vintage furniture

Heywood-Wakefield Miami Bedroom Set

We didn’t know with certainty that Michael had found a Heywood-Wakefield Miami bedroom set on Craigslist. Even when David and I examined it, we suspected but couldn’t confirm that Heywood-Wakefield manufactured it. No labels or logos — except for the refinisher.
Furness's Refinishing label
And the wood didn’t have an authentic Heywood-Wakefield finish:
Heywood-Wakefield Miami nightstand
We bought the set from a television production assistant who acquires props for television shows. Is that cool or what? I don’t know where or if this set appeared on TV, but  we found it sitting in his garage. We toted off the vanity, chest, nightstand, headboard and footboard. And a vanity seat that doesn’t match.

When we arrived home, David pulled out his Heywood-Wakefield books and verified the heritage. The original pieces came in Champagne or Wheat finishes but our refinished bedroom set appears to sport a medium-to-dark walnut finish. However, there are areas where the original birch’s golden hue bleeds through the darker walnut color.

Heywood-Wakefield Miami Bedroom Set

Heywood-Wakefield manufactured the Miami bedroom collection for a very short period, between 1941-42, as part of their Streamline Modern furniture line. This popular series became notable for the curved front design.

The Niagara collection, which we do not posses, shows an more extreme example of the bowed front and curved drawers, achieved by steaming and bending solid wood. Leo Jiranek designed both the Niagara and Miami collections.

Heywood-Wakefield Niagara Vanity

Jiranek’s Heywood-Wakefield Miami bedroom set presents a boxier shape than the curvy, sexy Niagara. Yet the gently curved edges convey graceful lines, pleasing proportions, and high utility.

This next photo shows a Miami vanity with an original finish. The matching seat is authentic Heywood-Wakefield. Alas, we own neither this vanity nor stool. I want that stool. Our vanity matches the vanity shape but has a darker brown color. Isn’t that mirror fabulous? Bakelite clips hold the mirror in place.

Heywood-Wakefield Miami Vanity
Heywood-Wakefield Miami Collection Vanity, 1942-41. Source
David’s Woodworking Heroics

In generally good condition, the Heywood-Wakefield Miami bedroom set still needed work. David conducted an inventory of what he had to do. Our next blog post will detail how he improved the worn finish and sticky drawers.

  1. Remove random paint splotches — a cautionary tale to those who paint near furniture. 
    Heywood-Wakefield damge2. 
     Remove top surface paint and blend scratches.
    Heywood-Wakefield damage

    3. Sand all the drawer interiors to remove crud. Here’s an aerial view of the bottom of the nightstand’s top drawer. We’re looking at cigarette burns and unknown spills.
    Heywood-Wakefield damage
    To repeat, David sanded all the drawers. This next photo shows the nightstand’s bottom drawer space. Did a family of dirty pixies live in there? Anyway, once David  finished his sanding, I applied shellac.
    Heywood-Wakefield damage4. Adjust drawers for smooth sliding.
    Heywood-Wakefield damage
    Heywood-Wakefield damage

Finished Products

David staged this photo of the full/queen bed frame on the front lawn right after he finished it,
Heywood-Wakefield Miami Full Bedrameand the nightstand with the lower drawer that drops down. That bottom drawer, once filthy and inhabited by pixies, reveals a much improved interior:
Heywood-Wakefield Miami nightstand
David and Michael moved the Heywood-Wakefield Miami bedroom set — the chest, vanity, full/queen bed frame, and nightstand — into our booth at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery.
Heywood-Wakefield Miami Chest
Heywood-Wakefield Miami vanity
Heywood-Wakefield Miami bedroom set

Heywood-Wakefield and WWII

The U.S. entrance into World War II in 1941 reshaped Heywood-Wakefield’s production and ended the Miami line. In 1943 the company published a brochure to explain its wartime effort of “a grim, strange cargo” at the expense of “complete and harmoniously designed furniture packages,” Source for this and following quotes, p. 29.

