Thursday, September 22, 2016

An Antique Dresser With a Story to Tell

I walked by this dresser the first time I saw it at the local arts community tagsale last weekend. It was sweet but otherwise fairly unremarkable, a little pine chest of drawers like any number I see at every flea market and antique shop.
             When I returned a bit later to pick up another, more impressive pine chest of drawers from the same era I took a second look at the forlorn little chest tucked in a corner, unwanted and forgotten. I'm not sure what made me scoot the thing away from the wall to look at the backboard, as I said, I had no intention of buying the piece, but I'm so glad I did. On the reverse I found the most wonderful hand painted inscription which reads, "C.E. Gillette and Son/Sayville NY". And that was it, I was sold, I NEEDED to own this piece, to rescue it. I bought it straight away. Of all the hundreds of little late 19th century pine dressers I've seen over the years, this is the very first to have an inscription IDing the original maker scrawled massively across the backboard.

 Credit for discovering our mysterious Mr. Gillette and Son goes to a follower of mine on instagram, who set about hunting him down as soon I posted a picture of the inscription on my feed. So without further ado, here's the story this dresser has to tell:

First, a nice write up from the Sayville Library history page-
-Gillette House/Grand Central/Duryea Building: Two locally well-respected retired sea captains, Jacob Smith and Charles Zebulon Gillette, founded Smith & Gillette, a general store, in 1850 at the intersection of North and South Main Streets. Smith dropped out and in 1884 Gillette & Son built their new larger building at the same location, 60 feet front on North Main, 83 1/2 feet on South Main, and 56 feet on Sparrow Park where it was three stories high .  The I.O.O.F. (Independent Order of Odd Fellows) moved into the third floor and remained until they built their own quarters on Foster Avenue Extension in February 1936 and H.T. Rogers Restaurant & Confectionery took one of three independent stores on the first floor facing Sparrow Park.  The Gillettes occupied most of the rest with their general merchandise.  Following the untimely early death of his only son in March 1888, Gillette sold his business to Edgar W. Green and H. Treadwell Rogers, who introduced trading stamps for cash purchasers (for use in their own store), installed a handsome soda fountain, and had a sales force of ten with four wagons making circuits of the village taking orders and delivering them- 

And after some digging, here's a little more about Gillette duo:

Charles Zebulon Gillette was born in Blue Point, Long Island on the 12th of January 1827 to Zebulon Gillette (1788-1828) and Lucinda Avery (1788-1879)- I wonder if he's a distant relative of my husband! CZ Gillette married Phebe Edwards (1829-1912) of Sayville, NY in 1847. They had six children (though only three survived childhood). Their son, Charles E. Gillette born october 30th, 1857. Phebe minded the brood at home on Long Island while CZ Gillette, a merchant mariner captained his ship, Neptune's Bride back and forth to the Mediterranean through the early 1860s. His seamanship made him something of a Civil War hero in 1862 (excerpt from Sayville Orphan Heroes by Jack Whitehouse

After such excitement CZ Gillette had apparently had his fill of the sea, and retired back to Sayville to oversee his thriving dry goods store with brother in law, Captain Jacob Smith. In 1884 Gillette bought out his brother in law and for the next four years ran the business with his son Charles under the name "Gillette and Son". Sadly on March 14th 1888 tragedy struck when Charles E. succumbed to tuberculosis, aged just 30. 

Charles Zebulon Gillette, wife and two daughters, early 1890s

Heartbroken, the elder Gillette sold the business and spent his remaining years with his family in their handsome home at 47 Gillette Avenue. He died June 2nd, 1906. The home on Gillette Avenue still stands and is now a community arts center.

And so we know that this little dresser dates to between 1884 and 1888, the only time when Gillette and Son was in business in Sayville, NY. 

          I set about refinishing the piece with all this in mind, and determined to do justice to its history. I could tell that it had originally been painted a soft sage green, there were little flecks of the paint here and there caught in old gouges and cracks. The quality of the pine, with lots of knots and irregularities made it clear this piece was never meant to have its wood exposed, it was supposed to be painted! The chest had been refinished fairly badly sometime in the mid 20th century, but retained its original handsome brass ring pulls. I sanded, stained, and sealed the top, repaired all three drawers, and painted the case in a custom mixed green that matches the original color. I've named it, of course, 'Gillette Green'. I suppose the moral of the story is to always check the backboard, and also to never underestimate the stories that antiques can tell you!


