07 December 2010

The Tale of a Table (Part 1)

A detail of a tabletop I marbleized last week. Unfortunately it looks more like a map of America, as seen from the air, during a record winter freeze. My next DIY attempt at faux-finishing the table will be far better, I assure you.

It's just one project after another up at our house. For the past several months my husband and I have been making lists of improvements we intend to make in our six small rooms, from hanging wallpaper in our daughter's bedchamber to having battleship linoleum laid in the galley kitchen to boxing in our clawfoot tub so it looks more refined and less like an Appalachian set piece. Needless to say, most of these projects require significant outlays of money, so we've been approaching them slowly, one by one, as cash is saved and economy-minded workmen are interviewed.

Getting the dining room into order is at the top of the list, mainly because we'd like to start entertaining again in a finished space rather than one that is forever in flux. The plans for the winter of 2010-2011 involve the installation of wainscot; lining the walls with hand-blocked West St. Mary's wallpaper from Adelphi Paper Hangings; repainting the badly worn wood floor (a task now completed); repainting the doors and trim; having new curtains made, et cetera.

Standing about five-and-a-half feet high, the 19th-century German cast-iron stove we found on eBay was recently installed for us by Top Hat Chimney Sweeps of Fort Plain, New York. The base is an old grindstone we found on our property, a former farm. That protective metal heat-shield has to be painted into submission soon.

Recently we installed a 19th-century German wood-burning stove in the form of a Doric column; it was one of my husband's numerous eBay finds. The space is quite cold in winter — our Federal Style residence, the surviving 1801 wing of a house that was begun in the 1760s, is utterly uninsulated — so the cast-iron stove is a welcome addition when the Fahrenheit drops and lake-effect snow blankets our property. As for the round pedestal table, it is usually hidden beneath a series of tablecloths, but when those linens are off being cleaned, its circa-1900 golden-oak ugliness is all too apparent. And, to my mind, it is entirely unacceptable.

I neglected to snap a photograph of our dining table before its recent transformation, but found this representative image on the website of Prices4antiques. Made of golden oak by Kershan Bros., an Ohio manufacturer, between 1880 and 1920, it is a near-match for our dining table, though minus the casters.
A view of our dining table after it was painted; the base was finished in satin black.

Last week-end, armed with directions I adapted from the Better Homes & Gardens website, I marbleized the top of the table as an experiment. A couple of days' exertions with three shades of latex enamel applied to the wood surface with an 18-inch-by-24-inch rectangle of thin plastic sheeting resulted in flamboyant amateur excess — grey faux marble with veins so thick they resemble mortar joints. (I didn't have a sumi brush, as the directions suggested for fine veining, so pressed one of my daughter's watercolour brushes into service.) Not long after the table was completed, I had the chance to visit the regal apartment of one of my idols, interior decorator Howard S. Slatkin, and realized my mistake once I laid eyes on the pair of obelisks displayed in his dressing room. The tabletop should have been painted a deep shade of terra cotta and speckled to resemble porphyry rather than boldly smudged and veined to look like mottled grey marble. That way it would have a quieter, more sophisticated presence, would show off our china better, and live more happily with the intended wallpaper.

Red Chinese porphyry, the actual stone, as seen on the website of Xiamen Orient Rising Imports.

Looks like I know what I'll be repainting in the near future. Simple directions for executing faux porphyry can be found in George D. Armstrong's Painter's Cyclopedia (Frederick J. Drake, 1908), and I'll be following them closely. And, one hopes, with more success and subtlety.

Another view of the dining table.


Acanthus and Acorn said...

I love it when you share projects and your home. I applaud your bravery for even attempting faux marble! I recall you had a beautifully set table last year with a hurricane...certainly perfect for company until round two?

The wood stove is a fantastic find and I look forward to seeing the wallpaper hung!

An Aesthete's Lament said...

Dear Acanthus and Acorn, As soon as the table linens return from the cleaners, that marbleized top won't be often seen! Far, far too bold, but it was very fun to attempt, even if it didn't turn out absolutely right.

The Down East Dilettante said...

Crazy about the stove---and the tall narrow heat shield behind it, very stylish.

An Aesthete's Lament said...

The stove is the best thing in the room!

Unknown said...

Love the stove and those old ones throw lots of heat. In doing your dining room, don't forget the words you just posted from Antoine de Saint-Exupery. If I remember correctly, he also said "the one thing that matters is the effort," so A+ for the faux-marble.

My Dog-Eared Pages said...

Dear Aesthete,
My husband is a pro and his secret for faux marble is to use faux cobweb, that you find at a party goods store. You soak it in paint, spread it out and lay it down {like a light block print}. I think your attempt is rather fun. Love the stove!

HOBAC said...

A swan's feather will also work for veining. Give it another go - this time just go with the flow and forget the directions.

Room Temperature said...

Two posts in two days? We're in the money!

I say it's pretty good for an intial attempt, since I only see one spot--near the gap at the top of the picture--where too many acute angles meet up, & I don't see any curves or swirly lines, those classic hallmarks of the novice, so quit with the disclaimers. You did good.

Besides, if you had found this table already painted, and not only painted, but signed & dated "Lucile, 1931"--perhaps, by a retired schoolteacher who wanted to give her parents' old table a new look after the Golden Oak thing was history--you'd call the marbling 'naive' & you'd be totally charmed by it. I would be, that's for sure. Same picture, different frame.

Room Temperature said...

BTW, if you want to give the old decorating fund a shot in the arm, find that Madeleine Castaing paint chip & start selling MC Blue. With EEE's book finally out, what better moment to launch your new line of AAL-approved paint colors?

P.Gaye Tapp at Little Augury said...

I dearly love your enthusiasm, any attempt is applauded-I have tried my hand-Hobac has the secret- that feather and a slightly shaken hand, the one that starts after a couple of scotches. That is how my friend Peele painted with much success. He always said make it look beautifully unreal. That is a great stove, practical and perfect, as is west st marys.

Penelope Bianchi said...

Aesthete! I consider you so very brave to show that!


Before you attempt anything else.......I am so lucky to have found in Hudson, New York, the most divine "marbleized" table........which is in the center of my "big Hall"!~

I will send you a picture of it.....don't do a thing until you see.......Please.......someone can handcuff you!


totally agree with Room Temperature!! both of his comments!!!!!!!!!

ps love everything else !! The marbleizing is .......oh never mind.

jones said...

For years I have been painting everything black that I think is too "shabby" and I have a great faux artist who does the marble. It makes everything (almost) look very sophisticated; what the heck, it is only paint!! Thanks for the Super post! Mary

An Aesthete's Lament said...

EEEEEK, indeed, Pamela! Ah, well, nothing's perfect.

Nammie said...

i just love you page.. more things to know about home decoration but try also with the use of the area rugs.... could be a perfect fit in your home also.

Penelope Bianchi said...

How funny is this?
I am the one who said......"EEEEEEK!!!!!!!" and I meant it....and you called me "Pamela"
that is the name I made up to be my name instead of "Penelope" which IS my name.....(when I was 6!)

I think you meant me........right? No one else said......"EEEEEEK!" Or is there a Pamela in the wings?


we wouldn't like perfect ; even if we could do it.......

I will send pics of my table.


ps "absolutely wrong" is much better than "half-right...or "almost right"! It shows courage and commitment........most of all......conviction!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yay! And we are so ecstatic that we are receiving these posts again.....