Refinish old furniture to its former glory — or have fun with paint?

Jessica writes with a question we all likely ask at one time or another in our collecting (and dumpster-diving) lives:

Hi there! It goes without saying that I love your blog or I wouldn’t be reaching out.

So, I have this little set. It’s a Heywood Wakefield table — missing its leaves — and two chairs. One with arms and one without. We found it free on the side of the road. The original labels and paperwork are still stapled under one of the chairs. Anyway, the poor set has been badly abused. The Champagne finish has seen better days, and obviously parts of the set have been lost along the way — the other chairs as well as the leaves. The table top has some spreading between the pieces of wood likely because it was left in the rain or somewhere moist. And lots of rings. *sigh*

So, my question is this. Do I pay to have this refinished in the right stain, and see if they can do anything about the spreading and stains. OR, do I have it done in something fun like a black lacquer? Its role is likely going to be an art table for the kids in their super cool retro playroom. At most, it could end up being my desk in my office.

The chairs are cat eye style. I’m not sure on the table. Trying to look that up now.

Any thoughts?


Hi there back, Jessica! Thank you, and good girl, dumpster diver! Excellent question — and a great one for our team of smarty readers weigh in on.

What do you think, readers?
Is it righteous to restore wrecked vintage furniture back to its original finish?
Or, can we get creative?

I definitely have an opinion, but family hold back.

  1. Karon says:

    1. She should as an appraiser the value of the pieces not a blogger.
    2. If it has little or no value, she can do whatever she wants with it. It was headed for the dump after all.

  2. Just another Pam says:

    BriWax is a great product and lasts forever because you use so little of it….tiny, tiny bit on the cloth as you have to buff it out. However, and I’m sure Pam is stick to death with me saying this, make sure you have a lot of ventilation. Apparently it’s used on the Queen’s furniture but she has much bigger rooms and people to do the work but the fumes are aggressive to say the least.

  3. Pat Wieneke says:

    go to your closest Woodcraft store and talk to them about Briwax. I have been using it on a Lane MCM dining set that has seen better days ( much better) that I bought for $100.
    The Briwax is really easy to use and if you don’t want to continue. It cleans, blends and enriches color and take care of minor scratches and marks. even some white wet rings… If it doesn’t give a good finish, you can take it off with Xylene.
    They make those wax filler crayons that you can rub or melt into spots to fill holes, deep scratches and gouges.
    If there is cupping, you can ask them how to correct that. A lot of times, it is not as hard as you think to correct.

  4. I actually ran across this post and comments while looking for Hey-Wake online.

    For what it’s worth, (and it’s worth ALOT apparently these days!), I had seen 2 different yet complete sets of dining tables with chairs in two different states.
    I was drooling, trying to figure out how long it would take to save up for one of them! One set was priced at 7,000, and the other was at a local store that needed to get rid of it, priced at $4,000!!
    Needless to say, I decided to wait and see if they would come down in price.
    Lo, and behold, I walked into a retro furniture store in Lubbock, Texas and there in the back warehouse (where they store their newly acquired MCM pieces to clean up before they go in the showroom), sat a Hey-Wake dining table, two chairs, and a complete bedroom set with headboard, footboard and two nightstands!! All were in need of a little cleanup work, but at the price of $350 for the whole lot, I jumped on it!! (My biggest problem was going to be finding a way to get it all home!)

    My point to this is – Yes, you can do whatever you want with it, but it is a valuable piece of furniture that deserves to be restored. If you don’t want to, then pass it along.
    I’m in the processing of restoring ALL of it myself, and I purchased the Hey-Wake stain off of Ebay, too. I’ve stripped all the pieces, and about to sand them. Yes, it takes a little elbow grease, but in the end, it’ll be worth it for me to have these collectibles in MY collection! And for me, the icing on the cake is doing it myself…
    Good Luck!

  5. Emily says:

    What a pretty piece! I think it could be really lovely left as wood. Have you thought about trying a product like Restor-a-Finish? I’ve had really good luck with bringing back damaged finishes so that they look much nicer. It doesn’t really seem like it would be worth it to have a full strip and stain done, particularly if your kids are going to use it as an art table.

    Good luck whatever you decide! It is a lovely piece–what a find!

  6. gsciencechick says:

    I was just looking at CL, and lo and behold I see a set of painted H-W dining furniture.

    (link long gone)

  7. sam says:

    It’s an art table for the kids ! Let them paint it. No matter how young they are, you can figure out a way to involve them in painting it, and it will truly become your family’s heirloom.

  8. Mr. Modtomic says:

    So a full restoration or refinish might not be within your means. It might be out of your comfort zone financially or ability wise. I am of the opinion that it really Should be refinished or restored. What you could do is sell the set for whatever price you see as appropriate and use that money to buy something that either doesn’t need work or would suffer less from being painted. It’s free money!

    Also, if you are in the Florida area you might wanna contact A Modern Line. He refinishes Hey / Wake AND gives classes on refinishing your OWN Hey / Wake!

  9. Panzyzz says:

    You could check with Chris over at Strictly Hey-Wake:
    about restoring it and IF its worth it. If not, I’d strip it and maybe do a clear lacquer, but I love the used, loved look of furniture even if they are dented, scratched, or broken. Heywood Wakefield quality furniture isn’t made anymore (IMHO), so use it!

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