Is there a good Heywood Wakefield refinisher in Portland or Washington?

I thought this may be a great place to ask if anyone knows of a professional refinisher with experience with Heywood-Wakefield pieces? I just bought a lot of 9 and one piece needs some attention. Do you know of anyone in the Portland or Washington area who knows this stuff? I figure someone out there has got to have some experience with this without convincing someone from the east coast to fly out here!! Thanks so much for any information you may have!

Kara in Portland

Thanks, Kara, for your question. I know that there are a number of regular readers in Portland and Seattle. Can anyone help Kara with her question? And Palm Springs Stephan – you seem to know tons about this subject – any advice? Many thanks, all! P.S. 

  1. Kara Kerpan says:

    Wow! I hadn’t been on here in awhile but I am glad that my question was posed. I had been looking for a few years for some Heywood Wakefield and wasn’t willing to keep my hand me downs for a quarter of my life so I went a-craigslisting. All I had seen in the Portland area was expensive, completely over priced, and totally destroyed pieces. One dealer was selling a HW desk for $1000 with the worst scratches and blemishes all over it- literally (like it was a cat’s scratching post!). Finally I found an estate of 11 pieces- most of which were in good condition. Not perfect, but in good shape from my perfectionist stand point which I think says alot. I paid $2000 for all the pieces a year ago and felt good about it- though not as good as I would have if he stuck to his original price of $1500 for all of it! I want to refinish it, because I am not looking at it as an investment. None of my furniture has been an investment or garnered much more than $300 on craigslist. I plan on keeping it a long time otherwise I may look at it differently. I like it soley based on its versatility and simplicity. This may seem short sighted to some, but I know what I want…so I guess that’s the end of it for me. I definately appreciate purists, but I am not one of them at this stage of the game. I think if I can find someone to do a good job refinishing them together, so they match well, then that’s all I can ask for. Hopefully when I get through law school I can pay for a pro! I guess that’s what I should do and maybe then I will be done collecting enough for my home. I am not inclined to refinish myself because I am a perfectionist with some things and my last finishing projects almost made me bat nuts and also because I am not totally sure which color the pieces are- they are stamped HW but not which color they were, at least originally. I love HW but I am not able to say with any certainty which color they were. I enjoyed the banter and it gives me some food for thought! Thank you all!

  2. Ronn says:


    Ronn again. There are no real arguments here. I don’t think a person must exclude one concept (decorating) from another (investing) (Like so many others, I’ve managed both), or exchange fun for seriousness (they are not opposites), or fashion for history (all of history is made of fashion). This is all a scale of gradation, and needn’t cause anyone such stress!

  3. 50sPam says:

    Based on this string, I am instituting my first Retro Renovation Blog Rule:

    1. No one may be made to feel bad about their choices.

    Moving forward, I will edit or delete any comments that I believe cross or even edge toward this line. Oh how I love being queen of this little universe. Dogma: At a minimum.

  4. My apologies, as I did not mean to start an argument or toss off implicit accusations. Like Pam, I understand Ronn’s point that if you want to INVEST in furniture, with the intent going in of making money off of each piece over the longterm, then you have to educate yourself, be very careful in your purchases, and be equally careful about how you care for each piece.

    But in my brief time on this site, I have gotten the impression that the majority of us, though serious and committed renovators with a keen interest in the reasonable and affordable preservation of a recent past that holds personal sentimental value, are not at the same time longterm financial investors with one eye constantly on the possibility for profit. We do this largely for fun and pleasure, not because it is financially sensible or potentially profitable. And while I could be very wrong, I also have the impression that most of the visitors to this site are interested in creating environments that can be used every day without having to, as Pam says, worry about someone wrecking something. Most of us are, I believe, looking for things that make us smile, that make us feel warm and fuzzy, and that we can actually put to daily unrestricted use. Certainly for my own part, I have no interest in ever recouping my investment in the contents of my home (as distinct from the structure and “dirt” beneath it) as long as I get full enjoyment out of them during whatever time I do own them, whether that time is a fashion season or a lifetime. If I cannot use it daily, I have no desire to own it.

    And since I actually want to make daily use of the desk I have been searching for, I do not have 25 years to search for it. Two years has been quite long enough, thank you very much. And since I DO intend to use it literally daily, I would be very uncomfortable spending $1500 or more for the perfect piece in absolutely original consition. One good red wine spill or ring from a sweaty iced tea glass and I’d have whacked a double-digit percentage off the value of the piece. I want reasonably worry-free, utilitarian pieces that simultaneously look good, not investment pieces that have to be treated with any extraordinary degree of caution. I “decorate”; I do not invest. Plain and simple. That’s how it works for me. Others may have different priorities, and that’s great for them.

