn lumber. I’ve always wanted hardwood flooring and have spent years coveting it while eyeing my budget. This seems to be a realistic alternative. Don’t tell David, but Anne passed along the name of her sales rep. Lucky for him I’m too busy to get to the store at the moment.

Faux Wood Porcelain Tile Floor

Before you get the wrong idea, no, this post isn’t about Anne’s new flooring. The tile merely launched our joint project. Her home looks so bright and cool, which is great to offset the Florida heat. But darkness loomed in the corner. Her antique mahogany piano reverberated stiff Victorian formality, not breezy coastal casual. Having watched us work on many painting projects in our front yard, Anne asked me to help lighten up her piano.

Anne is an interior decorator and definitely knows her way around colors. Getting things started, I loaned her my copy of Colour Recipes for Painted Furniture and More (2013) by Annie Sloan and by the next morning she had selected Paris Grey.

Take a look at these fantastic intricate carvings. The level of detail required something special, so David and I offered two different suggestions on how to treat them.

Annie Sloan Chalk Paint

I thought a coat or two of Old White would really let them pop. David, however, didn’t want to lose the wood; he recommended leaving them unpainted. Anne remained undecided. The front carvings caused us the most concern. We not only wanted to do a good job, but also create a piece of art. Read on for more on our decision process.

Challenges Faced

The piano could not be moved from its current wooden blocks. I don’t mean that it was difficult to move, or merely unwieldy. Without wheels it sat, imposing and unyielding. The piano tuner will come soon, we were told, to attach wheels, perform some much-needed mechanical work to the action and tune the instrument.

Further complicating life, the piano stood 15 inches from a side wall. Since we couldn’t shift the mahogany beast, the simple tasks of cleaning, shellacking, painting and waxing would prove tricky. But not impossible. Contortions, head stands and lying flat on the floor in homage to Michelangelo — David’s middle name is Michael — and we managed to cover hard-to-reach detailed carvings in the cabinet structure.

The carved legs, while beautiful, took a lot of time to paint because of its nooks and crannies. We literally lay on our backs to find spots we missed, and there were plenty.

Annie Sloan Paint

We wanted to allow the piano’s beauty and age to show through the minor dings. Anything bigger than a ding, however, got a treatment of wood fill. The piano’s top had the most damage, as you can see in this next photo:

Annie Sloan Chalk Paint

Cleaning and Stitches

We spent the first day cleaning the wood. Before we could start the transformation process, decades of polishing waxes and oils had to come off. We used Simple Green and Min Wax Cleaner. This job was neither pretty nor easy. For our Bonus Round, David somehow managed to break one of our clip-on lamps. The lamp head with its sharp shards sliced his calf deeply — about 2 inches long. He drove himself to a doc-in-a-box for 6 stitches. Don’t judge me. I would have gone if it were serious; it hardly bled, and thankfully none of it got onto our friends’ floor.

Six Stiches

After two coats of shellac on the side, legs and bottom, followed by a couple coats of Paris Grey, we called it a day.

Annie Sloan Chalk Paint
Making Progress on Day 2 and No Medical Emergencies

More shellacking and painting, but we left the carved mahogany to discuss with Anne. David still lobbied for the natural wood to remain, enhanced with a coat of Howard’s Restor-A-Finish. The center carvings retained the deep red mahogany. The two side rosettes retained a very dark, dull patina.

Annie Sloan Chalk Paint

I took this opportunity to research the piano’s origins. Imagine my surprise when I discovered it was made by the esteemed Krakhauer Bros. of New York in the early 1900s. Just glance at the lovely lines and intricate details and you can see their master craftsmanship at work. Have I mentioned this piano is absolutely beautiful?

Painting the Carvings with Paris Grey and Whitewashing Them with Old White

I’ll ask that you stick with me here because these carvings are going to go through several changes. Here’s David on the day we painted the carvings Paris Grey. We diluted Old White to create a wash: apply wash and blot.

Annie Sloan Chalk Paint

But these carvings went through some transformations. Before we get into that ball of snarled twine, which style do you prefer?

