Following up on the FAQ regarding Heywood-Wakefield refinishing, Palm Springs Stephan shares his wealth of experience on the issue. Thank you, Stephan!
Heywood Wakefield (HW) furniture has become almost synonymous with Mid Century Modern design, largely because of its simple lines and lack of “fussiness.” The pieces are usually solid birch (no particle board and no veneers) and finished in shades of blond. The 1950s were all about blond woods! And the best part for Retro Reno perfectionists is that they ordinarily dated their pieces using an old fashioned rubber date stamp, so owners will know exactly when their pieces were made. They also normally have the stain color name stamped next to the date, usually Wheat (pale blond) or Champagne (blond with faint pink tones), and more rarely Platinum. HW was mass produced and relatively inexpensive, so it sold well and many pieces are still around. At any one time, there are usually a hundred or so listed on eBay, for example. For a concise history of the Heywood Wakefield Company, see http://www.springdalefurnishings.com/concierge/what_is_heywood-wakefield.html.Refinishing Heywood Wakefield (HW) furniture is really not that difficult, despite the claims to the contrary made by the very few pros who do it. It just requires patience, some time, and lots of elbow grease. Still, I have not found any good full-time refinishers on the West Coast, despite an extensive search. Even here in the Palm Springs area, where HW is still very common and the market for it is super-hot, there are no good refinishers. Most furniture restorers seem to want to refinish HW using simple clear varnish, but that entirely destroys the collector value of the piece, as well as the authenticity. And some commit the cardinal sin of refinishing it with non-blond stains such as oak and cherry. One might as well chop the piece up for firewood!I have found only one qualified refinisher west of the Mississippi River who uses the authentic HW process: Boomerang Modern in Denver, Colorado (http://www.boomerangmodern.com/). I used to stand in their showroom and drool when I lived in Denver! It’s thanks to Boomerang that I became an HW fanatic. In Southern California, the only place I know of is Woody’s in the city of Orange, but they lean toward retail selling rather than refinishing. When they do refinish pieces, they prefer to do so with clear varnish … and they charge a huge price. Most of the authentic-process refinishers seem to be on the east coast, such as Strictly Hey-Wake in Maryland (http://www.strictlyheywake.com/).The original HW process used an opacifier that made the final finish somewhat milky in appearance. The result is a marked muting of the visible wood grain. The process was apparently a multi-step one, but at least one specialist retailer has reduced it to an almost foolproof simple process. EBay seller Needful_Useful_Things custom mixes and sells pre-opacified varnish by the quart through his eBay store (http://stores.ebay.com/Heywood-Wakefield-Wheat-Champagne_W0QQ_trksidZp1638Q2em118Q2el1247 ). He also includes with every shipment a very detailed set of instructions for how to properly strip, sand, and revarnish HW furniture. His prices are high, at $45 per quart plus $12 shipping, but that is a heck of a lot cheaper than ruining the piece with clear or dark varnishes! And FAR cheaper than what it would cost to get a piece shipped to a distant professional HW refinisher, get it finished, and get it shipped back. I have purchased from Needful and used innumerable quarts of his Champagne varnish with consistently excellent results. I even custom designed and built a walk-in closet that is wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling birch and poplar wall paneling and shelving plus a built-in chest of drawers. The entire room was done with Needful’s Champagne varnish and I am thrilled with the result. If you follow his written instructions meticulously and do not try to rush the process, you cannot fail. Professional refinishers like Boomerang and Strictly HW use dust-free painting booths and compressed-air-powered paint sprayers that produce an absolutely perfect finish (and they are understandably critical of DIYers), but I am of the firm opinion that – for the money involved – most competent DIYers can do a near-perfect job for a mere fraction of the cost.To retain the full collector value of HW furniture, follow the Antiques Roadshow dictum and do not alter the original finish. If you must refinish and you have oodles of money, ship your piece(s) to Boomerang Modern or Strictly Hey-Wake. If you are on a budget (as most of us are!), can use sandpaper, and have access to a large clean space in which to work, do it yourself! It is an extremely satisfying feeling to look at a nice piece of funrtiure and be able to say, “I did that!”