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How to Refinish a Vintage Midcentury Modern Chair (page 1 of 3)

Iconic midcentury furniture is known for its high-quality construction, use of beautiful woods and great modern design. Learn what to look for when buying a vintage piece and how to properly refurbish it.

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Here are key elements of a genuine midcentury modern piece of furniture:

1. The wood. Most midcentury pieces are made of solid teak, rosewood or walnut. You may find veneers in these species on tabletops and other flat surfaces, but that doesn’t mean it's not good.

2. Seamless construction. A true classic is rarely nailed or screwed. The Danish (who were at the forefront of this design) mastered the technique of fitting wood together using dowels and threaded bolts. This makes them easily repairable.

3. The finish: Midcentury mod finishes are almost always natural, showing off the true beauty of the wood. Occasionally a piece may be painted a solid color such as black.

We found this teak chair at a retro furniture store. Even though it looked shabby, the chair still had good bones. None of the wood was broken, and the denting and scratching on the surface were minor, less than 1/8 inch deep, which is crucial on a natural finish; if you can't sand out the damage, it will show through on the finished piece. Also, the chair had the original seat cushions, which meant it'd be easy to duplicate a new set of cushions.

Here's What It Looked Like Before

Getting Started

Remove the cushions and the loop springs that hold tension under the seat cushion. Fortunately the loops on our chair are in good shape — these can be the hardest part to replace on one of these chairs. When purchasing a chair to refurbish, make sure the loops are intact or at least get a steep discount on the price if they are missing.

Apply Stripper

We used Jasco brand stripper because it contains wax that will help keep the stripping vapors locked onto the surface of the wood longer. Wear safety glasses and rubber gloves. With a paintbrush, apply an even coat of stripper over the entire chair. Have water nearby in case of a mishap. Apply liberally and don't brush over areas that are already coated because it will break down the chemicals and they won't work as well.

To speed up the process time and help the stripper along, cover the chair in black plastic garbage bags for about 20 minutes. It doesn't have to be completely sealed, but if you can fit the whole chair in a big bag, that is the best. After the 20 minutes, remove the bags and use a metal paint scraper to remove the finish and stripper from the chair.

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