Annie Sloan Chalk Paint Annie Sloan Chalk Paint Annie Sloan Chalk Paint
Unraveling the Ball of Twine

Anne spent the evening looking at the paint job shown in the first photo: an Old White wash over Paris Grey. But she remembered David lovingly describing the beauty of the mahogany wood. The next day she asked about the possibility of removing some of the paint to reveal the mahogany’s glory.

We are good friends and I assured her it could be done. I didn’t tell her the amount of work it would take. David and I tried a few different techniques but the one I highly recommend requires a Scotch-Brite Dobie scouring pad. Dip it in water and use a light touch. Remember, we had two coats of shellac already down on the wood so I felt OK using water.

It took a full day but David and I were pretty pleased with our efforts, despite our sore fingers.

After a night studying this new version, Anne asked if it would be at all possible to combine David’s recommendation and my recommendation: whitewash the mahogany. Yes, that would be easy compared to the day before. After another day’s work, here’s how the piano looked with an Old White wash over the mahogany wood, and mostly clear waxed.

Annie Sloan Paint

Anne asked if we could go back to the original design of Paris Grey washed with Old White. Sure. Again, that would be easy.

Drum roll, please, because we have our completed project and it’s stunning.

Annie Sloan Chalk Paint
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A Year in an Antique Mall: Lessons Learned

Next month marks our first anniversary at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery. We struggled with the decision to move into Avonlea because we are newbies in this business. The longer we waited, however, the more furniture kept piling up in our home. We needed to take action. Our pieces needed visibility, and we wanted to be able to walk through our house.

Avonlea not only is the largest antiques and interiors mall in northeast Florida, but it’s in the process of creating a unique online store for its vendors. That all sounded very attractive and, I’ve got to say, we’re quite pleased with our decision.

Here’s our space today — we’ve just upgraded to a larger booth.

Iris Abbey June 2015

A year ago we moved into a very small space because we wanted to evaluate our decision in the most economical way possible. Our booth measured 9′ x 5′ and didn’t offer much room to turn around.

Our First Booth

Color: Our first space came with neutral gray walls. Our excitement about moving in blinded us to an important element: color. Gray turned out to be a poor choice since our gray painted pieces blended into the wall. It looked like a big, boring yawn.

Layering: We added a bamboo rug, a bushy, holiday poinsettia and began acquiring small items to sell. That’s another lesson learned: one can’t get by selling only furniture. Smalls are essential. By December our space looked fuller and we laid out a Shop Small welcome mat to greet holiday shoppers.

Iris Abbey Christmas Booth

Size: Unfortunately, most people bypassed our booth without really seeing it. Very few people actually walked into our small space. A big factor was our neighbor across the street — she displayed two rooms crammed with amazing things. Her rooms served as a magnet that caused shoppers’ heads to snap their attention to her displays and completely ignore ours.  Our neighbor offered us advice early on: get out of that small space and into a larger one so people will take us seriously.

Color Revisited: Since we weren’t completely sold on the idea of a larger booth we decided to spice things up with a new coat of paint. Good-bye gray walls and hello Aubergine. I loved how vibrant and regal it looked. The Saturday after we painted, a customer almost bought that huge mirror. He didn’t, but we were encouraged that the aubergine made our merchandise  pop.

Iris Abbey Booth March 2015

We barely had a chance to test out our newly painted booth because a bigger space became available. Our son Michael helped talk us into the new space to display pieces from his ever growing Mid-Century Modern collection.

Space Revisited: Not only is the new space larger (10′ x 10′) but it’s across from a row of windows. Natural light floods in. Of course, we needed another can of Aubergine paint. I wasn’t giving up that gorgeous color. This time the mall staff painted our walls, no mean feat since the previous color (a hideous yellow) somehow managed to bleed through even after two coats of Aubergine.

We assigned Michael a wall for his pieces and he decided to feature this gorgeous china cabinet.

MCM China Cabinet Iris Abbey

In this next photo the cabinet doors are open. I’m very grateful for the extra storage space.
The chair in front of the cabinet is sturdy, Mid-Century Modern and — surprise — it folds up. To the right you can just see a hint of one of a pair of our Hollywood Regency chairs.

MCM China Cabinet

Michael’s Mid-Century Modern teak cabinet — made in Denmark — is topped off by a period lamp with a lucite base. It’s a great combination.

