Caring for wood and leather furniture with restorer Christophe Pourny | Home Front

Christophe Pourny
May 11, 2017

Christophe Pourny is an expert furniture restorer and has his own line of plant-derived furniture care products. His parents’ antique store in the South of France influenced his love of furniture. Twenty years ago, he moved to New York and opened his restoration studio in Brooklyn, specializing in French polish, antique restoration, custom production and more.

In his first book, “The Furniture Bible,” Pourny teaches readers everything they need to know about the history of furniture, as well as how to restore, update and care for their own pieces. He is here to answer your questions.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. She and weekly guests, whether Martha Stewart, the Property Brothers or Nate Berkus, answer your decorating and design questions. Jura is always happy to whip out her paint chips, track down a hard-to-find piece of furniture or offer her seasoned advice on practical living and decluttering. For more than 10 years, Home Front has been an online conversation about the best way to make your home comfortable, stylish and fun. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and gripes. No problem is too big or too small, send them over.

Christophe Pourny is an expert furniture restorer with a business in Brooklyn. He also makes his own line of plant-derived furniture care products. His parents’ antique store in the South of France influenced his love of furniture. Twenty years ago, Christophe Pourny moved to New York and opened his restoration studio, specializing in French polish, antique restoration, custom production and more. In his book, “The Furniture Bible,” Pourny writes about the history of furniture, as well as how to restore, update and care for pieces. Read my story about taking care of your dining room table that he was a source for. He is here to answer your questions now.

Good morning everyone; Thrilled to be here with Jura answering questions and relating with "responsible" furniture owners! :) I am right now in my studio in NYC.

Hi, my son made a fort---and used duct tape to fasten the poles and broomsticks to his bed frame. The sticky residue is still there:( It is a finished wood bed that was his grandmother's. Can I remove the sticky residue without ruining the bed? Another one... we have an unfinished wood coffee table. Someone set down a blob of toy "putty" on it and now there is what I think is a large oil stain. How can I remove that? Thanks, Christophe!

I want to answer this one first as I was once THIS kid. Making a fort with furniture was the best! You could use products like Goof off or powerful solvents, but they have a tendency to dull out wood finishes and are extremely toxic. Maybe not the best idea in a kid bedroom.

Try something gentler like furniture wax or even regular citrus oil. It should soften the residues easily.

 

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We purchased an original Georg Nelson walnut table at a vintage store last summer. The top is in need of restoring due to some uneven finish, splotches, and faint water rings. We are concerned about whether restoring it without some type of finish will make us treat it like a museum piece and panic when anyone comes near it with a glass of water. We do not necessarily want to do something that will significantly decrease its value, but we want to enjoy it with friends and family without worry. Do you have some advice about how you would refinish our beautiful table?

Midcentury furniture are originally finished with very eco-friendly finishes: Tung oil, linseed oil etc. It was part of a post-war movement to get back to the natural beauty of wood.

They can be easily refreshed and maintained, without stripping with the same oils. Buy Pure or 100 percent Tung oil. Easy to apply.

I want to make a rustic dining room table, but I don't know how to do the finish. I want it to look like a Pottery Barn finish: not shellacked with a shiny varnish, but not raw wood where I could get splinters. It needs to be a soft, nice feeling finish but still have that rustic look. How do I get that look?

Furniture Wax. Pure Beeswax polish. Eco-friendly and low toxicity. Easy to apply. Yes, it requires a bit of elbow grease for the buffing, but easy to maintain. Also reapply regularly, every couple of month, or when a cleaning is needed.

My dad painted an older bathroom vanity white. It looks terrible - like someone just slapped white paint on it. What is the secret to painting furniture white?

The answer is in your question; your dad SLAPPED PAINT ON IT! A good paint job is as difficult and time consuming as a good wood finish job. Lots of prep work and lots of coats. Unfortunately paint makers today make us think that one-coat-primer-and-pain-and-voila-in-on e-slap products!

Good news: sand the sloppy paint job carefully and apply new lightly sanding in between. Use satin or low gloss paint, more forgiving than gloss.

I'm on a very tight (could even say 'shoestring') budget, but need new furniture after losing mine to water damage after a pipe burst. I've seen some nice looking pieces online, but have been hesitant to buy something that I can't sit on, can't feel the fabric or look at the workmanship. Any suggestions? Have any of the readers tried any of the sites like Joss & Main, All Modern, Houzz, etc.? If so, were you happy with the quality & did it last?

Estate sales, local auction houses! You name your price and you can inspect before buying!

