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Painting a bureau

Making a few repairs and painting this inexpensive bureau in an elegant colour combination has transformed its fortunes. Helaine Clare shows how to tackle the project.

A restored bureauWhile genuine antiques deserve to be cosseted, less valuable pieces that would otherwise end up in a skip provide an opportunity for a painting project. This neat bureau is a fine example: picked up at a local auction for very little, some sleek coats of paint have made it right up to the minute again but in the period style we all admire.

For those of you who like the look of old furniture but fear it will infest your home with woodworm, there’s no need for concern. In days past it is true that they often caused havoc munching and burrowing through structural timbers, floorboards and furniture. But now we keep our houses warmer, drier and much better ventilated than in the past and woodworm cannot survive if the moisture content of timber is low. Take care with wooden furniture that has been stored in an outhouse or shed – it should acclimatise gradually to indoor living. Sudden changes of temperature and humidity may cause the wood to twist or warp, drawers to shrink, joints to loosen and planks to split. In the same vein, never put a piece of wooden furniture near an open fire or radiator and at the beginning and end of the heating season adjust the thermostat little by little to avoid a sudden change of temperature.

For my paint colours I chose the elegant combination of black and pink to transform the bureau, using Farrow & Ball’s Black Blue in estate eggshell for the exterior (01202 876141; farrow-ball.com) and Sanderson’s Fiesta Pink (17-6D) (0845 880 5866; sanderson-uk.com) for the interior. My ESP (easy surface primer) paint came from Igoe International Ltd (0845 061 8899; igoemailorder.co.uk).

You will need:

  • Goggles
  • Work gloves
  • Dust mask
  • Pliers
  • Steel wool
  • Screwdriver
  • Screws, pins and hammer
  • Boron wood treatment
  • Brush
  • Candle stub
  • Surform file
  • Sugar soap and plastic scourer
  • ESP (easy surface primer)paint
  • Masking tape
  • Paint
  • Vinegar (for cleaning handles)
  • Cloths

Fixing a damaged hinge

1. Fixing a damaged hinge: Carry out any repairs on the bureau before painting. The hinge on the drop-down table is bent and some screws are missing. Don’t try to fix it in situ – remove it completely and straighten it with pliers while secured in a vice. Remove rust with steel wool and use brass screws to reinstate the hinge after the bureau is painted.

Curing ill-fitting drawers

2. Curing ill-fitting drawers Check nothing has become jammed down the back and before removing drawers from the housing write the number of each one inside. Try putting them back in a different order as they may have been put back wrongly. Inspect the runners. This one is held with pins and some are missing – secure with more pins.

Stop drawers sticking

3. Stop drawers sticking: If drawers are sticking rub a candle stub along each side of the drawer where it slides against the runners. If furniture has been stored in a shed the wood may be swollen so wait a few weeks and sticking drawers may cure themselves. When opening long drawers use both handles to avoid distorting the drawer.

More tricks of the trade

4. More tricks of the trade: If drawers are still refusing to glide, smooth the bottom of the drawer with a surform file. Over the years the edges become rough and worn with use; finish with glasspaper. Check that no protruding nail or screw heads are impeding free movement. Brush away sawdust and lubricate with the candle stub.

Clean away dirt and polish

5. Clean away dirt and polish: Dissolve some sugar soap in warm water and scrub the wood to get rid of dirt and some types of varnish. Rinse with a clean cloth and clean water. Mop up the surplus water to prevent it soaking into the wood. Dry with a clean cloth. Wetting the wood raises the grain so, when dry, smooth with fine glasspaper.

Treat against woodworm

6. Treat against woodworm: Freshly made exit holes indicate active woodworm activity. For peace of mind apply boron wood treatment. Apply liberally by brush, paying attention to the plywood used to make the bottom of drawers and the backs of furniture, the underside of feet and attractive nooks and crannies.

Prime the wood and paint

7. Prime the wood and paint: Prime the wood with ESP (easy surface primer) paint using a cloth or a brush. You should wait at least two hours, then apply paint to the body of the bureau. For a modern slant on this period piece I chose black and a vibrant pink. A strip of masking tape along the border gives the requisite sharper edge.

Buff up brass handles

8. Buff up brass handles: If it’s not possible to remove the handles before painting, mask behind them before cleaning or polishing. Light tarnish can be removed with vinegar. Apply and wash off after an hour or so. Dry with a clean cloth and buff to a sheen. Rub in beeswax polish to protect the metal and maintain the finish.