Refreshing Antique Furniture Without Sanding or Stripping

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You guys know I love the thrill of taking an old and poorly cared for piece of furniture, stripping it down and giving it a new take on life. But sometimes I feel like there is a call to respect the story of a piece. To leave the dings and scratches because they are part of the story, the history of that piece and they add character that speaks to its age.

In these cases, a full refinish isn’t necessary and I often turn to a simple technique to refresh the piece and protect it so it lasts for many years to come. I think I will coin the term “stain cleaning’ for this, because that is essentially how it works.

Most recently I used this on an antique flip top desk I found on Facebook marketplace. This desk was a stunner. Clearly very old. I couldn’t find manufacturer info on it. It was in decent shape, but the wood felt pretty dry, and it was marked with various stains and scratches. This kind of desk is very unique and from what my Googling research shows, worth A LOT more than the $80 I paid for it.

To start this process I make sure the piece is clean. There was a large red stain on this piece on the left side of the top. I used a melamine foam pad (generic Magic Eraser, you can buy them in bulk for CHEAP here!) to scrub away the stain, and to wipe down he rest of the desk to remove any dirt and build up.

My goal after it was dirt and dust free was to continue cleaning it up, making sure the wood was sealed properly so it would be protected for years to come, and to do what I could for some of the dings and scratches. I often find my favorite stain color, English Chestnut, does a great job blending with the finish of antique and vintage pieces. I dipped a clean cloth into my stain and worked the stain across the surface of the desk and into the scratches.

Remember the goal isn’t perfection. We aren’t trying to restore the piece to its original condition. We just want to clean it up and make sure the wood is protected, giving it a little refresh. This beauty came to life with a little TLC and is currently dressing up our living room corner!

Don’t miss the play-by-play action of projects like these on my instagram account here!

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  1. Not sure if you know this but, a lot of these type desks have a small hidden compartment. Have fun!!! It looks gorgeous.

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