Taking a patriotic stance, Heywood-Wakefield explained their conversion to their customers: “like ourselves . . . [our customers] wish we could serve them better; but they prefer that Heywood-Wakefield ‘serve our country best.'”

Instead of furniture, their Gardner, MA, factory shifted into producing bomb nose fuzes, ack-ack projectiles, gun stocks, saw and pickaxe handles, and barracks chairs. Ready Room chairs, a combo of Heywood-Wakefield’s reclining bus seat, a school room writing desk, and a personal locker, were churned out for U.S. Navy aircraft carriers. Practice shells helped train soldiers on five-inch guns, and field hospital stretchers carried the wounded.

Heywood-Wakefield US military bunk beds WWII
U.S. Military Bunk Beds, WWII. Made by Heywood-Wakefield. Source

With steel tubing unavailable for beds, Heywood-Wakefield converted its bentwood into ambulance beds. Their brochure states:

Yes, we can make wood ambulance beds in a furniture factory with comparative ease . . . but, please God, grant that we or any other manufacturer may be called upon to produce as few as possible for our boys and those of our allies. p. 30.

Leo “Jerry” Jiranek

A quick word about the designer, Princeton-educated Jerry Jiranek. He began his association with Heywood-Wakefield around 1935 as a freelancer. For 67 years he designed for companies Bassett, Broyhill, Ethan Allen, Heywood-Wakefield, Garrison, Kroehler, Lane, Thomasville, Along the way he acquired the title “Dean of Furniture Designers.” In the mid-1960s he established the Jiranek School of Furniture Design and Technology in NYC to educate people in the furniture industry.

Heywood-Wakefield — A Timeless Love

A woman visited our booth today, looked at the set, and said, “That’s Heywood-Wakefield, isn’t it?” As a young college graduate many years earlier, she had fallen in love with the design. She’s now a grandmother getting ready to downsize, but she still loves Heywood-Wakefield. Always beautiful, always timeless.

Come back for our next post to see how David worked his magic.

Ann Marie and David

Read details on how David repaired this bedroom set.

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Little Piggy Goes to Market

Take a peek at my newest painting project, a hand painted French Provincial chest in Little Piggy:

hand painted french provincial chest

I cannot take credit for the inspiration. That goes to Mary Vitullo of Orphans With Makeup. Mary not only creates beautifully painted pieces of furniture, but her styling is brilliant. Here’s the Little Boho, a French Provincial chest by Mary:

French Provincial Chest

See what I mean? Mary displays fancy doilies in the window and a hanging basket featuring plush animals and a gorgeous pompom cloth with delicate tatting. You may catch a glimpse of my empty painted basket in the photos below.

Last year I bought a French Provincial chest and put it into storage. I delayed doing anything with it because it faced competition from mostly Mid-Century Modern furniture in our booth. But such an adorable painted piece brings radiance anywhere it lands.

Mary used Little Piggy from Fusion Mineral Paint’s Tones for Tots. After trying to buy locally, I turned to my blogging buddy, Melanie Alexander of Lost and Found. She sells this paint line and I’ve been meaning to give it a try. Melanie and I started blogging around the same time, so I’ve always felt a special connection to her. She’s also excellent at shipping quickly.

French Provincial is such a feminine style that I felt I had to go with the Little Piggy color. Unlike Mary’s piece, however, I didn’t distress. Fellow painters take note, Little Piggy is a tad pinker once you get 3 coats on but it’s still a light blush.

Tones for Tots Fusion Mineral Paint

I pulled out my piece and started cleaning.French Provincial Chest

Hello, Starbuck!

French Provincial chest

Fusion Mineral Paint is thinner than Annie Sloan Chalk Paint and it glides on.

hand painted French Provincial chest

Tomorrow we’ll take this lovely girl into our booth at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery amid the mid-century items and create a vignette. Although we’ll staged it for a nursery, this chest is perfect for a girl of any age.