  5. Ronn says:

    PLEASE EXCUSE the last entry. I hit the wrong key while writing, and it has some problems. Here it is again, with corrections:


    “My goodness”? I had to laugh. It’s hard to imagine anyone who would not choose something that earns money over something that loses it, given both things have a good look, etc.

    As far as “wrecking” something good – better pieces are actually harder to wreck than lesser pieces. They are designed to last, made of higher quality materials, constructed to hold up under tougher conditions, and designed to please the owner in both visual and functional terms for decades, not months. I do know what you’re saying, but things ARE made to be used, and HOMES are NOT museums, so please don’t misunderstand. It’s merely a matter of deciding if you’re still into having “kegger parties” with your old hi-skool buddies who party til they puke. If so, this is the wrong time to care about your home. Otherwise, how are YOU going to threaten the things you love? You’re as careful as is possible, but if there’s an accident, well, you take a deep breath, clean it up, and move on. Most things ARE replaceable, too. Remember that.

    A TRUE cheapskate sees La Grande Picture – and doesn’t want to lose money – EVER. You see? It just may cost more up front so you don’t later lose at the back end. That’s all. I think I make a very good argument for the cheapskate p.o.v..

    If you don’t like research (reading, watching, listening) then you are at a disadvantage, that’s true. No way around that one.

    And we ALL love the hunt… I mean, EVERY SINGLE DAY OF MY LIFE REQUIRES The Hunt, right? Imagine what it takes to find thousands of great things per year. Love of the hunt is the only thing that keeps you going out into the world every day – whether it’s freezing cold, muggy hot, you’re feeling sick, or gas is $5.00 per gallon. I don’t have the luxury of hunting antiques by mood. Think of it this way: I walk out into the woods everyday. If I don’t track it down and shoot it, there’s no meal on the table that night. We go hungry. (Sorry. Daniel Boone is a relative of mine. These come easy to me.)



  6. 50sPam says:

    My goodness. I will say: I fall decisively into the “cheap and cheerful” camp. I am not personally particularly interested in serious investments in furniture. I think, because (1) I don’t want to worry about wrecking something so valuable, (2) my interests do not lie in doing the research, (3) I love love love the estate sale hunt and (4) I am fundamentally quite a cheapskate. All that said, Ronn’s points also come through loud and clear – that if you want to invest in the homework – and invest in the furnishings and accessories – this is something that can be mastered.

  7. Ronn says:


    Ronn here again.

    I won’t dwell on the issue of someone being capable of reproducing a Heywood finish. There could be (!), but I’ve NEVER seen an example. That’s my experience.

    I must also define “Patience” as something more than a two year search. It’s a matter of perspective. It took twenty five years for me to find an affordable example of a Walter Von Nessen floor lamp I’ve always loved. But… I found it. Okay, that’s an extreme example, but you get the idea. I researched and shopped for a 1949 Buick convertible for nearly a year before deciding on the one to buy. Any less investment of time for research would’ve left me vulnerable to a huge set of mistakes.

    I think what we’re doing is comparing fallen apples and plucked oranges here. Stephan, you are looking at it from more of a decorator/lower budget point of view, and I am looking at it from more of, yes, you’re right, a purist/historical/investment point of view.

    Thirty years ago I looked at all of this as you do, and then… guess what? The years slipped by, and all of my cost-cutting compromises and impulsive purchases ganged up and bit me on the hiney – once I was prepared to start a home with my larger views on Time. I was faced with NONE of that stuff being of any value to others – which meant starting over, including from a financial perspective. I learned the hard way, in other words.

    I have nothing against “decorating” and changing environments due to current fashion, as long as you understand what this implies – and doesn’t imply – for your future. We buy a HOUSE structure and the DIRT under it with investment in mind. I don’t understand why we shouldn’t buy the CONTENTS with the same care. My best advice is this:

    Do your homework. You’ll PAY for mental laziness.

    Spend the budget you have allotted on ONE good piece instead of FIVE or TEN mediocre pieces.

    Good investments are not a secret nor the territory of some lucky yokel who found somethin’ in his nasty ol’ basement. Good investments are usually also important designs, and have a logic to them that IS decipherable.

    If you want the best, and want it to earn money while you live with and enjoy it (you may change your interests in the future), then start now, not later. Your good decisions today will fund your better decisions in the future. Plain and simple. That’s how it works.

