Friday, October 19, 2018

7 QT: Refinishing Bigfoot's Chair

I thought I'd join the 7 Quick Takes link-up today, because I don't have time to write anything lengthy these days but here I can be quick!  Also, it's fun to attend a "get-together" (in a virtual reality sense, anyway) with other gals in the Catholic blogosphere whom I admire and whose writing I enjoy.

The link-up, as you probably already know, is hosted by Kelly Mantoan, of This Ain't the Lyceum fame.  (Kelly recently signed a book deal with Our Sunday Visitor.  Congratulations, Kelly!)

Okay then, here we go: I'm going to tell you a tale about a dining room chair that was once owned by Bigfoot.  That sounds like a tall tale, I realize, but I assure you it's absolutely true!  That is the nickname by which my dad was known, and what all of his grandchildren called him.

When I was in junior high, my mom found a treasure at an estate sale: an enormous antique oak dining room table with 10 matching chairs, and if I remember correctly, she got it for about $200.  She refinished the top of the table, but as a busy working mother of 5, she never got around to refinishing the chairs. Despite that, it was a beautiful set--solidly built, with exquisite carved details, packed with history.

This dining room set was used for many a family holiday dinner when I was growing up, such as this Thanksgiving (circa 1973 or 1974, when I was 15 or 16).  This is my dad, affectionately known as Bigfoot, toasting with his eldest daughter.  Dad is sitting in the only chair with arm rests, the only one big enough for a giant of a man such as himself (he was over 6'3" with size 13 feet).

When my parents downsized to a condo a number of years after that photo was taken, their tiny dining room could not accommodate such a large dining room table.  By then, I had 4 children (which was more than any of my siblings at that time) and a new house with a huge dining room, so Mom decided that the set should go to me.  (Woo hoo!  Just one of the many perks of having a big-ish family!)  I got the table, 9 chairs, and a matching sideboard.  The only piece of the set that I didn't get was Dad's man-sized arm chair.  He just couldn't part with it.

For the 26 years we lived in our NH house, this dining room set had a perfect home in a space so oversized that there was plenty of room to spare.  I eventually refinished the 7 chairs that still had their cane seats intact--which was perfect because we eventually had a 5th son, so there were enough chairs for all 7 members of our family.

When we moved to VA and experienced a downsizing of our own, however, I was worried that I wouldn't have room for my parents' dining room set.

But I made room!  It's a little more crowded than it used to be, but I think it works.

My dad, God rest his soul, died almost two years ago, and when my mom sold their house about a year later, she took what she wanted for the assisted living room that would become her new home and encouraged her kids to take whatever they thought they might use (before the rest was sold in a giant garage sale).  Everyone agreed that I should take Dad's chair, because it belonged with the dining room set.  So I did.

Dad's chair has been sitting in the basement ever since we moved to VA, because I have been too busy to deal with refinishing it.  Well, yesterday I decided that it was time to get it spruced up so that it will be ready to use at our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners this year.  It will become my husband's head-of-the-table seat, just like it was Bigfoot's.

To refinish an aged beauty like this, I find that stripping the piece with Formby's antique furniture refinisher and then rubbing Formby's tung oil into it afterward gives the best results.

I actually love doing this.  I find it so satisfying to see the old varnish melt off to reveal the beautiful grains of the wood underneath.

This before-and-after comparison shows how dark and dingy the wood looks before Formby's works its magic.  What a difference!

Here is what Bigfoot's chair looked like, after I'd stripped off the old finish but before I'd rubbed in the tung oil to give it a protective glow.  It is so much more beautiful now!  It still has imperfections in it, like any piece of furniture that has been around this long; but what an improvement from the first picture up there, taken before I started the refinishing process.

The after picture!
Bigfoot's chair now has a home in our VA family room, providing extra seating in there when our large and ever-growing brood comes to visit.  And it can be easily brought into the dining room when needed for special meals with our kids and grandkids.

I am so grateful to have this piece of my family's history--and a reminder of my dear dad--in my home.  I'll be toasting Bigfoot this Thanksgiving...with fond memories of the guy with the 70's sideburns and the full head of brown hair, who used to call me his "Ickle Aurie-Do" (which translated means "Little Laura-Do").

They weren't that Quick after all, but those are my Takes.  Now head on over to Kelly's for more!


  1. What a great piece and so beautiful!!

    1. Thank you, Madeline! Sorry I'm so late replying to this comment (as usual!). I just don't check the blog enough these days. I'm too busy checking out Instagram. ;)

  2. I love this story! And that whole set is gorgeous!! I'm sure there are many more wonderful memories to made around that table!

    1. Thanks, Beth. I am SO LUCKY to have this set. And so grateful that I hung onto it when we moved.

  3. Replies
    1. That picture of Dad and me is one of my all-time favorites. I'm so glad that someone whipped out their Instamatic and snapped it (back in the olden days, too, before we were all taking about 100 photos an hour!).

  4. What a beautiful story, a beautiful gift, and a beautiful chair! My dad died three years ago and this resonates with me deeply. My mom has not been able to let go of my dads things, but I hope in the future I may be able to do something like this. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thank you for letting me know that this post touched you. It's so hard to lose a parent, isn't it? I thought I knew what it was like when my husband lost his, because I felt so close to them, like a true daughter. But there is something so uniquely painful about losing your own mom or dad.

  5. I just LOVE this story, and all the family history. Beautiful

    1. Thank you, my friend. Nice to "see" you here! :)

  6. What a great piece of your childhood history, now in your home. I hope you always smile when you look at it, and remember your dad.

    1. I do smile when I look at it, and I think of him. He was a complicated man, but a very good one, and I know how much he loved all of his kids. I miss him!