I have dining chairs that are too loose and wobbly. How do I fix them?

On fine woodworking supplies sites you will find products like LOCKIT, that swell joints and tighten them when applied to loose parts of wood joinery.

Hi, Can you recommend a company that can dye a leather sectional couch and how much it would cost?

Leather dye and color is reserved to professionals. You are wise to ask for a professional. Try Avalon Fine Leather Services; they are on Instagram. 

What is the best way to clean the leather seats on our Stickley Dining Room chairs? Andy Sweeny, Cincinnati,Ohio

Try our all Natural Leather Cream to clean, feed and protect leather. You can also use it on fine goods such as shoes, belts, bags, etc.

I have walnut and mahogany furniture, some glossy, some matte. How do i clean and enhance the finish on both?

A safe wood polish product with good quality ingredients, such as Tung Oil, reacts appropriately to each type of finish without dramatically change the look. You may want to try our furniture tonic or, in the case of darker wood, our Color Reviver Polish.

We live in an older home where we have a few nice pieces of well-made solid wood furniture. One of the things we do have limited control over due to the age of the home is humidity fluctuations. Any tips for keeping the wood in good shape, and how to avoid damage over the long-term?

Humidity is a great concern for wood furniture. Inspect regularly and wipe off any mold to control spreading. Keep the finish of the furniture -- its line of defense -- in good condition. Apply polishes, waxes or protective oils regularly.

How can we repair (or at least disguise to some extent) scratches on a leather chair?

Leather furniture need regular care to keep supple and alive just as much as shoes and bags. Try our leather cream. Dry leather cracks and dissolves literally in a powdery substance. Avoid that final stage by regularly moisturizing your leather items.

 

This question is for Jura and the readers. I am clearing out four generations of items before selling my home. I have a very large family bible, and several albums of photos from the 1800's - and I don't know who these people are, other than they are related to me. I have one nephew who isn't interested in this stuff, and the volumes take up an entire shelf - so I want to get rid of them. Does anyone know of places that accept such items for donations? It tried emailing a historical society where my family was from, but no one responded. It seems wrong to put them in the trash - and I can't keep them. Thank you.

What a great question. Are you a member of ancestry.com? I'm sure someone from your family tree would love to have that Bible. Were you from a specific town? The town library or a church there might be interested in your Bible since it is so historic. Does anyone else have some ideas?

Hi Jura - I just moved into my first home and am thinking of pairing the bedroom. Not a ton of natural light (good for sleeping in!) - any suggestions for a purply-grey, maybe with a hint of beige to keep it neutral?

What about New Age or Violet Pearl by Benjamin Moore?

I have a Danish modern dining table and eight matching chairs. They were given to me for free and are lovely but a bit worn. I feel confident in my ability to care for the wood thanks to great sources like The Furniture Bible. I now would like to reupholster the chairs but am not sure where to start. I have fabric but not skills so I'm thinking of going to a professional. Do you have any advice for people or shops in the greater DMV? I know it's expensive so I was thinking of selling half the chairs to help pay for it. Thank you!

Thanks for your appreciation of "The Furniture Bible"! If you feel confident about taking care of your furniture with the help of the book, do not feel intimidated by upholstery, especially on midcentury furniture, which is usually very basic technically. Find a good technical book on Amazon. "Spruce" is a step-by-step guide to upholstery and design. Start dissecting one of the chair to find out the materials used and follow the book instructions step by step! You will surprise yourself.  

I have a table made from old wood, imported from England. I think it has a waxed surface, but not sure. How do I determine how it is finished? And if waxed, how do I properly wax it? Do I remove the existing wax or just work over it? Thank you.

If you run your nail across the top of the table and get a waxy residue, or get a gooey feeling when rubbing with a finger tip wet with paint thinner, you have wax. No need to strip. Apply a first liberal coat of new wax and try to remove grim and dirt. Reapply with a clean rag with even strokes to avoid lap marks. Let dry an hour or so and buff to a shine.

What products do you recommend to keep one's furniture looking its best on a weekly basis? Should one use a different cleaning / polishing method semi-annually or annually?

Great question. On a weekly basis, nothing more than a clean dry dusting is necessary. Do not use any dusting spray or polish. When needed or once or twice a year a good quality polish should be used. Products on wood every week is too much. Build up and attracting more dust is the danger.

Do you have any advice/tips or questions to ask when searching for a custom furniture craftsperson or company? There are plenty of individuals and small companies producing great furniture, so it can be overwhelming as a consumer... Thanks!

