Monterey Desk Restoration

I am posting our restoration of a Monterey desk that is a family heirloom to allow our clients understand the complications involved in restoring stripped Monterey.   This piece has almost none of the original paint on it:  It was hand-stripped by Kay’s father ages ago, painted by Kay’s father (possibly twice!), chemically stripped by Kay, and finally the refinisher had the good sense to say “No more!” when he saw the inside of the desk delaminating, shown below.

We were called in when Kay saw our article in the Oregonian, realized what she had and wanted to restore it.  Kay had memories of what it had looked like when she was young, and had one piece from the collection that had not been stripped, both of which helped us in our restoration.

#1: Outer Carcass

The desk was originally Desert Dust and Straw Ivory, with an orange insert of cubbies.  We began with reparations to the carcass, which were to repair the drawer skids, glue the delaminating cubbyholes, and repair and recreate the desk front, split in many places.  The cubbyholes and the dropped lid removed.

The desk lid was was split in several places, and we had to replace parts of the lid so that the desk could be used by Kay, however, we retained some of the lid, below.  The lid was a frame and panel construction, and the joins were open slot mortices, with the corners using a closed-end bridal joint to secure.

Mitchell created replacement parts, not shown, and then began the difficult task of fitting them exactly to the original pieces.  One of the problems when working with old pieces is that older pieces warp over time, and new parts are straight; how to fit them together?  Talent, tricks of the trade, and prayers to Hephaestus, the Greek god of Woodworkers!

   Once crafted, Mitchell glued the parts in a two-step process, shown above.  First he repaired the central panel.   After the hide glue, it was clamped to cure.

The second glue-up involved the four boards that create the frame.  After gluing and fitting, they are clamped to cure.

After curing, Mitchell detailed the desk lid to accept the hinge and knob.  The lid was  completed, above, and ready for paint (the desk lid was removed for finish work after fitting).

The delaminating cubbyhole walls were reglued with warm hide glue injected between the historic old plywood, then clamped to cure, below, and the cubbyholes are repaired (last image)!

The inside of the desk will be Desert Dust, which is what Kay remembers,
with the brass escutcheons painted in Orange.

The outside carcass with be a combination of Desert Dust with Straw Ivory, chosen to match the existing Dresser in Kay’s collection, but also because this is how Kay remembers the desk.   The drawers and inset side panels will be Straw Ivory, and we can see evidence of the original paint embedded in the grain.

#2: Prep, Painting Begins, Decorative Side Panels and Bluebells

Prep Work: A dozen tubes of paint were mixed for this project using Gamblin Oil Paints as a base for our formulas.  Some colors we had formulas for, but many were new colors or variations of familiar colors, such as the darker rosy orange left.  I checked the palette against the existing paints, mixed, then checked until they were a good match.  After the sample board dried I checked the colors dry to insure a perfect match.

Once cured, the cubbyholes were lightly sanded to raise the grain.  They were originally orange and now painted with Chateau Orange (named by us from the shade of orange found on Mason Monterey furniture in the Oregon Caves Chateau).  The cubby desk drawer is one of the few items we believe is the original color.  The paint on the drawer is in good condition; we will simply protect it with a topcoat.

The side panels had the ghost of their original
design on a background of original Straw Ivory.
I recognized the artist, though of course
we do not know any names, just styles.
Monterey had only a handful of artist employed,
and their style is quite distinctive, not unlike a thumbprint.  We have many samples of this artist’s work, and with these images can could fill in the blanks.   The left-facing side panel, left, is the one we will follow in our post.  The side panel was carefully cleaned and lightly sanded to raise the grain.

With images of the original artists various flowers on the laptop, I began to uncover the original design in an overlay sketch, beginning with the easily seen designs.  There were areas of unknowns, especially on the right-facing side panel, where my study of the artists at Mason was fortuitous.  A plan of how to approach the infill is important if multiple colors are to be painted in one sitting.  I find it harder to duplicate another artist than to paint my own designs, and part of that is how to add various layers of color to the pieces.

I began with the blue flowers, filling in each ghosted image with a small pointed brush, carefully working the thickness of the paint, and occasionally allowing the original blue or a crack exposed.  In this way the base coat has variations, which will show when the top coat is applied and settles into the valleys created with paint.

