The Insider: How to restore old wooden furniture


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The Independent Online

I recently interviewed the people behind Out of the Dark (, an incredible social enterprise that trains underachieving youngsters to restore mid-century furniture. I asked co-founder Jay Blades for his guide to pimping Ercol et al…

Deal or no deal

First: what not to restore? "Stuff from the early 1980s is flimsy," says Blades. "If it's chipboard, don't bother. Turn drawers upside down and check whether they're sturdy. Look at dovetail joints: machines make many, hands make about three."

Get off to a good start

Where to begin? "First, prep," says Blades. "Glue, screw, fill dents, treat woodworm, create new holes for knobs, remove screws, hinges and handles."

There's the rub

Now for the transformation. Ideally, use an electric hand-sander: 80-grit paper removes varnish and paint, use 240 between coats, and fine 400 to finish or if delicate. Alternatively, swap sanding for Annie Sloan's Chalk Paint ( – made to slap straight on. "It would stick to glass," says Blades.

Less is phwoar

Out of the Dark likes flashes of colour – but never over an expanse of beautiful wood. "We had a stunning Mackintosh desk too good to paint," says Blades. "But we did the insides of the drawers."

Oil right

Blades loves Osmo Oil for bare wood; uses wax over Chalk Paint, and varnish over eggshelled sections. And always use water-based products so the piece can easily be returned to its original (and most valuable) state.

You've pulled

Changing handles? Try Bombay Duck, Zara Home and Anthropologie. "But keep the originals safe," tips Blades. "They'll add value one day."

Find Kate's blog on affordable interiors at