Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Sleeping in a Rice Bed?

My favorite secondhand building materials place came through again, and most unexpectedly; we were shopping for a mailbox but couldn't pass by this four-poster bed frame. It was nicely carved and the price of $300 had been dropped to $150.  We both stopped with an "Ooooh!" of admiration.

We dithered for a while -- no, wait, that's not true. I dithered. Dave was ready to get it but left the final decision to me, as I'd be the one doing the work of refinishing it. I knew it was well worth the asking price; it was solid wood, mahogany probably. The finish was scraped and worn. With a little work, it would be a beautiful piece.

But did I want to do that work?

Then a clerk came by and told us all beds were on sale at 50% off the lowest marked price. So that meant the bed was selling for only $75. Load it up, boys -- we're taking it home.


It doesn't look too impressive here, in the garage with a shelf of horse blankets behind it, but that's because the corner posts are in sections and the upper halves are removed. See that nice inlay work around the edge? And those post are hand carved!


Behold the hand carved post! If you are observant, this picture gives a clear indication of "not as old as you might think". I didn't see it at first, but once I learned more about our bed, it was obvious. See the black flecks spattered on the finish? That's called "flyspecking" and it's been a popular technique for the last 75 years or so to make an item look older. It's gross to think about, but somewhere in history, a carpenter thought, "All the stuff I'm building looks too new. If only I could make it look like it had been around for years with flies pooping on it. Then I bet people would buy it!" and that carpenter was right. You'll never look at your grandma's china cabinet the same way, will you?

Fortunately for me, those flyspecks come right off with the old finish. Faux flyspecks are for chumps; I want the real thing! (Actually, no, I do not want any fly poop anywhere, ever.)


Here's the before-and-after of stripping off the old finish. Once everything is naked, I'll use mahogany stain and a coat of tung oil to finish.


The finials are a separate piece, which is nice since one of them had broken at a thin point and been clumsily and crookedly repaired with what felt like rubber cement. Yuck! I peeled and scraped off all the old glue --completely forgetting to take a "before" picture because I was in the zone. A little wood glue and some filler, sand when dry, and you'd never know there was a fracture.

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So wait-- I can hear you asking, What's this about a rice bed?

Of course you know I was doing research on this bed as soon as we got it home. I looked up "bed with wheat carving" on Google, and learned that the carving actually portrays rice, not wheat. Rice was a popular crop in the southern states -- who knew? -- along with tobacco, and so rice became a common motif for furniture in the 1800s, most particularly on bed frames which were called "Rice Beds".

Because of the flyspecking, I knew this bed wasn't from the 1800s, but Rice Beds are still made to this day. I looked at all kinds of pictures to find the exact pattern and style of ours, and I'm quite confident that ours was made in the 70s by Councill. They are still in business and have a reputation as one of the finest furniture makers in America. Ours doesn't look exactly like their latest catalog item, but it's a perfect match for ones I've found on furniture auction and resale sites. Original retail price: $5000 to $7000.

Not a bad bargain for $75.

Stay tuned for the full "after" pictures. It'll be a while, but it'll be worth it!

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