In this way, all the blue flowers were added.
Ghosts of the bluebells shown compared with swirling blue buds.

 #3: Decorative Side Panels, Warm Colors

I applied the warm palette next.  I planned to allow the original colors to show whenever possible, and so painted carefully around them, as you can see in the gold bud below.  I free-handed penciled edges in when the ghost of the image was simply too hard to see. I worked on either side of the craquelure, padding the color infill on in some areas with a tiny brush.

Two colors, rosy orange and the gold blocked
out the basic floral patterns on each side.
Smokey Maple and Old Wood were used to
stretch the palette when shading was necessary,
and this artist used shading in her palette,
evident both in excellent original samples
(I’ve collected images for years), and in the bits
of the original color left on the side panels.

The warm palette undercoat completed,
though detail will be added in the next installments.

 #4: Decorative Side Panels, Greenery

After the warm flowers were dry, leaves and branches were added in shades of green.
Note the old and new gold paint seen together in the top images, below.
That dappled appearance will be wonderful when the topcoat is applied.

Large bits of pale green were left intact, and were leftexposed as I infilled the new green, allowing for a mottled effect.  This technique of infill was used on all areas where original paint was intact.  Pale green and two shades of Blue-green were used this round.

The side panel, which was looking “flat” to me, began to come alive as the leaves were added; especially the short stroke leaves, above.  The leaves that encircle the center flower are signature leaves for this artist, in two to three colors, sometimes more.

More greenery is added, but I had to let this dry.  Two panels make a full day
when they are infilled with a small brush, very patient work.
It is tempting to go on and on, but smearing the wet paint is a problem!

After the paint dried, I was able to add the olive green above.

 #5: Decorative Side Panels, Changes and Last Touches

I now saw changes that I needed to make, and set to it.  The biggest was the central floral motif on both side panels.  I was originally guided strictly by the residue paints and ghosting, but now I reconsidered what I knew about the artist’s stylized floral patterns, and made changes.  Remember, I have so many images of collections we’ve worked on and reviewed for clients that I have a good selection to learn from.

This, above left, became the more lovely flower above right.  I am certain this is the type of flower that was the central theme, though the layering of colors was hard to read as the top colors would not have embedded into the wood strata.

Also, you can see the differences between the two sides, above and below.  We think the artists had guides due to images we’ve seen of the work environment, but free-handed her painting, so there are subtle and some not-so-subtle differences.  I was tempted to make the center flower on the right-facing side match, but the residue paint showed a four-petal flower.  Last touches, like the center crescent moon, were added.

The Straw Ivory infill was performed on both sides over the original Straw Ivory.

New wooden knobs were purchased; the old ones were thrown away long ago.  In this particular desk, iron hardware was not used; we came as close as possible to the old wooden knobs without having new ones turned, which was way outside our client’s budget!  We chose orange, due to Kay’s memory of the color of the knobs.  The original hardware was repainted along with the screw tops.

Mitchell’s restored desk top took some tricks to make it look like the older worn tops, left.

#6: Smokey Maple “Antiquing”

Mason “antiqued” their pieces to make them look old, and to do it correctly is a multilayered process.  It seems so simple, looks so simple, but we experimented a long time before we discovered how they achieved that wonderful appearance.  No, I am not going to give the secrets away — yet!  This is the last step in the restoration process.

After several layers are added, the paint is dulled to a matte finish (another trick), and the restoration is finished, below.


Desert Dust and Straw Ivory, with Chateau Orange (our name for the color seen at the Oregon Caves Chateau) wooden colors, and a polychrome floral motif.
The floral from one side to the other was slightly different,
and Kate faithfully followed the original Mason Monterey design.
The drop leaf desk interior, with the cubbies repaired and refitted into the cavity.
The metal typically was a bit darker than the wood paint.

We also have pages on the Oregon Caves National Monument’s first
Mason Monterey restoration and conservation of 24 pieces of amazing furniture!

©MPF Conservation.  May be printed for your own use.
May be reposted if our url + copyright is used as reference.

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