French Provincial Chest

handpaianted french provincial chest

Using Tones for Tots was a breeze and I can’t wait to try Little Speckled Frog to match this froggie.

Thanks for visiting. You can also find us on Facebook and Pinterest.

Ann Marie and David

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Painted Smooth Finish on MCM Furniture

Warning: The following post may be unsettling to MCM purists.

What do you do when you can’t save the original wood? When the time and effort to refinish your find just isn’t worth it? Perhaps if these 2 pieces of Mid-Century Modern furniture had been in better condition we could have salvaged all the bare wood. Instead, David and I decided on a painted, smooth finish.
Dixie MCM Dresser and Nightstand

Made by Dixie, the dresser and nightstand had more problems than just a few dings. While they had excellent bones, both pieces were really showing their age. Take a closer look at the dresser drawers.
Close up of Dixie Dresser Drawer Damage
The factory’s stain and topcoat had broken down with age and use. Beyond that, David faced scratches, scrapes, nicks, and even a bit of water damage.

David usually restores our Mid-Century Modern pieces to their natural glory.

White Furniture of Mebane, NC
White Furniture: Sideboard
White Furniture of Mebane NC
White Furniture: China Cabinet
Mid-Century Modern China Cabinet
MCM China Cabinet – SOLD

But these Dixie pieces had taken too much abuse. Luckily, David thought he could save the drawers. A bold choice. I undertook painting the exterior frame in Annie Sloan Chalk Paint Old White. I chose Old White instead of Pure White because I had a can of the former and none of the latter.

Testing a New Technique: Mid-Century Modern Smoothness with ASCP

I wanted the paint to resemble the smooth lacquer finish. I’ve read about people loading up their paint sprayer with watered down ASCP, but I don’t have a sprayer. Annie Sloan herself demonstrated a feathering technique for painting modern furniture.

I tried my own technique using a brush and watered down Annie Sloan paint. In retrospect, there are easier ways to achieve a lacquered look. More on lessons learned later.

Here’s the dresser with its first coat of paint, on its way to a smooth finish:

Dixie MCM Dresser

I put two coats of paint on (no water involved), pausing to sand the 220-grit between every layer. After those coats, I swished my brush in water and then dipped it into a plastic container of paint. Very watery paint went down on the next 2 to 3 layers, again with sanding between each layer. The water thinned out the paint so there would be fewer paint lines. I wanted smooth — no lines.

This photo shows the nightstand after a few coats of watered-down paint and still needing sanding. Since we were experimenting, the top probably got 5 layers of watery Old White, and the sides about 4 each. We used 220-grit sandpaper between each layer. For the very last sanding David worked his way up from 220 to 400 to 600-grit.

Smooth Finish on MCM Furniture

Meanwhile, David focused on the nightstand drawers. You can see differences emerge in the photo below:
Dixie MCM Nightstand 3 Drawers
1. Left Drawer – Nothing has been done to it; years of grime contribute to its dullness
2. Middle Drawer – David sanded with 150 grit sandpaper and acetone to strip off the original  finish and sanded the drawer removing scratches and shallow dings
3. Right Drawer – Multiple coats of Watco Danish Oil Medium Walnut. Sanded between coats with 220-grit. No sanding after the final coat. David just wiped it down and let it cure.

We researched the sealer. I saw an article by The Purple Painted Lady with this caution:

Something to be aware of – is if you burnish your Chalk Paint™ (we call this the Modern Look) that you may not be using Clear Wax on top. In fact- you may have a problem having the Clear Wax being absorbed into the Chalk Paint™ since by sanding the surface excessively to get that super smooth feel, you create a hard- compacted surface and the wax will have a hard time penetrating it or the Chalk Paint™ will have a difficult time absorbing the wax now. Slight sanding is fine!…I do this all the time and then apply Clear Wax. But if you are “polishing” the surface, please be aware of this caveat.

