No, Instant Patina is not a breakfast cereal. It is the replication
of a worn surface on newly made furniture.
I like the look of well cared for antique furniture, that shows wear
marks and finish color variations that are the result of use and
cleaning, over time.
I don't think that the coloring of wood through staining or fuming
amounts to instant patination, but it is close enough for me to
include it here.
I'm in the midst of designing a tall chest that I want to build and,
as I believe in "building backwards" when thinking about design, the
issues of wood coloration and distressing are much on my mind.
I suppose I should talk briefly about the concept of "building
When I built houses for a living I would take a new set of prints,
which usually consisted of a site plan, foundation prints, basic floor
plans, exterior elevations, a generic wall section from mud to roof
peak, maybe a roof sheet, probably not a framing layout, sometimes
interior elevations, mostly never finish details, and even more mostly
never reflected ceiling plans - and I would try to imagine the house
from the finishes backwards.
Building from a half-assed set of prints leads to doors that are
framed too tight to one side in a hallway, leaving three inches of
wall to the left of the cased opening and one inch to the right or,
worse yet, trim that has to be ripped to fit.
You've seen it. You know it sucks.
It also leads to ceiling lights that can't fit into a decent
geometrical pattern, because framing members, or hvac, or some other
equally predictable nonsense is in the way.
You've seen it. You know it sucks.
It can also lead to doors that swing into each other, light switches
that are on the wrong side of the door opening or are too tight to the
trim, toilets that sit too close too or too far away from the wall,
hvac penetrations that come out where millwork and cabinetry are going
to be - it's a damned mess waiting to happen.
You know it sucks and you've seen it all before.
So, I would annoy the customer and try to force them to make decisions
that they thought they wouldn't have to make for weeks or months.
I tried to tell them that the library units were better off being
designed at the beginning, rather than waiting to see what the room
looked like. I tried to pin them down about the kitchen and bath
layouts, including the exact fixtures that were to be used and the
kind of tile and flooring. I particularly hounded them about any
lighting that required ceiling penetration, wanting to know exactly
which units would be used and where they wanted them to go.
Why? Because it was all on paper at that point, and paper is a lot
easier to change than steel, framing, hvac, electrical and plumbing.
Sometimes they got pissed - but I knew that it worked - and they
usually loved me by the end - the exact opposite of what all to often
happens between builders and clients.
People live in a world of surfaces and shapes and colors and spiffy
hardware - and they mostly don't give a damn about the underpinnings.
But the building business has long been geared to the efficient
production of underpinnings, often forcing the client to accept
compromises that could have been avoided through careful thought and
Before I even set the first batter board I would have a set of marked
up prints, sometimes even entirely fresh prints, to guide the
The same thinking applies to built in cabinetry. It's easy to wind up
with drawers that bang into each other and doors that hit each other
when people use them.
It's easy to have items that need to be at eye level, like stereo
components, that get shoved into a space that can only be accessed by
crouching down or standing on a foot stool.
You've all seen this. You know it sucks.
Building backwards, thinking about how the person will interface with
the elements of the casework and the elements that the casework is
designed to contain, can avoid much misery.
What does this have to do with freestanding furniture? I would submit
to you that, except for the fact that it is not fixed to the wall,
freestanding furniture design involves much of the same thought that
should go into built in work.
This particular piece that I am thinking of building is meant to go
into a bedroom. The room itself applies certain constraints to the
design. It not only is going into this bedroom, it is going into a
particular corner of this bedroom.
The bedroom already contains furniture of a certain style and scale.
The corner of the bedroom is described by the edge of the window that
will be on the left side of the piece, and sliding doors, that will
limit the depth of the piece.
It seems like a basic and simple consideration but I've seen pieces,
that were immaculately conceived (or as close as we mortals can come
to such conception), as pieces unto themselves - one in particular
that is a tall chest, worthy of Lonnie Bird - but the damned thing was
made from prints of an eighteenth century piece that was intended to
go into a room with twelve foot ceilings.
It looks like someone parked an aircraft carrier in the poor little
space, with its eight foot ceiling.
A really well executed aircraft carrier but - you get the picture.
The interesting thing about furniture scale is that you can't simply
scale it down. You can't just say, "I have plans for a nine foot tall
chest and I am going to shrink it down to be a seven foot tall chest".
You have to rethink all of the elements of the piece, their visual
mass and proportion have to be re imagined, not merely shrunk.
Take a nine foot tall case and shrink it to seven feet - every molding
will have to be rethought, every thickness of exposed elements will
have to be redone - and it is not a mathematical shrinking. You can't
say, "the nine foot tall chest had half inch thick overlay drawer
fronts and, since I have reduced the height by X percent, I will
reduce the thickness of this drawer front by the same percentage - it
The seven foot tall chest is not a scale model of the nine foot tall
chest - it is a completely different chest.
The Chinese Menu School Of Design allows the person who does not want
to make a faithful copy of a period piece, nor even to stay slavishly
within a style, to take those elements that please him and fit within
the constraints implied by the existing furniture, and create a work
that feels at home in its space.
There are those who would say that a room can be eclectic in the
extreme, yet still provide a harmonious experience to those who live
in it. I am not one of them.
The two night tables are cherry and have pad feet. I won't build a
walnut piece with ball and claw feet. I think that the room would
The existing chest has quarter columns and a reverse ogee top. I'll
try to bring those elements into the design of the tall chest.
I'm sold on the idea of a broken pediment, and it doesn't violate
anything else that is going on in the room, so I'm going for it.
The small chest that the TV sits on has cock beaded drawer fronts and
I'd like to incorporate that element into the design, although I am
not sure how that will work until I begin to draw.
One from column A and two from column B - The Chinese Menu School Of
Works for me - others, particularly those who consider themselves
purists, would consider this approach to be anathema.
As to the concept of Instant Patina:
Two of the pieces in the room are factory made furniture but have been
kicked around enough to have mellowed out a good bit. The other two
are probably a hundred to a hundred and fifty years old - and look it.
I'm thinking of staining the cherry of the new piece, both to unify
the colors of the various pieces of wood, and to bring the color range
into that of the existing furniture. I'm also thinking of wiping the
stain along the top edges of the drawer fronts and the outside edges
of the carcase, to give that almost whitened quality to it, that shows
in older furniture.
I am as mindful as anyone about the beauty of naturally aged cherry,
but I am also fifty four years old and don't have time to wait for it
to happen on its own.
My thoughts are to use a blond shellac for the surface finish and to
apply this with a brush, rather than use my usual spray technique,
although I may have to introduce some stain as a toner, to get the
color, and I would spray that prior to the clear coats.
I don't think that I will beat it with chains but I also don't think
that I will sand it to six hundred grit. In fact, I was hoping to
scraper finish the drawer fronts and hand mold the edge treatments and
moldings, without using abrasives.
I am hoping that this will provide a finished look that will allow
the new piece to fit in with the old, without looking too much like
the dude with new clothes.
It does seem like an awful lot to think about for a simple chest,
Thomas J. Watson - WoodDorker
tjwatson1ATcomcastDOTnet (real email)