Posted by: graceunbound | March 26, 2008

Refresh – Part II – The art of restoration

My best friend and I shared an apartment when we first graduated from college. Maybe in some other post I will describe it; it was truly a funky, unique space that I loved despite its tendency to reach temperatures in the 90’s during the summer months. At any rate, as so often happens with best friends in that ‘just out of college’ stage, she married and moved away, leaving behind her old bed for me to use. This was great, because up until then I’d been sleeping on a 4 inch thick mattress on top of a window seat/bed that was essentially a wooden box. I think I’ve gotten soft in my old age, trying to sleep on that now would have me tossing and turning all night.

But I digress; back to the bed. The bed was nothing special, it had been her bed since she was a little girl and the headboard had spindles and some sort of decorative work. It was painted cream, a cream that over about 15 years of use had become, well, not so creamy. I wanted something funky, something new, something that showed off my creativity. I was going to embark on my first furniture refinishing project!

So, on a warm and sunny day I hauled the headboard out onto our tiny 3′ x 4′ porch, opened a can of burgundy paint, a can of hunter green paint, cut up a sponge and began to restore. Let’s just say the results were less than spectacular. I think the look I got was more like Third Grade Art Project and not Funky and Creative. I learned two things that day. #1, painting over old paint generally does not make a piece of furniture look new and fresh. And #2, you can’t rush restoration, you just end up with smudges, unpainted spots and a piece of furniture that you’ll tolerate because it was free and better than sleeping on a wooden box but is only pleasant to look at if you stand back really far and squint at it.

The second definition of refresh says “To give new freshness or brightness to; restore.” Sometimes when our lives get dreary or tedious, when we feel like every day is a stream of such monotony that we want to scream, what we really need to do is some restoration that brings new freshness or brightness into our lives. We need to get back to who we were meant to be. I’m not talking about repainting a room in your house, hanging new curtains, or getting new bedcovers. Frankly, after you’ve had the paint, the curtains, the bedcovers for about a month they will cease to be the ‘new, fresher you’ and just become ‘the way my house looks’. Instead, I want to restore the spark, the inner glow in each of us.

So, in the interest of authenticity I did some research on the internet about furniture restoration and I learned several things.

1. Furniture restoration involves lots of scary warnings about not breathing in toxic fumes, and the possibility of things exploding or spontaneously combusting. I’m not sure that bears any practical application to the topic at hand. I certainly hope none of you spontaneously combust as you are trying to refresh and renew yourselves. I suppose if you take one thing away from these warnings it is be careful around things that are toxic when you are undergoing restoration. If you are trying to renew yourself, be careful around people that drag you back down. If you decide that bringing freshness into your life means avoiding negative thoughts about your body, your looks, your house, your family, don’t hang out with people who like to whine about those things. Or else tell them firmly that such subjects are off limits.

2. Sometimes complete restoration of a piece of furniture is not necessary; it just needs careful removal of the build up. The original finish is still there, it has just been obscured beneath dust and dirt that likes to adhere to the little nooks and crannies in the wood. (This never happens in my house; my house is spotless and dirt is NEVER allowed to settle on my furniture, I flit around every hour with the duster to make sure of it.) Remove the gunk, add some shine and you once again have a beautiful piece of furniture.

Maybe you can still sense that your inner self is intact. You know the things that make you happy, the things that allow the real you to shine. But over the years they’ve gotten gunked over by all the daily tasks, the carpools, the church projects, the family responsibilities, the PTA, work, and so forth and so on. Maybe all you need to do in order to renew is clean out the gunk. Figure out which things you can drop or delegate. Create some space in your life so that your beautiful surfaces shine through again.

3. Complete restoration of a piece of furniture requires time and patience. Over and over in my quest for knowledge on how to restore furniture I was cautioned “Allow plenty of time. Time and patience are the keys to a beautifully restored piece. Don’t skip steps. The most common mistake is not allowing enough time.” OK, OK, I get it. Trying to repaint the bed in 3 hours was a refinishing faux pas. I wasn’t going to create a masterpiece by not preparing carefully and by rushing the job.

Maybe the original you has gotten lost under layers of paint that others have put on you. Maybe you don’t even know what you want to look like when you are refreshed and restored. Take your time. Peel off the old layers of paint, the things you thought were you, the things you tried that never felt quite right. In his book Let Your Life Speak Parker Palmer says “Sometimes the ‘shoulds’ do not work because the life one is living runs crosswise to the grain of one’s soul.” What are you doing that you know at your heart is counter to what you want to be? Take your time, find your grain. And then, slowly and carefully (and being careful with those toxic chemicals) start to apply the finishes that will enhance who you are instead of hiding it. Speaking your mind more freely instead of hiding your thoughts; taking that art class you’ve always wanted to do; singing and dancing as you move around your house and not worrying about what the neighbors might think (they shouldn’t be looking in your windows anyway, now should they?). And when you are finished, when all the careful layers have been applied, you will glow; a refreshed and restored piece that shows the handiwork of its Maker.

Next up…refresh, it’s Spa Day!

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