MCM Danish Cabinet

While we’re on this tour, let’s look around. The back wall features a magnificent mirror flanked by artwork. Those lamps are made from genuine mortar and pestles and would be perfect for a young scientist’s room.

Mirror and Artwork Iris Abbey

We have images from the ruins of Pompeii, a deer’s skull and antlers, an antique painted mirror, a designer’s lamp, and a unique Lady of the House print by Andrew Wyeth. In 1992 the Andrew Wyeth exhibit came to town and I required all my students at Jacksonville University to view his works and write papers. Lady of the House was only printed for that 1992 exhibit, so it’s rare.

Iris Abbey Booth

On the other wall stands our gold and silver dresser, which I love. Mighty Leo the Lion, atop it,  gives visitors a friendly roar.

Booth 76 Iris Abbey

The gray serpentine chest offers a perch for this authentic Osceola turkey, which stands next to a beautiful oval framed photo of a early 1900 family.

Iris Abbey

Here’s a better shot of the Serpentine Chest:

Iris Abbey

A breezy coastal table with hand-painted swans sits front and center in our booth.

Iris Abbey

Just beyond the coastal table stands the hand painted antique desk and chair.

Iris Abbey Desk

Online Presence: It’s essential to market merchandise online. Right now we’re only using Craigslist. Michael posts photos and blurbs on our Avonlea pieces along with ones we have at home (because they don’t yet fit in our booth). Avonlea’s next step is their online store, which should happen any day. We’re hoping that really takes off.

Thanks for visiting! Be sure and leave a comment — we love them.

Ann Marie and David


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Create Shimmer and Style with Modern Masters

Modern Masters Warm Silver

Take a look at this glamorous star, all shimmer and style. She was showing her age when we first brought her home but we knew she had something special hidden away. We just needed to bring it out.

Colonial Revival Unpainted 2

Colonial Revival Dresser detail of top

David asked me to include this next photo to give you an idea of the amount of work he did. We’re looking at the top of the dresser and a loose piece of veneer on a T-square. Once David removed the mirror, he found this strip had bubbled and loosened. It also had chunks missing. He cut and lifted that strip, then sanded, glued and clamped it in place. He cut other slices of veneer to fill in the gaps along that strip. Quite simply, he worked his magic.Colonial Revival Dresser Veneer Photos

We’ve wanted to experiment with Modern Masters products for a while. Still on my wish list is their oxidized metallic paints that undergo a chemical reaction and create amazing patinas. For now, though, I can check off using their Shimmer Metallic Paint. It’s terrific.

We used Warm Silver to transform this Colonial Revival antique dresser from the 1900-1915 era. Warm Silver tends toward a golden tone, so I changed my plan for an accent color. I intended to use Royal Design Stencil Creme in Antique Gold but discovered there wouldn’t be much contrast. I switched  to Antique Silver.

It took a few minutes to get used to a thinner paint than Annie Sloan’s Chalk Paint. The Modern Masters Metallic Paint glided on smoothly with hardly a hint of brushstroke. The Warm Silver is opaque and we put 3 coats on the dresser. David kept reminding me: “Don’t forget to wait an hour before the next coat.”

This isn’t a fanciful piece, so at first I searched for details to highlight with the Antique Silver. The ones I chose were subtle and, of course, extremely time consuming. For instance, we went from this . . .

Colonial Revival Dresser Unpainted Detail

. . . to this:

Modern Masters Warm Silver

Modern Masters Warm Silver

I used Annie Sloan’s Clear Wax to seal her and then rubbed on Dark Wax for added texture and age. I got out my fancy brush and buffed her.

Finding the right knobs posed a challenge. I didn’t like the original hardware simply because I find them difficult to use. I searched everywhere — for months. Reeves of The Weathered Door recently offered an excellent post on hunting for hardware. It’s worth reading.

I ordered a brass set from the House of Antique Hardware, intending to paint them Antique Silver. They weren’t right, so back they went. I sampled a few from local stores before settling on these Gwen Silver Glass Knobs from Pier 1. I didn’t have to paint them and even though they don’t perfectly match the Antique Silver, they add an extra sprinkle of glamour to an already beautiful lady.

