This is a European Pear wood, Louis XVI, French Empire Sofa from the mid-18th century.
The image above is the way it appeared when it arrived in our studio.
The frame was well-loved by generations though abuses by upholsterers and
improper repairs and tackings eroded and exposed substrates which required expert treatment, including returning the bent frame to its proper proportion,
bent frame shown above. The sofa was to be returned to historical accuracy in terms
of the upholstery buildup, with the frame properly repaired, but we worked with the existing finish. Since the original painted finish was no longer intact,
we did not concern ourselves with historical accuracy.
By far one of the most difficult jobs I have is creating the look of an old randomly worn painted finish. On this sofa, I was to recreate the look of two previous paint jobs which had been subject to chemical strippers decades before, while still upholstered. We assume the restorer realized his/her mistake, and left the clabbered, shriveled, accreeted paint shedding from the reliefs and carving everywhere on the decorative frame, shown above.
The original painted finish was still evident beneath the scabbish surface though it had been thinned by stripping and scrapping. The efficacy of the existing finish was long gone
by the time we received the sofa to conserve, however, the exposed pear wood
had developed a beautiful patina where it was exposed.
The colors I had to match — or not — above. Not the gilding, and yes, there were bits of that left here and there. In this original finish detail, you can see, from the base up: the peach colored pear wood, a very old grey-green paint, a newer peachy-warm-cream paint, and a white-tinged-with-olive- green paint. We even found traces of the stripped painted gilded finish underneath. Our job was to recreate the paint job above and below,
which literally was falling off the sofa with any handling.
A random pattern.
A random pattern is not creating the look of paint worn — paint tends to wear off quite predictably, along edges and where it might bump the wall, or where heels kick it. But a random pattern where the paint was supposed to have fallen off… argh!
How does one recreate what happens
naturally over time?
How do you recreate a faded paint
with many layers of color?
DIYers are taught it is a wipe job with a crinkled rag, but it is much more complicated.
I had to cover up areas where someone had used pieces of mahogany to fill missing frame moldings, including areas where previous reparations were created using puttys,
match or blend at least four distinct colors,
and also allow for the oxidized pear wood to shine through.
Because it was upholstered incorrectly previously, parts once hidden were visible again.
I was handed the frame repaired and ready for proper upholstery. I began by mixing colors, testing layers on both a second piece of wood and on inconspicuous parts
of the frame then matching them against the same images you see here.
In the end there were three colors that made up the finish on the frame.
To cover up the mahogany, a pear-wood toned paint was mixed from Titanium White, Transparent Earth Red, and from time to time (because the wood changed color on the frame) a bit of Indian Yellow. This was also used to cover previous metal repairs which stayed on the frame. It is hard to
match a teeny sliver of paint! The paint
job was done by hand and with a scratchy old #4 round paintbrush.
The overcoat of “white” was really Olive Green and Titanium White.
This, too, was applied by hand. To achieve RANDOM BALANCE (what a concept)
I looked at the areas which needed the most coverage and
then moved to balance that coverage randomly on the rest of the frame.
Finally, a slightly yellow wax with beeswax/carnauba/mineral spirits was created to coat the paint after it was fully cured, and to influence the final color of the sofa, above.
The wax was left to partially cure, then scrubbed off with an acrylic toothbrush,
then rubbed again to achieve a buffed appearance (bottom final images).
I keep notes on every client’s finish in case I need to reproduce the finish.
Last glance — and a glimpse of the upholstery coming.