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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
After two coats of shellac on the side, legs and bottom, followed by a couple coats of Paris Grey, we called it a day.
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.
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.
But these carvings went through some transformations. Before we get into that ball of snarled twine, which style do you prefer?
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.
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.
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Ann Marie and David