I’ve been following Barb Blair and her South Carolina furniture rehab shop, Knack Studios, online forever — first on Flickr (Remember when everyone hung out on Flickr? Poor Flickr…), and then on her blog and Instagram. A couple of years ago Barb and I met in person, and she was everything I imagined — warm, funny and smart. I’m a huge fan of Barb the person and of Barb’s work, so when Chronicle Books asked if I’d like to review her new book, Furniture Makeovers, as part of a blog tour, I said YES. Of course!
Barb’s motto is “live with what you love,” a belief I feel very personally aligned with. In an era of publicly sharing the contents of our personal spaces, there’s a tendency to make decisions about what we surround ourselves with based on an expectation of how our living spaces will be perceived by others, often complete strangers. It’s pretty much impossible to paint a piece of wood furniture (or wood trim, or wood floors, or wood teeth) without a hundred people saying you’ve “ruined” it — there’s a preciousness associated with unpainted wood that, in my opinion, is pretty ridiculous. As the owner of a formerly-dilapidated historic home that I’ve been un-dilapidating for the better part of a decade, I think I have a good sense of how to exist as a modernist in an old home: Modernism at its core is about respecting and learning from the past while making improvements and alterations to better accommodate living in the present (and future). Sometimes, that means taking a step into past traditions — what initially drew me to Barb’s work was how reminiscent it is of 18th-century Gustavian-style Swedish furniture with its soft-looking painted finishes.
If there’s anything I can say about Barb, it’s that the woman does not take shortcuts when it comes to furniture. She doesn’t just grab a can of old wall paint and slap a couple of coats on a table. She knows how to prepare surfaces properly, and what materials to use to obtain finishes that look like they belong to the piece — and that’s really the key to a successful makeover. You want to see the sum of the parts in the end, not evidence of the process. The great thing about Furniture Makeovers is that you not only get before-and-after shots of a bunch of Barb’s pieces, you also get very detailed information about the tools and materials she uses and recommends — as well as exhaustive descriptions and photos demonstrating how to properly use those tools and materials. From strippers to chalk paint to spray paint to Danish oil to finishing wax, Barb covers just about everything, and in a friendly, you-can-actually-do-this way. This is a real how-to book, not just a trove of inspirational photos.
Here’s a great video (shot by Carlon Riffel) that takes you through a tour of the Knack shop, the contents of the book and, most fun of all, a time-lapse of Barb doing her magic on a dresser from start to finish:
Yup, now I feel like overhauling a piece of old furniture! In fact, I’m now determined to apply Barb’s techniques (in my own Anna-style, of course) to an antique dresser that’s been sitting, empty and without purpose, in a corner of my bedroom for…oh, six years now. I bought it at a flea market for about $15, and it’s a mess. The original hardware is missing, the wood veneer is peeling, it has water stains all over the top and the shellac finish is badly blistered. I love it, though, and it meets all of Barb’s criteria for a makeover-ready piece: It has personality, it’s solid wood with a wood veneer and it’s structurally sound and functional. I am READY. As soon as it’s not 100°F out (this heatwave is killing my productivity), Operation Dresser Makeover will be in full effect.
But WAIT, there’s MORE! Would you like your very own copy of Barb Blair’s Furniture Makeovers? Well, it’s your lucky day — I have a signed copy to give away, and it comes with one of Barb’s “live with what you love” Knack tote bags! Nice, yes?
If you’d like to enter to win, just leave a comment on this post letting me know about a furniture makeover you’d like to embark on, whether it’s a piece you already own, or something you’re on the lookout for. In a week, I’ll draw a winner at random.
UPDATE: The winner of the Furniture Makeovers giveaway is Alicia! Congratulations, Alicia.