Antique Reupholstered Settee

This piece was rescued from the trash by our friend Vita! On first sight, it appeared to be in pretty good shape, once we started to dig in though, it became clear why someone might consider just tossing it.

The piece itself had been left to the elements and was soaked with rain. On top of that, it was saturated with cigarette smoke and nicotine stains. In order to make this a sale-able item, it would need a major restoration.


The inspiration for the piece was a bottle of metallic nailpolish. At first we tried to recreate the color to use on the areas that would need guilding, but after working with some color theories, I had another idea! I would use a layering glazing technique to build the colors up to emulate the effect of the holographic polish.

The before…

Early on I became obsessed with the natural gradation of the color of the original piece. I loved how it appeared to be aged around the edges. I considered not even painting it at all. That is, until I got to the cleaning part.

Using first, a mixture of cold water and oxyclean, then, cold water and vinegar, and finally denatured alcohol, I removed what seemed like decades of odor and color from nicotine smoke. The smell was terrible, the sticky residue fused to my skin for days. It was the worst. This however, is why it is important to throughly clean and prep every piece you intend to sell, as well as replace ALL of the existing upholstery, foam, and fill. Just imagine all of your clients being deathly allergic to cigarette smoke and pet dander. No pressure.

Layering colors…

The first layer I applied was Krylon Ivy Leaf spray paint. I wasn’t looking for full coverage, just a light all over coat that would change the hue of the settee

Furniture Painting Rule #167

Don’t spray too close, you will create dimpling and dripping.

This was the first rule I broke intentionally. I sprayed within 2-3 inches of the piece, bringing the surface texture to just about dimpling. I needed to create a surface that would accept and show off multiple layers of color. Smooth surfaces just don’t do the trick, and I wanted to do as little “distressing” as possible.

Furniture Painting Rule #168

Wait for the paint to dry completely before you apply another coat.

I am terrible at following rules. I am an adult… you can’t tell me what to do! I began my first layer of latex paint, using a glazing technique, directly over a slightly tacky sprayed surface. The reason? I wanted the tacky surface for ultimate adhesion of the new layer, different medium of paint. My first layer would be a metallic gold. I would not recommend this process if it is just because you are in a hurry, you will not like the results. 

Furniture Painting Rule #25

NEVER, and I mean NEVER use steel wool to clean  or sand your piece! This will cause particles of the steel wool to come off on your piece, get trapped inside the finish, and rust over time.

You don’t say… I thought about this. We often try to create different material looks when making custom pieces. Check out the dining table paint effect I used here to make the legs look like they were made of metal and painted delta blue… I definitely wanted this piece to be rusty. Every layer of color I applied to the piece was watered down, and mixed with particles from a 0000 steel wool pad. The things really do shed a lot! Watering down the paint allowed for the steel wool particles to fall deep into the crevices. I didn’t want to be able to feel the rust, just see it. My next layer was a metallic green that closely matched the original color of the nail polish I was looking to emulate.

I thought this would be the final layer, but it certainly wasn’t reflecting the dark blue tones of the inspiration. I had to break out the Swamp Monster. This is our custom color made by Motor City Paint. I have been looking for an excuse to use it for some time, but it is a dark and bold color. Hard to convince others to love it as much as I do.

It was getting closer to what I saw in my minds eye, but still not close enough. I took some undiluted Swamp Monster and went over all of the lines that were to be gilded with gold leaf. This way, if it was too much swamp monster, I could cover the majority with the leaf, and it would brighten up. At this point, I was convinced I had ruined it. My #1 rule is, finish it first. So I didn’t give up and start over, I continued to build. Gold leaf was hard af. I hated the whole process. I was however delighted after using steel wool to clear off the loose pieces and knock enough gold back to look like the piece had been heavily used. Look at me… distressing shit… 

Now, it was time for the magic. Using two seperate solotuins of distilled white vinegar first, then hydrogen peroxide, I sprayed the dry surface of the paint. Instantly all of those invisible tiny little particles of steel wool started to rust. The gold leaf, being metal, also started to react, and before you know it, I had aged this piece by decades. It almost looked as if we had pulled it from the bottom of a lake. It was glorious. Once dry, I applied a dark brown wax to the detailed areas of the settee. I was initially affraid it would cover up the rust, but it did not, it only brought the colors out more. I was absolutely thrilled. two final coats of clear wax, buffed to perfection, would seal in the rust, paint, and all, creating a silky smooth surface that is absolutely magical to touch.

Drooling yet? I was. I literally lost days of sleep trying to finish this thing in my head. Next up, choose the fabric. I already knew the fabric combinations I wanted to make, just not in what order. I was going to be very bold, but I wanted to be mindful of the potential owner, and not go too off the rails.

Please take note…

Your version and my version of off the rails are likely VASTLY different.

Ultimately, after consulting with our followers on FB I decided to use the swirls on the back and create more interest. I would also be using this fabric on the seat deck to bring the pattern around front, but I decided that there was a lot going on here, so I opted to make a cushion for the top, filled with down, that would drape over the crown of the seat deck, and pump the breaks on the excitement a bit.

After the upholstery, and the double welt was applied to finish it off, I was completely underwhelemed. Sure, it looked nice, and nothing like anyone has ever seen before, but it didn’t feel like it did in my vision. It needed more. Adding layers like this is a delicate balance of trying to not over do it at every turn. I don’t have a filter for that sort of thing, so I just keep going until my brain is satisfied. This doesn’t always translate on spec pieces. Sometimes people don’t get the look your are trying to achieve, or they think it is over the top, tacky, or dumb. Lucky for me, I haven’t run into that problem yet. I am a master of layers!

First up, the deck. I almost never use a traditional dust cloth on the bottom of my custom pieces. Crosby always says… “Why do you bother doing that? Only an ant can see it!” To this I respond… NOT TRUE! Many times, the bottom of the piece is the first thing a client sees when loading the piece into their vehicle. It’s my signature, and I love it. To doll up her already pretty dress, the girls helped me make some down filled pillows. We scoured the shop for scraps of beautiful fabric we could use that would at to the personality of the piece. Voila! She is taking shape.


The settee itself is now finished. We purchased some items for staging, and are currently restoring some old mid century end tables to coordinate. We will update this story once they are complete. Until then, if you want to see her in person, please do join us at our first ever Pop-Up makers Exhibition on Feb. 15. She will be for sale. We have taken over a vacant retail space to bring together some of the most talented makers and artists in the biz. The event is from 5pm-10pm. Donations will be collected at the door to benefit the Madison Heights Arts Council for their Civic Park Shelter Mural Project. The event, drinks, and food are free, open to adults 21+. Hope to see you there!


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