David restained the drawers and brushed on 3 coats of shellac. He finished the drawers off  with 600 grit sandpaper. Smooth as a baby’s bottom. I used the Antique Silver Stencil Creme to create a vine pattern on the inside panels of each drawer.

Royal Design Stencil Creme Ancient Silver

Right now we don’t have room to display her at Avonlea Antique Mall. She’s at home, singing her siren song. I would love to keep her because she shimmers and glows like stars in the heavens. Let’s see how strong I remain.

Thanks for visiting,

Ann Marie and David

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Iris Abbey’s All-Star Posts

Happy New Year!

Looking at the activities we’ve undertaken this year and the projects we’ve completed — well, it just takes my breath away. We continue to learn about estate sales and thrift stores, cleaning, appraising, painting, stenciing, gilding and becoming vendors at  Avonlea Antique Mall.  I am so grateful for the encouragement you’ve provided along the way.

I started my blog posts in November 2013 but summer ushered in a gap because of family medical crises. So, I’ve decided to share Iris Abbey’s 10 All Star Posts, the most popular ones, since I began my blog. Just click the title to go to any post.

1. How to Preserve Boxwood, Parts 1 and 2

My finished product looked a bit wilder than the carefully manicured store-bought kind, but I like it here with my dad’s photo and my handblown glass ball from our trip to Venice.

Staged Boxwood 1

2. French Empire Commode

We transformed this Baker Beauty by hand painting her with Annie Sloan’s Paris Grey and Graphite on the exterior and stenciling a gold medallion in each drawer.

French commode original stateFrench commode

3. Aunt Marie’s 1953 Lane Cedar Chest

I was thrilled to honor my Aunt Marie’s memory by updating her cedar chest with chalk paint and a Royal Design stencil.

Lane chest without contact paper


4. Serpentine Chest

This 1940s Serpentine Chest, formerly a banged up mahogany piece from someone’s storage unit, is gorgeous. David devoted months on this because it was his first piece that we intended to sell. Of course, this was a pre-retirement project and it needed a lot of work. I painted the exterior Annie Sloan Paris Grey with Old White trim, and the interior doors Louis Blue with surprise stencils inside.


Serpentine Chest 2

5. Victorian Chairs

We stumbled upon 2 Victorian chairs at an estate sale and promptly grabbed them. They’re in above-average shape for their age — they were originally built in the 1860s. Our cat, Boston, seems satisfied, and I still intend to paint that functioning Grandmother Clock in the background.

Victorian Renaissance Revival Chair 3

6. Verdigris Cherubs

My first attempt at creating the illusion of verdigris with the cherubs David bought for $5 (total) at an estate sale: I used a combination of Annie Sloan’s Louis Blue, Antibes Green, and Old White. David made sure they sat on the table for Christmas dinner.

Metal Cherubs

My Grandmother and Grandfather in their 1913 wedding portrait. Painted cherub candles sit on Grandma's tray, along with some of her jewelry. She was a dressmaker, and the ribbon belonged to her. The teddy bear is made from a suit belonging to their deceased son, Joe.
My Grandmother and Grandfather in their 1913 wedding portrait. Painted cherub candles sit on Grandma’s tray, along with some of her jewelry. She was a dressmaker, and the ribbon belonged to her. The teddy bear is made from a suit belonging to their deceased son, Joe.

 7. DIY Holiday Decorations

In November I went a little craft crazy and whipped up a variety of items that. I now love Paper Cone Wreaths.

DIY Paper Cone Wreath and Autumn Banner


DIY Christmas Decoration Candleholder

8. Old Ochre Pet Bed

We made 2 pet beds and both made this list. We removed the doors off one and I painted it with Annie Sloan Old Ochre. David upholstered the interior and laid down faux tacks. Then, as the pièce de résistance, I stenciled a gold peacock in the center and feather tips at each corner.

Pet Bed 1.1

Pet Bed 1.9

9. A Chance to Paint Fabric and Cane

I found this chair at an estate sale after David went off on his own. I sat down to wait and ahhhhh! Quite comfortable, especially with a lumbar pillow. How could I walk away? It gave me practice painting fabric and cane. I used Annie Sloan’s Arles on the cushions and a combo of Versailles and Olive on the wood so it matched our living room rug. Did I mention? We have 4 cats. Boston and Pepper appear here.

