My First PA Dutch Folk Art Inspired Chair

My interest in reviving old furniture was ignited when my daughter rescued an old wooden chair that had probably been stored in my parents’ garage for at least fifty years. In fact, it may have suffered the heat and cold of more than one hundred years. That’s how it was in our family. Things weren’t thrown away. They were stored in the garage. Or the basement. Or the attic. And fortunately the home had a lot of storage space in these areas.

In our case, “garage” referred to a large 2-story barn-like building. The garage had once served as a stable during horse and buggy days. At some point an “addition” was added to accommodate an automobile. Growing up, the garage was always a place where I could always find something to spark a project to occupy me for a summer afternoon. A half-empty can of paint, an old porch rocker in need of a seat, rusted bicycle parts, or antique gardening tools.

This particular chair was probably hand-made. It’s dimensions were not uniform enough to have been mass produced. The seat was cracked and its structure could best be described as wobbly. The finish was peeling, cracked, and uneven. It had probably already been redone a couple of times. I had no recollection of having seen it before, but I knew it had probably belonged to my great-grandmother’s sister and her husband, who were the first family members to live in the home.

Step 1: Sanding and cleaning

old wooden chair after thorough sanding
This is what the chair looked like after I had sanded it down quite a bit.

After a very thorough sanding and cleaning, there were still quite a number of small cracks in the surface of the seat. I had a detailed design in mind, so the surface would need to be smooth.

Step 2: Patching and Priming

In the past, I have had success with filling cracks–and even holes–in furniture with drywall compound prior to priming and painting. I decided to use that approach. I applied several thin coats of drywall compound using my spackle knife, sanding between each coat. Then I primed the entire chair with B-I-N primer sealer.

There were still a few hairline inconsistencies in the surface of the seat, so I repeated the process on the seat until I had a smooth surface for my design. This process seemed to work well. The past projects where I used this repair technique were not chairs. I’m hoping that the potential flexing of the surface during normal use will not cause a problem down the road, but so far everything has held up. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of this chair during the stage of patching and priming.

Step 3: Choose a base color

Since I was painting this chair as a gift for my daughter, I chose red as a background color. (She uses red accents in her apartment.) To be honest, I like red, too. And I felt it would complement the Pennsylvania Dutch design that I had in mind.

Chair with background color and partially completed design
I painted the entire chair with red paint prior to penciling in the design.