Sometimes there is no substitute for experience. Out of the Dark have plenty of experience of “How to Revamp Your Furniture” and this week ran an evening workshop at Heal’s on Tottenham Court Road to share some of the tips of their trade.
If you haven’t heard of Out of the Dark, they are a charitable social enterprise that recycles and restores salvaged furniture employing young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and training them in furniture making and restoration. Based in High Wycombe, the 19th century chair-making capital of the world, think the classic Windsor chair and Chiltern woodlands, Out of the Dark is proud to draw on this rich heritage of traditional skills. Much of their work is for boutique hotels and commercial clients (they just shipped a hundred chairs to Kuwait), but their work is available to all online.
The three hour workshop at Heal’s drew an attentive crowd with smartphones full of images of projects in the pipeline. The evening started with tips on where to source furniture: keep an eye out for skip finds; for more economical furniture source further afield from London; or drop into Out of the Dark and have a look at their unpainted stock. Look for a solid piece of furniture in a shape you like, and free your imagination.
Do be deterred by a lot of chipboard, but not by a little wood worm. The former needs sensitive handling to preserve the veneer, the later can be solved with some white spirit or worm treatment and left for 24 hours before painting. If there are any wobbles tighten them up before you start preparing the piece.
Planning and preparation are key to achieving a polished look, and easier than tidying up a hurried piece at the end. Jay, co-founder of Out of the Dark, Travis and Yasser talked us through sanding, priming, painting and finishing before unleashing us on some pine boards to have a go.
I have learnt from experience to always sand in the direction of the wood grain, and start painting chairs upside down. I scribbled these and many more tips down in the notebook provided, but there is no substitute for actually painting a piece under the watchful eye of one of the Out of the Dark team. They have a real attention to detail, patient perfectionists with paintbrushes! You have to literally get a feel for it. Tactile is a word that crops up a lot.
Heal’s were game to allow a group of amateurs loose with aprons and paint in their showrooms! The evening was an intense transfer of Out of the Dark’s knowledge gained from working with all manner of pieces, and products. Osmo finishes are a particular favourite for their performance and environmentally-friendly footprint.
It was engaging to chat to Travis about his quiet passion for the traditional crafts of caning, painting and upholstery, as well as appreciate the confidence he now has working with wood. It may take a matter of minutes to spray paint a chair in a factory setting compared to the several days by hand, but the skill, satisfaction and story are far from comparable.
If you are short of time, or the inclination for lots of elbow grease then Out of the Dark run a commission service to spruce up your un/loved pieces. If you are keen to try your hand, the event cost a very reasonable £15, and all proceeds went to support Out of the Dark’s work. You can find out about future events at Heal’s here. News of Out of the Dark events and workshops and open studios this June can be found here.
Out of the Dark have a very exciting collaboration in the pipeline for later this year which bring their work to a wider audience and deepen their knowledge and skill of traditional furniture-making. So watch this space!