Accent Chair with Boston and Pepper

Accent Chair with Boston

10. Emperor’s Silk Pet Bed

This second pet bed sold in a flash. We kept the doors on and painted it Annie Sloan’s Emperor’s Silk after running into trouble with Old White and the dark wood. David and I struggled with the interior fabric after the flannel proved particularly floppy to work  with. He took care of the faux tacking and our son, Michael, shined up the hardware, while Starbuck struck a pose.

Red Pet Bed Unpainted

Luxurious Red Pet Bed SOLDWe hope you enjoyed this year’s journey. We certainly did. Thanks again to all who visit. An even bigger thank-you bouquet goes to those of you who leave comments. We love comments. So many lovely people welcomed us in this, our first, year. We look forward to the 2015 and wish you a heartfelt, joyous New Year.

Ann Marie and David

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Take A Seat: Victorian Parlor Chairs

We timed our estate sale visit to its final day, arriving in the last couple of hours when prices are more flexible. Sure enough, an estate sale rep announced that prices were 50% lower than marked.

The house reeked of cigarette smoke, so it wasn’t pleasant poking through the mostly empty rooms. I’ve read that you can remove cigarette smell from upholstered furniture by spritzing cheap vodka on the fabric.

A massive Victorian bureau met us in the dining room but even at half price, I couldn’t hope to touch it. In a far bedroom I found a gorgeous Victorian headboard, footboard and rails. Nope, nope. Too costly. I gazed at the only other items in the room.

Oh, hello, there.


Two lovely parlor chairs greeted me, but I live in Florida, a breezy, casual state. Victorian isn’t a major decorative theme. I moved here after graduate school and coming from New York, I know Victorian. My grandparents’ home brimmed with heavy, dark furniture.

Maybe the chairs stirred my childhood memories. I’ve read that one’s appreciation of furniture skips a generation. That explains why I find Victorian more compelling than the mid-modern pieces owned by my parents. I lived through the mid-modern era and don’t have much favorable to say about that furniture.

When our modern Danish furniture took over the living room of my childhood, an edict accompanied the new sofa: don’t jump on it. Whereas the heavy piece it replaced could be imagined as a comfortable ship, train or fort, this Danish piece had skinny stick legs like a newborn fawn. Let’s be honest, we broke a leg pretty early on.

Back to the Victorian chairs: they spoke to me and were listed at 50% off. I could paint them and sell them. Maybe even reupholster them, with a lot of pluck and luck. Back out in the living room, David asked if I’d seen those bedroom chairs. That was all I needed. We bought the pair. As I carried one toward the door, a woman stopped me to compliment me on my purchase. “They’re pre-Civil War, you know, the 1850s.” I didn’t know, but if she were correct . . . my happiness meter surged. Image

I contacted Bob, my antiques pro. The chairs are from the 1860s, just a decade later than the woman surmised. That means they were manufactured during the Civil War, a bloody conflict that pitted many brother against brother. Who sat on this original tufted velvet? I’d like to imagine Abraham Lincoln or Louisa May Alcott or Susan B. Anthony. My own relatives immigrated in the 1880s, so someone else’s family originally bought and cared for my new chairs.


Bob said they’re Victorian Renaissance Revival parlor chairs, once part of a larger set. The Renaissance Revival lasted from 1850 to 1880 and produced massive, opulent pieces with geometric forms and decorative elements. But my chairs aren’t overpowering. I like the contrast between the rounded seat and the rectangular back with the pediment perched atop. They are charming. In fact, more charming each day. Image Image Image

For these photos I set up the best Victorian vignette I could muster. See that Grandmother Clock? That’s our newest acquisition and I love it. It chimes and was built, according to Bob, between 1900 and 1920 in England or Germany. More about the clock in a later post.


Here’s my current conundrum: do I keep the chairs or sell them? Arguments for selling: Florida isn’t a Victorian mecca. Bob says they could sell for $550 to $650 each, as is, in an antiques store. That’s interesting, but it doesn’t force my decision. I could keep them, paint and reupholster them. But then these beauties would lose some value. Does that matter as long as I love them and enjoy them? I’ll continue to ponder this. Any suggestions?

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