Posts Tagged ‘Victorian Furniture’

Re-Design Project: Victorian Fireplace Mantle / Bed Headboard

Friday, December 26th, 2008

Finished Project

Finished Project

[caption id="attachment_17" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Ca. 1880's Fireplace Mantle "]Ca. 1880's Fireplace Mantle [/caption]
HISTORY: You never know when inspiration is going to strike. I had been thinking about replacing my Walnut East Lake bed for a few years. I loved it dearly, the headboard was over 6 feet tall, made with walnut boards that went across the headboard diagonally with a scalloped and carved top header. I had had this bed for over 35 years. I had spotted it in an antique shop and fell in love with it. I got it home tied to the roof of my car, about a 40 mile trip, the benevolent spirits must have been with me that day, it got home completely intact. It has moved with me to new homes every time. The walnut bed was joined by a matching walnut dresser several years later. I live in a very unique home, it was built in 1783, orginally as a schoolhouse, it was called “The Academy” and served as a one room school for high school age students. After the civil war, there weren’t enough students, so the school was closed, no one really wanted the building, it was used as the 1st Catholic Church for several years, townhall for a short time and finally was sold to an adjacent estate in exchange for a large steel beam to be used in construction of a building damaged by fire. It was moved to it’s present location and plunked down in the middle of an orchard on the estate. It was the used as a private theater for the owner, who was the publisher of “Ladies Home Companion” Magazine, she used it for entertaining her guests and built tennis courts next to it. Several very noted, famous people in publishing, goverment ( including 2 presidents) and businessmen came to stay with her in the main house and enjoyed entertainment and tennis here. After she died the estate was divided up and sold off, this building eventually became a home in the 1950’s and has been home to Lavender Path Antiques and my home since the early 1990’s.
I am fortunate to have the original 24 foot domed ceilings, which made decorating a “large” challenge. The rooms are also oversized. In looking in furniture stores, all the beds available were just too small, uninteresting and of inferior quality woods and craftmanship compared to an antique bed. I keep looking waitng for inspiration to strike. New beds just didn’t have the romance I was looking for, and antique beds were getting very hard to find and the prices were really going up. One reason for parting with my antique bed was the size, I really needed a larger bed, with a large dog sleeping on my feet and 2 cats snuggling up beside me there wasn’t a lot of room for anyone else. So when I had almost given the idea of change, inspiration hit me. I had seen a photograph of an antique fireplace mantle re-designed into a headboard. I fell in love. Even though I am an antique dealer, to find a Victorian Fireplace mantle, exactly what I was looking for wasn’t going to be easy. I started by searching architectural salvage companies, years ago, many bargains and what interesting pieces could be found in them. But I got the shock of my life, looking at the prices for these items there in today’s market. I made several phone calls to antique shops all around, tracked down a few mantles but they didn’t fit my vision of what I wanted. Decorating with antiques can be a very slow process at times, to find the perfect piece when you are looking for it can be daunting. I wasn’t giving up. I shopped Ebay till I had blisters on my fingers, saw some that just might fit the bill, but had to think about shipping costs or distance to go pick it up. Price ranges were all over the lot. But the research help me formulate my idea and I knew exactly what style I wanted and the appox. price it was going to cost. I continued my search online and looked at several but it appeared I needed to find one I could pick up rather than ship. These are rather heavy. I decided to check my local Craigslist classified ads list. Bingo! I found one listed and only 6 towns away. The person emailed me a photo and I fell in love, he had what I had envisioned. The mantle had a mirror with candle shelves on either side of it and a upper shelf, bringing the total height to over 7 feet tall, just what I needed. There was some carving detail on the top section and on the lower section. It took a week to get our schedules coordinated so I could go see it. I was so afraid it would be sold to someone else who got there first but luck was on my side. I knew I was going to buy it even before I saw it in person. And best of all it was a bargain! It barely fit in my van even though it was in 2 pieces. But I got it home. Friends and family thought I had really flipped my lid when they saw it. But I could visualize the beauty it could become. *** Refer to photo at top of page for it’s original condition.