Our pieces had a super smooth feel, so ASCP’s Clear Wax was out. We next researched polyurethane and learned that it has a high possibility of cracking and yellowing. Nope — didn’t want that. I couldn’t reach my stockist so I telephoned The Purple Painted Lady’s shop up in New York State. They recommended General Finishes High Performance Water Based Top Coat – Gloss, which I bought locally. We went with Gloss because we wanted shiny brilliance rather than a muted, Satin surface.

Here’s the nightstand with 2 coats of the GF Top Coat on, sanded with 400-grit between coats. The third coat was sanded 600-grit. The fourth and final coat, with 400- and 600-grit.

Smooth Finish on MCM Furniture

Painted Smooth Finish

As for our timing, we chose to finish this piece before starting our Christmas holidays. Before cleaning the house, buying and trimming the tree, and before shopping. Theoretically that should have worked but David found himself locked in combat with the larger chest and his work days stretched perilously close to Christmas.

Perhaps David will write a post detailing his trials with this nemesis. How many of us have encountered a piece that fights back every step of the way? But he was determined to place both chests in our booth before we began Christmas — and we could practically hear Santa up on the roof.

We made it!

Mid-Century Modern Dixie chest and nightstand

But the drawers on the big chest didn’t glide smoothly — and that bothered David over the holidays. Especially when a customer bought those 2 pieces and our gorgeous MCM 9-drawer dresser with mirror right after New Year’s.
Mid-Century Modern dresser

We promised the client that the drawers would glide like ice skaters when her fiancé picked up the pieces. And they did.

Lessons Learned
  • General Finishes Top Coat gave power to these two pieces. I love working with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint and I did a good job painting, but David’s multiple layers of top coat with increasingly higher grit sandpaper provided depth, gloss and glamour.
  • Avoid delaying your holiday. That’s no fun. For us, the issue came down to space. We had to move furniture into our booth before rearranging for Christmas and buying the tree. I don’t want to be in that situation again.
  • We knew the drawers were sticking and we put a not-ready-for-prime-time piece into our booth. We won’t do that again.

I’m happy to assure you that we had a lovely Christmas season once it began, the 3 furniture pieces went to a new home, and our new client is thrilled because of our excellent service.

Ann Marie and David

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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

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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Reviewing Amy Howard’s Tick Tock Paint

Coffee Table Tick Tock by Any Howard

This square coffee table gave us the perfect opportunity to try our hand at a coastal sensibility. Michele Hilley of Stiltskin Studios and an affiliate of Amy Howard products, had sent me a gorgeous color: Tick Tock, an eye-catching light blueish-green. By the way, Michele and husband Kenny do astonishingly creative work, so be sure and check them out.

Amy Howard Tick Tock

Tick Tock belongs to Amy Howard’s One Step paint line and is a great color for beach furniture. I was sure I could easily get one coat down on the coffee table with the 4-oz. sample size. The question was: could I get 2 coats down? In hindsight, this was a very pessimistic view.

Coffee Table


Indecision prompted me choose to cover the table with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint Paris Grey. My internal debate went as follows:

Voice 1: You don’t need a primer. Just go with the Tick Tock and see how far it’ll take you. You will easily get 2 coats on that table.

Voice 2: But what if you run out of paint? You don’t want patches of wood showing through. Why not contrast the grey depths of the ocean water with its light, sunny greenness?

It should come as no surprise that Voice 2 won.

Paris Grey went down first, but in retrospect, I wouldn’t do that for future projects because I had plenty of Amy Howard’s Tick Tock paint — even in a 4 oz. sample jar.

Coffee Table Paris Grey Annie SloanTick Tock came next. It’s a beautiful color reminiscent of the warm, clear water surrounding  Caribbean islands. I love the imagery it evokes: warm breeze, fruity rum drinks, toes dangling in crystal clear waters, brightly colored tropical fish darting to and fro. Needless to say, I’m a real fan.