    Ronn at FUTURES Antiques

  8. I agree 100% with Ronn that refinishing hurts value. One has only to watch Antiques Roadshow and see the crest-fallen faces of peope who thought they were improving that dirty old family heirloom by giving it a new finish, only to be told by the Keno brothers that had they not refinished their 18th century Sheridan highboy it would be worth $100,000 instead of $10,000!

    BUT … Most of us collecting HW and other modern furniture for our homes are not doing so as longterm financial investments or even as historic preservationists. We buy things simply because they look good. And I know that for my own part, I am doing so on a budget, which entails buying pieces that are not “great condition originals” for far less money and trying to bring them back to life. Part of the joy of the entire Retro Renovating process is the satisfaction of buying some old coffee table in poor condition for $10 at a garage sale and then refinishing it and making it look good and useable again. And yes, HW furniture, because it is a light wood with a transluscent finish, does indeed change color over the years, usually getting darker. Thus if you assemble a set through several separate purchases, you may have 3 or 4 different shades of what started out as exactly the same color. Then you may be inclined to try to get them all back to one matching color and shade.

    I also agree completely with Ronn on doing all of your pieces at the same time, for exactly the reasons he gives.

    Unfortunately, I must disagree with Ronn on whether or not any refinishers can accurately reproduce the original HW finish. I know of two that can, though they are both rather expensive (refinishing will usually cost more than the purchase price of the piece) and neither is accessible from Portland or even from the west coast.

    I also disagree that with patience it is always possible to buy a piece in great original condition. I have been searching for an AFFORDABLE HW student desk (model M-783) for over 2 years without success. I have found them in good original condition, but the prices were always over $1000, and shipping would have cost another $400-600. Instead of shattering my budget by spending over $1500 to acquire a great original condition desk, I’ve opted to buy a desk locally in fair condition for about $300 and refinish it myself.

    From my persepctive, the only reason NOT to refinish a piece is if you are a purist and an investment collector worried about decreasing the value of pieces already in good or better condition. If, however, you cannot afford the high prices of pieces with good original finishes and happen to enjoy revitalizing less-than-good pieces, then by all means refinish them … but all at once. Refinishing a damaged piece of modern HW purchased at a bargain price is not going to decrease the value of the piece. Value decreases only if you refinish genuine “antiques” (which are older than most HW furniture), very rare pieces, or pieces that are in already in good to very good condition. And if you cannot afford the huge expense of shipping one or more pieces to a remote qualified HW refinisher, you CAN do it yourself. I believe Pam has a future post planned on just that topic.

  9. Ronn says:

    I’ve been a Modernist dealer for 18 years (FUTURES Antiques), and handled a lot of Heywood-Wakefield. In that time, I’ve come to a few conclusions: 1) Refinishing always hurts value, 2) I’ve never met a refinisher who can accurately recreate what H-W did, 3) Finishes change color over the years. What this adds up to for my advice is buy only great condition originals. If that is not possible (with patience it is ALWAYS possible), then the only sensible choice is to first collect all the flawed pieces you desire and leave them as-is until you find a really good refinisher. Then, have a huge batch of finish mixed up, and have ALL the pieces done at the SAME time – not only so they match TODAY, but will age together, and CONTINUE to match.
    I hope this helps!

  10. LOL … How did I become the “source of wisdom”? Actually, I do know a bit about Heywood Wakefield refinishing. Surprised? I own about a dozen pieces, and I searched for a long time in an effort to find a refinisher on the west coast. No luck. None of them use the authentic HW process. Instead, they all want to use clear finishes, which make the wood grain far more prominent. And even then they are HUGELY expensive. I do know of one very good HW refinisher in Denver, but he is too far away. SO … I bought some authentic HW stain from a very reliable seller on eBay (“needful_useful_things” is his seller name). He provides very detailed and easy to follow instructions for how to do it yourself. I have refinished several pieces myself and they look great. I also built a new headboard for my bed and did an HW finish on it. AND I built a custom walk-in closet in my “new” condo that I did entirely in birch and poplar (walls, shelves, everything!) and finished in HW Champagne. I will send Pam a photo of the built-in chest of drawers so you can get some idea what the finished product looks like. Anyway, the upshot is that if you have any inclination whatsoever to doing it yourself and have the space to do it (a garage, for example), you CAN do it yourself and save a bundle of money! It really is not that difficult. Or fly me to Portland and I’ll do it! LOL

      1. Carol says:


        Did anyone answer your question about the refinisher in Denver? We moved from NYC where I got my HW. Now that I’m in sunlight and not my dark apartment all the flaws are more apparent and to restore their gorgeousness they need TLC.


Comments are closed.