Royal Design Studio

Finding Inspiration to Paint a Drexel Buffet

When we began our fledgling business about two years ago, one of the first pieces David and I acquired was this delightful Drexel buffet from its Esperanto Collection. David still worked at the university and I wanted to test this idea of a small business once he retired.

The buffet in this photo isn’t ours; in my enthusiasm I never took a Before picture. But it’s a twin of the unpainted one we brought home.

Drexel Esperanto Buffet
Photo by AncientPoint.com

I knew I wanted to use Annie Sloan Chalk Paint on it, and I scoured the internet for inspiration.

The shimmering greens and gold in this photo of the Rialto Bridge spanning Venice’s Grand Canal spoke so me. David, Michael and I once vacationed in Italy. Venice, with its green-blue lagoon, St. Mark’s Square, tiny shops, carnival masks, canals and gondolas, wove a magical spell despite the autumn mist. This photo became my inspiration.

Rialto Bridge
Rialto Bridge in Venice. Photo by Suzanne Thompson

Of course I had to go back and look through my own photos of Venice and show you a couple:

Soft evening lights of Venice
Soft evening lights of Venice

Our tour guide informed us we were looking at the “Best Butt in Venice,” so I’m sharing it with you. You’re welcome.

Venice Best Butt

Back to the Buffet: I began entering in search terms like “green and gold painted furniture” and eventually something miraculous happened. I found the perfect inspiration photo at 1stDibs. Here’s the amazing part: it matched my own unpainted buffet.

Drexel Esperanto Buffet
Drexel Esperanto Buffet. Photo by 1stDibs

This inspiration piece looked like it belonged in the opulent Doge’s palace in Venice. I set out to replicate it. Despite the buffet’s substantial weight, I wanted to achieve a light and airy sensibility.

Doge's Palace Venice
Doge’s Palace Interior. Photo by nuneza15

We studied our buffet for weeks, plotting our next move. Really we didn’t have a choice in the matter; the only place to store it was smack dab in the middle of our living room.

I didn’t feel guilty about painting this Drexel because of its condition. Scratches marked up the top — they’re a bit difficult to see in the photo below — and David needed to replace more than a few pieces of veneer.

Drexel Esperanto Buffet

According to the markings on the back, Drexel manufactured this buffet in January 1965. Definitely not an antique, which further strengthened my decision to paint.

Drexel Buffet Back

Meanwhile, our kitties had a field day.

Drexel Esperanto Buffet
Starbuck stretching downward while Pepper watches.

You know how you hesitate before trying something new? We hoped to sell this piece — our first painted piece. It needed to be perfect. We desperately wanted to avoid looking like amateurs.

Eventually, like when you’re standing on the edge of a high dive, you screw up your courage,  take a deep breath, and jump.

I mixed Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, Olive and Versailles, to achieve the custom sage color. David and I struggled with the new technique. From years of hardwiring, his brain only understood long, smooth strokes. Now we had a fat, round brush and tried to achieve shorter strokes. There was a learning curve, and I’m embarrassed to admit how many coats of paint we applied while perfecting our technique. But we learned and we improved.

Next came the French gold gilding wax, painstakingly applied by hand. I bought a jar from my Annie Sloan Dealer at Mid-Life Crisis By the Beach. I couldn’t wait to head home and get started. In hindsight, I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

Gilding Wax

Michael and I undertook this Herculean task. We spent hours — days — applying the wax. Thinking it would go on like a paint, we started out by applying with a small brush. This failed spectacularly. The gilding was the wrong consistency to adhere evenly to the brush. Worse still, its coarseness caused difficulties in application. When wet it had a tendency to flake, both off the brush and off the piece. We would not be defeated. We tried different sized  brushes, Q-tips, and our fingers. The wax isn’t meant to look perfect but we formed Team Obsessive in our impossible quest for perfection.

We’d focus on small areas, shutting out the world, finally walking away and muttering to ourselves. Then back for more. It seemed never-ending. But just look how she turned out.

Drexel Esperanto Buffet
Drexel Esperanto Buffet. Photo by Avonlelal Antiques and Design Gallery
Drexel Esperanto Buffet
Drexel Esperanto Buffet. Photo by Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery

I waxed her with Annie Sloan’s Clear Wax, but for the final step, the pièce de resistance, I  applied Royal Design’s Marrakech Medallion stencil to the bottom of the drawers drawers. A small surprise for its future owner.

Drexel Esperanto Buffet
Royal Design Stencil inside Drawer. Photographed by Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery.

At Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery our son, Michael, and Georgie took a series of photos in their makeshift photography studio. Avonlea had requested vendors submit 5 blurbs on self-selected pieces. Since only a handful of vendors responded to that original call, our pieces were among the first photographed, edited, and put in the new online store. The online store is still a beautiful work-in-progress that will soon be bursting with items.

Drexel Experanto Buffet
Drexel Esperanto Buffet’s Side Door. Photographed by Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery.
Drexel Esperanto Buffet
Drexel Esperanto Buffet Detail. Photo by Avonlea Antique and Design Gallery

While we’re still stewards of this great beauty, I have no doubt that the perfect match for her is  out there in the world. My point, however, is take inspiration where you can find it, whether it’s a photo on the computer, out in nature, a picture in a magazine, or a flash of inspiration. Good luck.

Ann Marie and David
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Sophisticated Whimsey

This mahogany Serpentine from the 1940s tested us. We knew it needed work when we bought it, but we had no idea how much.

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David has written about his woodworking efforts on this piece here and here. Remember her Before photo? Sturdy, but unassuming.

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Four of the handles didn’t match the original brass hardware. I pored over vintage hardware websites and finally found a good match in Canada, our friendly, frozen neighbor. FYI, I found a disconnect between web listings and the in-stock product. More than once I heard, “Oh, that set has been sold. We need to update our webpage.”

This sophisticated beauty is now ready. Her drawers glide so smoothly thanks to David beeswaxing all the runners.

She looks elegant. Here she is in a different vignette, and yes — azaleas are blooming in northern Florida. If you were here, I’d give you a bouquet of azaleas!

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We handpainted her with Annie Sloan Paris Grey. I outlined the upper drawer trim in Old White and painted the twelve handles. Annie Sloan’s Clear Wax covers the exterior. Louis Blue, on the drawers’ interiors, gives a lovely pop of color.

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As I  eased into the homestretch I received a free Lotus stencil (African Protea Flower) from Royal Design Studio. It looked  delightful and I needed to use it . . . immediately. I surveyed our in-progress projects and landed on the Louis Blue drawers.

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Using Royal Design’s Antique Gold  and Orange Ice cremes, and Annie Sloan’s Antibes Green, I stenciled a lotus on each side panel and waxed them. They offer a bit of whimsey.

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This Serpentine lovely has emerged from her spa treatment rejuvenated and looking more radiant than ever. She’ll be on sale at the Rustapalooza Spring Market at the end of the month, our very first market.

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Wishing you bunches of azaleas,

Ann Marie and David
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