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Because Furniture Should Be Fun

I always have a bit of chuckle when I see an angry person write something like "Ugh I'm SO sick of this painted furniture fad". Oh dear uneducated and befuddled troll, the things you don't know could raise the Titanic. Painted furniture is as American as apple pie and baseball. We've been painting furniture in America for as long as we've been making furniture in America, like seriously, there's an excellent group of painted blanket chests that were done in the Connecticut River Valley right around 1700. There's a spectacular grain painted highboy c.1780 in the furniture collection at Yale. Everything that could be tied down long enough was painted in the most wonderfully wild colors between 1805 and 1850. Then there was all the painted cottage furniture made from 1880-1910.
I'll do a nice long post showing you examples of painted furniture through the three last centuries some day when I'm not absolutely slammed with custom work. Suffice it to say, our fathers, father's fathers, and founding fathers all knew that painted furniture was super awesome fantastic, and if George Washington was a fan, who are we to argue.
          And so in that most time honored legacy I've painted this adorable c.1930 vanity in a splashy shade of blue (Benjamin Moore's Pool Blue, actually). I had to repair some of the decorative appliqué, refinished the superb top, highlighted all the decorative work with a paler shade of blue, and swapped the pulls for cobalt glass ones, for even more sparkle.
            I just love how this piece turned out! So fun, so fresh, so cheeky! Just as furniture should be

Also yes, I've staged this with a bouquet of ragweed. I make the rules around here, deal with it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Classic, Lovely, Timeless

Time has not much touched this wonderful Aesthetic Movement pine dresser. It's top is still almost wholly unmarred, which for pine, well damn. The drawers still slide like butter. If they've ever run smoother than they do even today, when it's ghastly humid, I'll eat my hat. The case is sturdy as a rock. The backboard, made with yummy chunky pine boards isn't missing even a single nail.

         And considering this dresser dates to right around 1880, that's pretty impressive indeed. It was built beautifully, with great care, and goes to show how long a beautiful thing, well loved but also well preserved, can last. At some point maybe thirty or forty years ago it had been refinished. Had it retained the original surface, I would have had qualms about painting it. As it was, I felt no guilt; It was scuffed and faded and deserved to be beautiful once more, to match its structural integrity. I did make one small change to it. I removed the ebony and brass drop pulls. There was one missing, and after much soul searching I decided they were just too busy for the new incarnation of the piece. To ease my conscious, they will go with the dresser to the next owner. Someone may want to put them back on at some point, and who am I to part original hardware from a chest. I did keep the spectacular stamped brass keyhole escutcheon plates, the first square ones I've ever seen!

        I sanded the drawer fronts and the top and re-stained them in almost the same shade as before, perhaps a hair lighter, but with the marvel of new products I can get a depth to the grain that a refinisher a lifetime ago could not. I painted the case in a simple antique white, distressed and waxed. The "new" glass pulls are also antique, salvaged, and aren't much newer than the dresser itself. I really really wanted to keep this one for myself but I just don't have a spot, so I hope it finds a good and loving home that will see it through this century and into the next!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

A Pine Hutch in Shades of Green

There's no two ways about it, a hutch of this size is a project and a half. But oh I love working on them, they're so satisfying when you finally finally finish and there's this giant, impressive, impactful piece of furniture to photograph and share with you.
       Even better, I got to paint this one in my very favorite palette, pale greens and cream. You can tell they're my favorite colors because it's almost precisely the color scheme of my blog background too. I've refinished this exact identical hutch once before this summer, that one also custom for a client. On the last one we went with a cream on white palette, a pale honey toned top, and simple turned wood knobs stained to match the top of the base. On this one we went with zippy shades of fresh green, a deep dark stained top, and the client choose some excellent modern polished nickel drawer pulls. I love how the modern drawer pulls counter the classic ultra traditional form of the piece, the very personification of 'Farmhouse Modern'.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Lighten It Up a Bit

I've been musing over this wonderful c.1900 empire mahogany vanity for a month now, ever since I first spotted it freshly arrived and daintily tucked away in the back corner of the furniture section at the cromwell ReStore. I've refinished somewhere around two dozen vanities over the years, and most, actually almost without exception all, come from 1930-1955- fun fussy affairs with lots of carving and detail work. I have never EVER seen an empire vanity. I wanted to buy it badly but it was more than I could justify for refinishing. It was pretty rough though, so I hoped and wished, and said a silent prayer to the gods of furniture that it would be ignored by all others and eventually marked down. To hedge my bets further I also mentioned to my pal Dayna who runs the show there to please let me know if it did happen to get marked down. Dayna, as good as gold and reliable as death and taxes messaged me yesterday to let me know it had indeed been marked down. I zipped over as soon as my scheduled allowed, cackling madly to finally have this darling piece in my paint-y clutches!!

        You can always tell when I'm wicked excited about a piece when I refinish it immediately callously ignoring all the custom work that I really should be attending to (sorry custom clients!). Truly, I am sorry, but I just couldn't help myself. This thing is a treasure. I sanded the top and was delighted to see in what fine condition the mahogany veneer remained. It's so highly figured! and flawless after over a hundred years! It even retains the original skeleton key for the locks. I painted the rest of the piece and a matching antique mahogany chair in a custom quiet gray I've named 'Foggy Down'.  I wrestled with the idea of adding drawer pulls, but the piece never had them, and since the original designer's vision trusted the curves and materials to carry the piece without embellishment, I decided he knew best. The drawers have little carved under drawer coves for the opening and closing- and slide like butter even after all this time.