The good old way: leg work, visiting workshops, asking friends, hunting for pieces you like and ask the maker. Local is better; you will have more control during the process. 

I understand about the photos, but consider keeping the family bible, especially if it contains handwritten birth, death, and marriage records. Your nephew may not want it, but he may have children who do. Once these things pass out of the family, you can't really get them back. There's a similar situation in my family, where a family member, when she was younger, got rid of an old family diary because she assumed if she didn't want it, no one else would either. Turns out, her granddaughter loves the old family memorabilia and was horrified to learn she just gave it away rather than saving it to pass down. So...try to kick the can down the road, as it were.

Thanks for your thoughts.

I don't have space in my new house for my grandparents ornate dining room table. Its probably from the 1930s or so, and its made with a very dark and heavy mahoghany. How should I store it so I can eventually pass it on to my kids (many years from now)?

Good storage is very important. It must be protected from light, heat and humidity. Always start wrapping with natural materials such as clean blankets or sheets. Clear packing tape to secure in place. No masking tape or rope. Never touch the wood. Then wrap in a plastic tarp. No need to seal the piece as it needs to breathe, but it should be able to protect it in case of heavy humidity or water damage. And inspect at least once a year.

 

Good morning! Once he gets over the Caps loss, I think I'm going to enlist my husband to help me install board and batten in our dining room. Does anyone have any experience doing this on their own? Any advice? Our dining room has low-ish ceilings (meaning, not high); are there any rules on how high it should go? Thanks!

We don't often gets sports mentions on this chat! Does anyone have any advice for this nice person?

I have a large, 3" water mark on top of a wood desk. I tried the mayonnaise treatment - it only removed a small outside part. Is there anything else I can do?

A more adequate product such as wax polish with the help of very fine (0000 grade) steel wood would be the next step.

Hi and thanks for doing this. I have a brown wood blanket chest with a slanted top and chain that's probably pretty old...like 150 years according to antique store...not anything I'm sure of. What kind of moisturizer or polish should I use to keep it healthy?

The beauty of antiques and their finishes is they can always be cleaned and maintained without stripping or any drastic move, or even drastic choice. In your case either a Pure Tung oil product, our all natural Furniture Tonic or a good beeswax polish would clean and feed the piece.

Hi there - Good Morning - I have a wood buffet in my kitchen that has recently been painted white with a teal top surface. The paint was left over from painting the walls. The buffet tends to collect all sorts of random items - car keys, drink glasses, mail, dog leashes (!), etc. I was wondering if there is some sort of finish I could apply to the top to protect it from damage. Any ideas?

If I were you, I would buy a nice big tray and put it on top of the buffet. That can collect and corral all of the typical items that show up on top of a buffet.

My dining table (used to be my grandmother's, circa 1940) has some white spots, most likely due to moisture from a glass set on it without a coaster. How do you remove them? I've tried many things that don't work.

The moisture is usually trapped under the finish. Please act carefully but placing a clean towel on the spot and  a warm iron may dry out the white spot. If it does not work, the white residue is probably the finish/varnish that is giving up and micro cracking. A new coat of finish is needed.

I agree, if you can't find a historical society, or perhaps your family's church, consider finding someone from the area, or perhaps more distantly related, on ancestry. And people, remember, LABEL YOUR PHOTOS!

thanks

 

I have a walnut sideboard from the 1920s, a piece of Michigan furniture from Limbert & Sons (although it's not Mission). Oddly, more than one moving person has offered to buy it from me. After my grandmother died, it lived with my aunt before ending up with my mother and now me. My aunt was not kind to it. There are a number of deep scratches and her dogs chewed on the front legs. How do you decide when to strip and refinish and when to just patch what you can and live with the scars? The original patina is lovely, but the damage, especially the legs, are noticeable.

I am not surprised people are interested. Nothing odd with people that have good taste! :) Do not refinish the piece. Use regularly one of our furniture tonic or color reviver and the appearance and imperfections will blend overall. Keeping the good side of aged wood and taking care of the rest. Damage control and good care are better for furniture than repair and redoing.

I want to thank everybody for their GREAT questions. Answers to the unanswered questions can be found in the "Furniture Bible."

So after today's chat, we all should be taking better care of our furniture. Thank you for all your advice. Next week we will have Amy Howard of Amy Howard Paint  who is appearing at the 18th annual Lucketts Spring Market which will be held in Berryville May 19 to 21. Until then...

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

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Christophe Pourny
Christophe Pourny is an expert furniture restorer and author of “The Furniture Bible.”
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