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REWORKING INEXPENSIVE FURNITURE:

At one point or another most of us have acquired inexpensive chunky-looking furniture that is too thick and too shiny and detracts from the realism of our setting. Or, we have one thing but wish it looked different. Usually, we do these things in the beginnings of our hobby before we know too much about scale and replace these pieces as soon as we are able.

If, however, we are on a budget or have no other choice but to use this type of furniture, or simply enjoy the challenge of bashing, here are some suggestions.

WOODEN CHRISTMAS ORNAMENT FURNITURE

This very inexpensive furniture (approximately half-inch scale) was originally tree ornaments found in an After-Christmas clearance. I got some pieces even cheaper because of slight damage. I bought it because I can't resist a Cheap Thrill, but also because I figured it would work somewhere in one of my more fanciful rustic story settings.

And sure enough, when I needed furniture for the little southwest setting for my Pigness Protection Program story, I figured with a little work these rugged little pieces might be suitable.

Here I have removed the hang cord. Something had at one time been glued in the corner and there is damage to the top, as well.

This little desk had one side piece lying loose in the package; otherwise it's not too bad. I have removed the cord here, also.

This table looks pretty shabby underneath, for sure. Needs some work. And those drawer pulls could be replaced, too.

Here I am making a pattern so that I can just cover the inside portion of the desk.

I have also cut a new matboard top for the chest and removed its drawer pulls.

Since this is a southwestern scene, and the box in which they will appear is dark, I decided on brighter colors. Here's the first coat on Miss Delly's kitchen table.

A coat of paint helps meld the new back in place readily.

Ironically, I apparently neglected to get a picture of thiis table in the finished setting, although I did show it in the original planning stages.

After I put a coat of antiquing glaze on the painted desk, it was almost ready to use..

I decided to remove the original drawer pull, however, and added the trim, cut from an address label sticker. Two tiny nail heads served as new drawer pulls.

Here is another of these little Christmas ornament tables, supposed to be for a child, I guess.

Here I have removed the blocks and the piece of fabric. (Those little blocks became toys for the piglets in the Pigness Protection Program setting.) I used the same process as above to revamp and repaint this piece, which became a side table in a larger setting, Raul's Gift in the Southwest pages.

It sits next to his Raine cowhorn chair, which is slightly smaller than one-inch scale. The table would also have worked as a desk in half-inch scale.

I've put a quick coat on the chest here just to meld everything together, but it needs to be sanded down and then a second coat applied. In an ideal world I would have sanded away those glue spots where the drawer pulls were, but what the heck. It's very small and pigs will be using it, so it doesn't have to be museum quality!

I used the same sticker trim for the drawer fronts.

Scattered throughout my settings are other slightly larger reworked Christmas ornament pieces purchased at different times, including two backgammon tables. One became a table in the Easter egg dome, and another became a potting table.

LATER NOTES: This little blue chest was later reworked again and became a part of Mother Goose's cottage kitchen.

 

MCKINLEY TAB AND SLOT FURNITURE

I made this Christmas sofa following general directions given by Susan Sirkis in the September through December, 1984, issues of Nutshell News (now Dollhouse Miniatures). She put together a Greenleaf McKinley wallhanger house and furnished it with similar Greenleaf tab-and-slot furniture.

I traced the back, fronts and seats of the sofa to make patterns, then glued a light layer of quilt batting to index card, raw edges to the back. A piece of cardboard covered with fabric hides the legs, which I did not like.

This chair comes from the same set. I think the back is too tall, but since this is one of Santa's chairs, I suppose it gives it a more throne-like look. If I were to do this now, I would cut the back down some. (And I would use some larger boots for Santa!)

The velvet throw has foil glued to the back, which makes it easy to scrunch and drape it the way you want. This idea came from Alice Zinn.

These chairs were from the same grouping of tab and slot furniture. I followed the same process here, but used a needle and thread to sew through the card to make the tufting on the front, then glued fronts and backs to the wood chair pieces. Plain green bunka was glued around the contours.

The seat cushions were made like the seat backs and fronts and glued in place. I first glued a piece of white index card around the seats, then glued the pleated chair skirts to the cardboard.

To connect seat with skirt, a strip of fabric was glued to a length of index card, raw edges to back, then glued to hide raw edges. The finishing touch was the bows in the same shade of green as the bunka, tails glued lightly to hold them in place.

Closeup views of these chairs can be seen in the Christmas Fireplace Dome scene, where they now reside.

REWORKING SOFAS

Most of us who have been doing minis for any length of time have at least one or more of these ubiquitous red Victorian sofas. I have a weakness for anything that I can buy at incredible prices, and when I found some at Ross for $1.99 each I bought several. Below are two of the projects I did with these sofas.

MISS BEULAH'S PLUSH

This lightweight flannel paisley reminded me of a busy plush sofa that belonged to Miss Beulah, my Uncle Herman's maiden-lady sister, who used to do sewing for my mother when I was a very little girl. It dominated an overheated room crowded with old-fashioned furniture and bric-a-brac and smelled of must and lilac dusting powder. I sat on that sofa after being pinned and fitted, nipping off tiny bits of my cookie to make it last longer as Mother and Miss Beulah visited. I also remember being scolded later for fidgeting because the stiff plush scratched my legs.