Here’s my advice on using Amy Howard’s paint:

  • Make sure the pigment in the bottom is absorbed. Turn the paint over for an hour, shake it or stir it.
  • Wait until the first coat dries completely; the second coat will go on easily and fill in any thin patches.

Since I was doing so well experimenting with the new paint, I decided to add a color wash. I only had Annie Sloan’s Pure White on hand, so I added water to the Pure White, about 2.5 to 1. I lightly brushed it on and wiped it off, working in small sections.

Coffee Table Tick Tock Amy Howard

In the above photo I’m attempting to contrast the white wash on the table with the Tick Tock (and no wash) on the drawer. The color wash softened the Tick Tock so that it looked like a mist of sea salt had settled over the table. I love how it accented the carvings.

Coffee Table Tick Tock by Amy Howard

I used Clear Wax to seal it but decided against adding any Dark Wax, because I wanted to retain the feeling of lightness.

With the painting complete, the table looked fantastic. Before we could finish the project however,  we faced one last obstacle. The intricate, raised designs that looked so interesting left the table top choppy and precarious. Let’s face it, if you tried to set your drink on one of those bumpy designs, you’d have a mess to clean up. I can envision a little one’s grape juice settling in the grooves.

We came up with an easy solution. One trip to the local hardware store and we added 4 glass inserts to level out the top. The finished table will look great at any beach house. I also think Tick Tock would be a perfect color for a nursery.

As an added bonus, I actually had paint left over — almost a quarter of a jar. I can’t wait to use Amy Howard paints again in the future. I’m especially looking forward to testing out her Lacquer Spray. I’ll be sure and share my results, so be sure and stay tuned!

Coffee Table Square Carved Finished 2 copy

Disclosure: I was not compensated for my review of Amy Howard’s One Step Paint. I simply shared my opinion of the product: thumbs up and I’ll use it again. I’ve also recently learned that select Ace Hardware Stores now carry her paints.

Have a great week,

Ann Marie and David
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Estate Sale Weekend, Part 1

We visit a lot of estate sales. Usually they are well run, orderly and pretty routine. The estate  rep’s job is to get as much money as possible for the client. My job is to select the day(s) we visit, seeking the widest selection at the lowest prices. It’s a dance. Sometimes a slow waltz, occasionally a fluid tango, and rarely a manic tarantella.

This weekend was crazy, so I thought I’d share our challenges and triumphs.  Part 1 begins on a Thursday.

Sale #1

San Jose House

We entered the wrought-iron gates of a lavish, Moorish mini-fortress. A family crest with swords hung above the gates. Beyond lay two oversized oaken gates. This residence, stretching on forever, seemed more like a castle than a sleepy suburban home.

Such an intriguing structure ensured a mob of rabid shoppers who surged with first-day, first-hour passion. Opening day, by the way, offers no discounts.

Along with many others, I had pored over the photos posted on and knew we’d find this home brimming with treasures. Religious icons from around the globe: a replica Russian synagogue, Byzantine icons, crucifixes, rosaries. And antlers, masks, Spanish furniture, metal works, sculptures and paintings —  just a few of items that drew eager shoppers from other states.

Usually an estate sale company provides holding pens of some kind. As shoppers select items, they place them in a plastic container or on a clearly designated table. Everybody respects the holding pen, typically located very close to the cashier.

Picture the press of people, too numerous to allow any coherent flow of traffic, bumping and jostling while continuously repeating “Excuse me” with little sincerity.

Among this crush of humanity — and a full room away from the cashier — I caught sight of something underneath a card table filled with merchandise. Wading though a sea of frantic people, I bent down and pulled out deer antlers.

This innocent act brought immediate wrath from a nearby shopper who quickly shoved her way next to me and angrily declared all of the items off limits.

“Somebody’s already claimed everything down there.”

She turned to another woman, “Didn’t that man say he wanted those?”

