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Federal Style Furniture

Well, I’ve switched from writing about teaching English to writing this blog about furniture styles and my own attempts to upcycle old pieces through painting.  Welcome to all you furniture lovers out there and all admirers of Annie Sloan chalk paint.  My intentions are to write about the the different furniture styles that I am painting and to showcase some of the work that I have done.

Upcycling is the process of rescuing  pieces of furniture that nobody seems to want and have been sent to thrift stores or are sitting in people’s basements.  When they have been painted or stained they look like something new or something very old and are much better investments than much of the cheap furniture that is popular today.  And by re-using something old, you are not contributing to the endless consumption of new things that has engulfed North America.

Annie Sloan chalk paint has revolutionized how furniture can be painted; you really don’t need to strip, sand or prime furniture before you paint it.  You can read about chalk paint here.  There is only only one place to buy it in Ottawa and that is at  Malenka Originals.  Katrina, the store owner, gives classes in chalk painting, great advice and has some lovely pieces of furniture for sale that she has painted herself.

I actually started painting last year when I decided to turn an older teak dresser into a sideboard for my daughter.  I painted it in the colour called Graphite and stained the insides of the drawers in red.  It turned out well enough but it was a learning process for me especially the waxing.  My second piece was a mahogany dresser that I painted in Provence and that is what I am going to focus on in the rest of this blog.  Click on the photo if you want to see a close-up.IMG_0292


The dresser belonged to my husband’s grandmother and had been sitting in our basement for 25 years.  It’s about 80 years old and was missing the piece that stood in the back and some of the inlay  but it is still solid with a graceful bow front.  It’s painted in Provence and the drawers were a mixture of Provence and Graphite.  All the edges are distressed and there is dark wax everywhere as well.  I had to replace the knobs since some were broken.  It was made in Grand Rapids, Michigan by the Sligh Furniture Company, an old company still in existence.  This is a classic Federal style piece.

Federal style originated after the American revolution.  It is considered an amalgam of Hepplewhite and Sheraton and its best known craftsman was Duncan Phyfe. Federal style is known for straight graceful legs, wood inlay, veneers and geometric shapes.  I didn’t take a before picture of the dresser but I can show you the matching desk from my living room.  You can see the inlay, the straight tapered legs with brass footings and the curved front and drawers.  It is a style that has never really gone out of fashion because of the quality woods and the unfussy lines.  There are many auction sites that sell these pieces regularly and you can find one here.


I know I may have shocked a few purists who believe that you should never paint over wood but seriously, although the dresser had some value,without re-finishing, it wasn’t worth much.  As well, there was the missing inlay which is not an easy task and well beyond my or my husband’s skills.   So now, it’s pretty, looks old French and is being used.  A happy ending and I had the pleasure of painting it.

Next up: Waterfall dressers

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