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.