Her friend immediately picked up the refrain, “Yes, I’m pretty sure he said they’re his.”

Turning back to me, she explained, “Because I’m was interested in the one you’re holding but that man has already claimed it.”

That’s ridiculous and I don’t like hearsay. I need primary sources. These ladies were loud, pushy and utterly confident in their assessment. Like a fool, I set down my antlers and in two steps found a sales rep. Nope, she said, those aren’t being held for anybody.

I spun around to see the first lady holding my deer antlers — and with no interest in surrendering them. “Well, I wanted them first,” she said, matter-of-factly.

I kept mouth shut and pulled out another set: ram’s horns and pretty cool looking. I think they may be upside down in my photo.

The steep prices prevented us from buying much, but here’s what we walked away with:

Ram's Horns
Ram’s Horns
Faux Gold Crown
Faux Gold Crown From a Church Statue
Maya Man
Maya Man

Sale #2

This next one was a private sale, open to all, but the family had chosen to forego a professional estate-sale company. They were on their own. I don’t like private sales because things can go wrong quickly.

My dislike of private sales was further cemented after David and I found a small, beat-up Kittinger chest with numerous problems. A couple decorations were missing, but we found them in a drawer. OK, they could be reattached. The molding presented a bigger problem: an important corner piece was missing. David would have to create his own mold, fashion a replica and seamlessly attach it.

We debated for 20 minutes. The sticky-backed tag read “$75 — As Is.” The family member sitting in the room — the homeowner’s mother — acknowledged that it was a good price for that poor piece.

I took the tag to the cashier’s table, intending to ask for a $10 discount.You know, go bold or go home.

“This is for the small chest in the back room.”

“Can you describe it? I’m not sure which one.”

“The small Mediterranean one.”

“I can’t picture it . . . ”

And my BIG mistake: “The Kittinger.” (NEVER admit you know something about a piece.)

As soon as I said the name, the homeowner, sitting next to the cashier, snapped to attention.

“That’s not the right price,” she said, grabbing for the tag. I pulled it close to my chest, unwilling to surrender.

“That’s what it’s marked.”

“It should be $175. Somebody wrote it wrong. I called out the price but they wrote it wrong.”

“Look, I’m willing to pay the amount on this tag. $75. Because that’s what’s marked. I can pay for the piece and walk out with it right now.”

“No. It’s mine and I’m telling you that you can’t have it for that price.”

Defeated and steamed, I waited for David and Michael, our son, to come downstairs. I delivered the news and we knew what to do: leave immediately.

Sale #3

This large, charitable estate sale opened its doors 3 hours before we arrived. Every single piece of antique furniture that I was interested in lacked a price tag. That means somebody had already grabbed the tags and planned to buy the items. The buyer was either in line or still shopping.

Well, it turns out that antiques were unavailable because our State Attorney’s representative, who waited 1.5 hours for the doors to open, was buying in bulk to furnish their new offices in antique style. I just read about an Illinois Representative who found himself in hot water after he had his office decorated in Downtown Abbey’s style (because the decorator donated her services, but it counted as a gift). Is a trend forming in public buildings?

Anyway, this man purchased at least 11 big pieces. Good for him but so sad for me.

But this estate sale wasn’t a complete wash. Michael found a couple pieces of Mid-Century Modern by Dixie and we quickly pulled off their tags. I picked up a wooden cigar box from Honduras just because it looked quirky.

Dixie Mid-Century Modern Bedroom Set
Mid-Century Modern Dresser and Nightstand by Dixie

Cigar Box Honduras

Michael stopped to look at another Mid-Century Modern cabinet but, again, no price tag.  After a while, however, it became apparent that nobody was purchasing it. A friendly sales rep  scurried to find an answer.

Sold. The man running this sale had purchased it on behalf of his housekeeper and  forgotten to affix a Sold sign to the piece. Ewwww. Sorry, Michael. He was discouraged about that, but he’ll still be able to strip and stain his lovely MCM furniture and sell them.