"You have to learn to put up with a little aggravation to have nice clothes," Mother said. "Miss Beulah does the prettiest hand work around." Guess that was my introduction to the female fashion world of those days. I do remember some pretty fancy embroidery and smocked yokes on my dresses from that period. I have a photo of myself and two male cousins; they comfortable in their shorts and me in a red velvet dress with a lace collar.

I used the sofa's upholstered sections as patterns to cut my new covering. I had to do some piecing to make the center section match on both sides. Before I replaced the upholstery, I sanded the heck out of the wood framework to get rid of the high shine. It was finished off with a final buffing with a piece of brown paper bag.

I like to think Miss Beulah would recognize her sofa.

NOTES FEBRUARY 2016: My granddaughterinlaw Joy Anna reworked one of these sofas in her own unique style when we did a chairs project in January of 2016.

THE ATTIC VICTORIAN

I redid this sofa when I was working on an Attic setting. The stuffing protruding from tears is made with tiny bits of cotton from an aspirin bottle; I just cut a slit with my craft knife, then poked in a bit of cotton. It took only the merest wisp to look realistic. (A piece hangs down underneath, too, but isn't visible in this picture.) To make the upper back, arms and the front edge look more worn, I rubbed a bit of white paint back and forth with my finger. This dulled the color and matted the pile for a more realistic look. The other ageing was done by brushing on some stain.

This sofa had four good legs until I accidentally knocked it from the worktable. Although it's not pictured here, the right back leg is now off. So, now I just need to find some old books to prop it up! Not bad for an attic relic.

I have a real life old loveseat that was in this condition - well, far worse - when we got it in exchange for a Cathedral glass lamp my husband had made for me in the sixties. The woman who wanted the lamp had a secondhand store and offered to swap whatever I chose for the lamp. I didn't really want to, but my husband said, "Heck; go for it. I can always make you another lamp!" And when I saw that loveseat, with its two equally disreputable matching chairs, my eyes lit up and Josie said, "Aha! You can have these for the lamp."

My husband refurbished the woodwork and we had the chair seats and backs upholstered in cut velvet. One went to my sister (unfortunately it was destroyed when her apartment burned) and I recently gave the other one to my daughter, who has it in her living room now.

Here it is, under the curio cabinets in our living room. Not a bad trade for that lamp! It is probably a hundred years old now, at least.

General Suggestions

1. In my early days, I read that Pat and Noel Thomas (famous for their realistm) use regular window glass in their wonderful houses, but they always paint the edges black, which fools the eye into thinking it's seeing thin. I have tried this same principle when my budget or lack of availability required that I use this type of glass.

Also, if you don't want any attention called to a furniture piece, but don't want different colors, try painting or staining the edges of too-thick tabletops or furniture a darker shade than the top but keeping within the same color range. I have also painted or stained too fat table or chair legs a darker shade, as well as entire bases of some things.

2. One of the biggest problems with inexpensive furniture is that the edges of drawers and doors or inexpensive chests are way too thick and rough, and way too sharp, as well. First, gently round off the sharp corners and smooth the edges and then try the painting technique with them. I have even painted the edges of some drawers and doors black, as well as the interiors and lids of trunks. Sometimes just putting a dirty water wash over lighter-painted chunky furniture helps, too. Maybe I'm only fooling myself, but I find that it does make a difference for me.

3. Also, try really sanding that too-shiny furniture. I bought a large set of very inexpensive oriental black lacquer furniture once, and have used various pieces in different settings over the years. As is, the furniture is way too shiny and definitely looks clunky, and even after working them over, a few pieces still proved unacceptable. Several pieces, however, benefitted from vigorous sanding and then finishing off with a brown paper bag, which gave them more of a waxed appearance. Matter of fact, waxed paper isn't bad either as a finishing method even when you're not lacking in funds!

4. Replacing the drawer pulls and handles on clunky furniture with slimmer ones detracts from the clunkiness. Never throw away old necklaces or earrings without taking them apart to see what might become a handle or hinge on your furniture.

5. If all else fails, take the pieces apart and use them in new ways. A single too-fat table leg makes a good pedestal for a small table or plant stand; two legs work with a piece of painted or marbled cardboard for a console table. Try using just the upper or lower part of something in combination with something else. If a tabletop is too thick, replace it with a new one made of thinner wood or cardboard. Then give the thick piece a bit of padding and a fabric cover and make it into the top of an upholstered chest or bench. (See Michaels Hutches in the Tutorials pages for other ways of bashing inexpensive furniture.)

6. Rarely is anything a complete loss for a contriver-miniaturist. If nothing else, spray it with hairspray, lightly blow baby powder over it to make it look dusty and put it in an attic setting. Just be sure that you do the same thing to everything else in your attic or it will look rather strange! lol

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