Restoring a Midcentury Modern Cedar Chest

Several weeks ago I came across a fantastic mid century Lane cedar chest at my local Salvation Army and I had to have it. The finish was a bit beat up, but I loved the overall look. It reminded me of the Heywood Wakefield bedroom set I inherited from my grandmother.

So I took it home to refinish it. Never mind that I have never so much as painted a table or chair.

A little research told me that this chest was manufactured in 1958 and that Lane called this particular finish “blonde mahogany.” Other than that I couldn’t find any information on exactly how I should go about restoring it. I did notice that areas of the chest seemed to have water damage, and that the finish was bubbled in some places.

Original blonde mahogany Lane Cedar chest.

Original blonde mahogany Lane Cedar chest.

You can figure out when a Lane cedar chest was manufactured by reading the serial number (found on the back or bottom) backwards. This chest was manufactured on 10/09/58

You can figure out when a Lane cedar chest was manufactured by reading the serial number (found on the back or bottom) backwards. This chest was manufactured on 10/09/58

My first step was to carefully sand a small area. Luckily my dad (an expert woodworker) was there to tell me the chest was covered in a thin mahogany veneer.

Mahogany veneer revealed!

Mahogany veneer revealed!

He suggested I sand it with 220 grain paper, then follow up with a gentle stripper. The veneer is very thin, and very easy to sand through, so I carefully took off the top layer of lacquer with the sandpaper. I then followed up with Klean Strip After Wash and rubbed the whole chest down with fine grain steel wool. This was a long process, but it was worth being careful to preserve the veneer. I used a second coat of after wash and an old cloth diaper (I love cloth diapers for rags!) to strip off the remaining finish. Finally, I cleaned the wood with mineral oil. I think it went pretty well for my first time stripping furniture, but seasoned crafters, tell me, what would you have done differently?

The beautiful mahogany grain is slightly damaged from water and has several deep scratches and dents. I need to cover them up somehow in the final product!

The beautiful mahogany grain is slightly damaged from water and has several deep scratches and dents. I need to cover them up somehow in the final product!

Stripped clean!

Stripped clean!

Now comes the fun part- creating a new look for this classic piece!  The problem is, I can’t decide what to do with it. I’d love to try two tones of stain (like this beautiful piece  I found for sale on etsy) but I’m afraid my sanding is not perfect, and the uneven surface may result in a splotchy looking stain. Paint might make it more colorful and unique, but I don’t want the chest to lose its midcentury charm.

I would love to hear your ideas on how I can make this Lane chest beautiful and unique!

 

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