The Estate Sale Weekend . . . continued here.

Thanks for visiting. We hope to see you for Part 2.

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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Iris Abbey Blog at One Year

I’m celebrating my first year of blogging by presenting some of the furniture and accessories that we painstakingly worked on.

My Aunt Marie’s 1953 Lane hope chest marked our first effort using Annie Sloan Chalk Paint and Royal Design’s stencils.

1953 Lane Cedar chest

Bolstered by that modest success, we boldly began work on the Drexel buffet. In retrospect, it was an overly ambitious undertaking. The hand-rubbed gold paint took an eternity, but the finished product was stunning.

Drexel Buffet

And we pushed on. Here’s the Baker Commode and more:

French commode


Savoy Lamp Table

The Serpentine Chest that David restored so it was sturdier than when manufactured:


Serpentine Chest 2

Small Victorial Table With Silver Foil 2

Luxurious Red Pet Bed SOLD

Pet Bed 1.9

We moved into Avonlea Antique Mall mid-July with as much furniture as we could fit. Only then did we discover the importance of smalls. I created an splendid menagerie:

Rooster Doorstop

African Carved Lion Painted 2

Painted Swans 5

Chinese Horse Silver Foil

Namibia Elephants

Elsa Elephant Bookends 2

Elephants on Pedestal


Quite a lot happened this year: David retired and a few months later landed in the hospital for several days. An 18-wheeler totaled my car. I developed a nasty kidney stone that demanded  attention. My mom made a few trips to the hospital before her final stay. She died in August, and I miss her.

During all those bizarre episodes, however, we continued to build Iris Abbey as best we could. We’ve learned a lot — and know there is much more to learn. We make new friends daily. David and I rediscovered the joy of spending our days together, and that’s a magical gift.

We wish you joy and happiness this holiday season. May next year bring opportunities, discoveries and — always — hope.

Ann Marie and David

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Boho Chic or Nursery Lullaby?

David lucked into a project for us at the thrift store. Initially disappointed by the lackluster selection, he headed to the exit, empty handed. There he stumbled upon the thrift store truck returning from a pick-up. Holding the door for them, he noticed a solid looking dresser among the items the men were carrying in. After a quick exam, David bought it on the spot.

She was sturdier — and dirtier — then we thought. We scrubbed her down until she was spotless and sweet smelling. It was no picnic. I’m telling you, I think somebody had eaten lunch in one of the drawers.

David did some repairs but I forgot to take any pictures in her unpainted state. Oops. I can describe her, though: heavy, well-built and plain.

We hatched a plan to dress her up. I sketched out some ideas and this is the winner:

Nursery Dresser Sketch

Stripes along the two upper shelves, with the remaining shelves a solid color. You can read about my stripe-painting technique here.

I experimented combining ASCP Arles with different amounts of Old White but decided to stay with uncut Arles. By itself, Arles is a rich, yellow ochre with hints of orange. I toned down the vibrancy of Antibes Green with Old White and covered the body of the dresser with it.

Nursery Dresser Detail 1

We painted the inside drawers to match the light green outside.

Nursery Dresser Drawer Inside

I had a goal: I wanted this dresser to appeal to a diverse audience. On the one hand, she is perfect for the nursery, as an all-in-one changing table and diaper storage unit. As the infant grows, the changing table transitions into a child’s dresser.

Nursery Dresser with Gown

On the other hand, I wanted her to have a boho chic vibe to appeal to artsy, adventurous adults interested in unconventional furniture. You’ll have to tell me if I’ve achieved my goal.

Nursery Dresser 3

We don’t have room at Avonlea Antique Mall right now to show her off — the holidays are underway. We may try to post her on Craigslist, which I’ve never done.

Nursery Dresser 2She’s a charmer and I so hope she finds a great home.

Thanks for stopping by,

Ann Marie and David

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