We all want our DIY to be beautiful. We want the envy of friends who wonder where we get these great pieces from. We crave the word bespoke. We also want them to continue to be worth at least what we paid for them. Vintage furniture can go for a pretty penny these days and selling off some antique furniture can help us make rent – but not after it is destroyed. A lot of people think about what someone would pay for an item at the Brooklyn Flea but that’s only applicable if you’re actually going to sell it and if you manage to sell it while DIY vintage is still in style. Tomorrow a tech wave can take over and lay waste to your assets (if your assets are 100 oil cans, vintage dresses, and reno furniture). Turn on the Antique Roadshow and you’ll hear the same thing over and over “this was restored horribly and is now worth much less”.
Some steps towards maintaing the mons are easy:
1. If you remove original knobs or hinges put it in a bag and duct tape it to the back or underneath the piece. (Bonus tip: when I’m not using shelves or sconces, which I did when moving around in college, I duct tape the screws to the item since I know they fit and hold.)
2. Google first. That clock is cute, and will be even cuter in marigold, but if you see a name on the bottom or learn any info that gives you a researchable lead, don’t ignore it. I bet you’d like five grand better.
3. If you don’t know how to weld but think a dresser lends itself to an industrial match up, get the work done professionally. The fix it idea was still yours but any major work like this can really ruin a piece if it goes wonky.
4. Estate sales and auctions often have pieces with provenance but you may have to ask. Finding out that there’s a rumor Benjamin Franklin used to smoke the pipe you now own gives you something to research and adds a great story, even if you can’t prove it.
Those were the simple tips from a lifetime of loving ‘old shit’ as they call it in museum studies (not kidding I’ve had multiple professors call it this haha).
Over the years I’ve pulled a number of things out of flea market bins and antique shoppe closets and it has always ended in the same conversation ‘how can I fix it up?’
Odds are if you like vintage you probably fall into DIY by design or necessity. Pieces often come with damage or minor eyesores and that is no reason to leave something behind. But the question of how you can fix it up requires more than just imagination, first you have to ask yourself should you fix it up? I’ve seen some gorgeous reno jobs, like this piece by Decorating Insanity.
The paint job and fabric enhanced the piece and did no damage to its integrity. Replacing the fabric was the most drastic move but I have spent many hours discussing fabric pieces used in museums and even then they are often replaced because natural bleaching and fraying completely destroys the pieces. I also would never recommend someone bring something into their home that was riddled with 100 year of dust mites or lead paint.
Now, I’ve also seen some heartbreaking DIYs which is what really inspired this post. I go crazy when pieces are unnecessarily destroyed. I once loved a box decoupaged with love letters until I found out the letters were original and antique, actual pieces of history, that had been cut up and pasted so you couldn’t even read half of them. This DIY would have been just as aesthetically beautiful if the letters had been reproduced and aged. This also would have left the original letters for another DIY – maybe set in frames for a romantic party, set under glass for a one of a kind coffee table, or slipped inside the photo-holding part of a photo box (which can also be used for your own letters of love! Cute gift idea!) Word decoupage can be done with reproductions instead of originals; they sell fantastic reproductions of original printings by Shakespeare, the founding fathers, Lewis Carroll and others.
As bad as destroying those letters was to me it wasn’t nearly as bad as an overheard brag of someone who had obtained Asian antiquities (which they haughtily noted was now illegal) and they had then cut the wooden relic in half because it looked nice flanking an entry way!
Good DIY requires imagination and with enough of it destruction of a piece is never necessary, DIY is the chance to pass down a piece of yourself to future generations, don’t screw it up! Just kidding.