PROCESS: As I took it out of the truck, no easy task for a middle aged woman, who is fit, it was heavy, my excitement must have given me the adrenlin rush I needed to move it by myself. The mantle was covered with dirty, chippy, old white paint. It had been in storage in a basement for several decades and only recently moved into a garage. It was dirty. I scrubbed it down with good old Murphy’s oil soap and got all the decades of grime off. The mantle had no structural damage, the wood was in fine condition, aa little wear here and there but that is the charm of antiques. I had a decision to make on what to do with the finish. I could spend hours, sanding it down to bare wood and then staining it, or paint it. I felt stripping it would take away a lot of the character of the piece, it would never be “perfect” and perhaps all that work wouldn’t be worth it. There were several layers of paint on it. I didn’t want it painted white, I wanted it to marry with the Eastlake dresser that I owned. The dresser was painted a very dark reddish brown, almost black in some light and decorated with handpainted flowers and green leaves, all original. I had a paint chart wheel with over a 1000 colors on it, given to me by a painter, I took the chart and matched the color of the dresser to one on the chart. I went to Home Depot and they made it up. In the light of my bedroom the color looks almost like mahogany wood. I painted the mantle, it took 3 coats. Working with the paint, brushing in the direction of the grain only, I was able to create the look of grained wood, never completely covering with a solid coat over the layer underneath, leting a faint amount of the lighter color of the previous coat underneath peek through. I did this show-through technique on corners and other spots that wood had natural worn spots from years of use. I did not want to make it look new, I still wanted the antique character, wear and blemishes included. I work with a small sponge paint brushes, I find they give me the agility and ability to do fussy paint techniques rather than a regular paint brush, then when you are done, throw away. In a few spots, I would wipe off a little of the wet paint with a rag, further “distressing” or aging the look. It came out exactly matching the dresser. Taking the cue from the green leaves that decorated the dresser, I put a coat of forest green paint over the base color on the applied decorative carvings on the mantle, I did that quickly with an artist brush not covering the carvings completely, there again striving for a worn look, not newly painted. On top of the green paint I used another artist brush and used liquid gold leaf paint, there again quickly running the brush over just the high points of the design. In a few spots, I felt I had applied the gold paint to heavy, I just rubbed some off with a rag while still wet, to give it a burnished aged look. The bed was now finished and ready to be moved into the room.

HARDWARE AND ASSEMBLY: I had to purchase a new mattress, foundation and bedframe. I bought a queen size that would fit perfect size -wise with the mantle. I placed the lower part of the mantle against the wall. I used 2 very thin pieces of scrap wood, less than 1/4 inch thick, under the front legs of the mantle to creat an ever so slight pitch, so that it learns back towards the wall. I did this only because it was going to be sitting on carpet. I slid the bed frame and mattress to sit right in front of the mantle leaving about 2 inches of space inbetween the mantle and the bed. The top half of the mantle with the mirror and the shelves would sit on the bottom part of the mantle. Now here is the part that really took some thought. I wanted to make sure that the top of the mantle was secure. The bottom is mostly covered by the bed and will never fall forward. I put 2 heavy-duty round screw-eye hooks on the back of the top of the mantle, on either side like you would do with a picture frame , I placed them about 6 inches down from the top edge. I fastened into a stud in the wall a heavy round circle on a plate that fastened into the stud with 4 screws. This was actually a hook used to tie horses, I felt if it could hold a horse it could hold this mantle for sure. I used length of brass chain, the type that is used for hanging chandeliers, I used the chain to attach to the eye hooks on the back of the mantle and then attach to the horse ring in the stud. This may be being a little overcautious, but I wanted to be sure it was secure to the wall. I could have done some framing and fastened the whole mantle to the wall but I was concerned about damaging the wall permanently and wanted to be able to take the mantle headboard if I should ever move again. Once I got the top in place, I realized with the way it was constucted with the front posts on the mantle shelf, that would also prevent it from tipping forward. But I have now gotten it very secure. I’ll bet you are wondering about the opening in the mantle that is open for the fireplace. There are 2 ways to handle that. I purchased 4 bed risers to put the feet of the bedframe raising the bed 8 more inches off the floor. I had used them also with my old Eastlake bed. I like a high bed for the look, and for the storage space underneath and being able to vacuum under the bed easier. By using the risers the height of the bed is now only 1 inch short of covering the opening in the mantle, with big fluffy pillows, it never shows. The alternative that could be done would be to take a piece of plywood cut slighter bigger than the opening, cover the plywood with quilt batting material, staple with a staple gun in place and then cover with coordinating fabric that matches or compliments your bedding. Take the fabric covered board and screw it into the back of the mantle. My using the risers eliminated the need for covering in the opening in the mantle. I change my bedding quilts and coverlets so often that I would be changing that fabric cover all the time.

DECORATE: I purchased 3 bed skirts that coordinate, florals and solids in different lengths. Now remember using the risers you need a longer bedskirt, my need was for a 21 inch drop. Then I used a 15 and a 13 inch over that. I use 2 king size pillows at the very top of the bed up against the mantle, they are there all the time. I then layer 2 queen pillows on top of them and use 2 pairs of regular size pillows in front of them for that romantic Bed and Breakfast look. I mix and match florals, stripes and solids in pillowcases as I did in the bedskirts. Choose your decorations to put on the mantle and shelves. I have opted to leave the very top shelf bare, was concerned about things could fall but so far everything on the lower shelves have not moved an inch, all secure.

Result: I am just thrilled with my Re-designed headboard. I rescued an old mantle that had no home and it has a new life as a high headboard with the Victorian look I had envisioned, that fits perfectly with my very large room. The integrity of the mantle is still there, it can be re-used as a mantle anytime as it was originally designed for. This project went much faster than expected and the luck of finding the piece so fast must have had some divine intervention. So yes you can fall in love again.