January 15, 2014

Vintage Lyre Table Makeover, Possible Epic Mistake

You win some, you lose some. I'm still not sure which was the case with my latest project.

The good news is that we have a pretty sweet new table (new to us, anyway) for our living room. The bad news is that I might or might not have murdered the value of a rare antique.

The best part about it is that I didn't find out about the latter until after I finished the transformation and was researching antique lyre tables for the blog.

What is a lyre table? So glad you asked. It's a style of ornate table base that was common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Still confused? It gets its name from the design based off of the lyre, a musical instrument in the harp family. Really, still?! Look, this is going to be a lot easier when I don't have to hold your hand throughout the whole process. Fine...here's an example which, because I care about your time, can also serve as the "before" pic:

Full disclosure: because I'm obviously (notoriously?) bad about jumping into a project before thinking ahead (read: not researching table before possibly destroying all antique value), this is really just sort of a "before" pic. I had already started sanding and removed the damaged veneer from the top rim. It looked sort of like this though...

Come to find out...there was a dude named Duncan Phyfe, one of the 19th century's best cabinet and furniture craftsmen, who made a bunch of these types of tables - originals of which have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars. That's some serious scratch.

Now, I certainly don't think I found a Duncan Phyfe original on Craigslist for $25, because if that was the case, I would no longer have time for blogging because I would be too busy swimming in my pool of gold coins, a la Scrooge McDuck.

But this guy was such a boss that he inspired a whole style of furniture that's now (if unofficially) named after him. Even Duncan Phyfe replicas or furniture in his style can go for a couple of grand.

Alas, the number one factor in determining an antique's value is original condition, and as you can see below, the table I have now is far from that. It's still a nice addition to our living room, a classical design with a slightly modern twist.

So, here's some more photos showing what my table looked like before and during the sanding stages:

Knowledge Bomb #113: With all of the curves, the best option was to use a sanding sponge, which should be a staple in your refinishing toolbox. Since it is basically a sponge covered in a sandpaper coating, it allows you to uniformly sand flat surfaces while still getting into cracks and crevices. Best of all...you can wash them with water and dish soap to re-use later.

Since the veneer around the table top was damaged to the point of scrapping it, I decided to go a different route. I've found that a lot of these types of tables in the early 1900s were outfitted with a stone top, usually marble - think Victorian.

I wasn't about to drop that kind of dough to finish a table I paid $25 for, so I reached out to my friend Chuck at Pyramid Stone, who we used for the granite in the kitchen and bathrooms back in the remodel phase. After a few months, he called me to let me know that he was working on a job that included the same granite we used and asked if I wanted a scrap for the table top. Yeah, Chuck's a good guy.

So I just turned the table upside down, traced around the oval top with a pencil onto a piece of cardboard, and cut that out to give Chuck to use as an exact pattern to which he could cut the granite.

From there, it was just a matter of applying a couple of light coats of Minwax Early American, then a few coats of water-based polyurethane, and setting the granite on top of the table. You could use a couple of heavy dabs of silicone to bond the granite to the wood top, but the weight of the stone was more than enough to keep it in place.

As much as I like how it turned out, in the future, I'm going to be sure to do my research on pieces like this BEFORE I refinish them...


  1. >Now, I certainly don't think I found a Duncan Phyfe original on Craigslist for $25

    But did you ever find out if you actually did? I mean obviously it's possible - you had no idea what you (potentially) had, and it's quite likely the previous owner had no idea either. And I mean if you've ever watched Antiques Roadshow there are tons of people on there with super rare stuff that they got from auctions and estate sales and things like that.

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