Monday, November 4, 2013

Understanding Wood Finishes

It’s sometimes difficult to tell what kind of wood finish is on your piece of furniture, in case you want to know how durable it is or if you have damage to the original finish. Knowing what kind of finish is on your wood is crucial to being able to pick out the right set of tools and chemicals for the job of repairing, cleaning or maintaining your wood furniture.

The first thing to know is that a finish makes a huge difference in how well your wood is protected, and how expensive and luxurious it seems even to trained woodworker eyes. Old finishes are often poor finishes, and many types of valuable antiques benefit from a professional restoration. The myth of preserving an old finish for value is just a myth – especially if the poor finish is allowing for deterioration of the wood.

There are two main types of finishes, film and penetrating.  Of these, penetrating is either oil or oil and varnish.

The four most common types of finishes are:
  •          Shellac
  •          Lacquer
  •          Oil
  •          Water-base

Here is a description of all of these:

The longevity of shellac is wonderful. Through the 19th and 20th century it was favored highly and these finishes are often intact even today. It is an excellent protector against steam, as well as silicone, grease, crayons or wood resins. It is sometimes used as the first coat on wood before lacquer is added because of its barrier qualities.
For those with children, it is so safe that the FDA approved its use in pills and candy coating. Its solvent is denatured alcohol. For those with pets and children, this is the best choice of finishes.
It is weak to heat and water, and it has a short shelf life.

Oils are a very popular finish with woodworkers because they are very easy to apply and keeps the wood close to the original wood’s appearance. It is most effective when it is applied to a thin layer that penetrates into the pores of the wood. An oil/varnish blend is much more effective than oil alone. Of the many types of oil available, synthetic oils are superior to natural oils. 

Linseed oil is probably the least effective wood finish on the market, but it was used widely to manufacture cheap furniture in the 1800’s. Many varnishes are sold as “oil” when they are not oil at all. Oil cures slower than other finishes.

It is one of the easiest finishes to repair because you can just wipe more oil over the top when it gets scratched. Howard’s Restor-a-finish sold here at Furniture Works is primarily designed for repairing oil finishes.

How to identify if your finish is oil:

Originally derived from the lac bug in ancient India, today Lacquer refers to a modern acrylic product that is the standard in gloss finish furniture today. It is strong, durable and makes for a beautiful finish.

It is highly toxic and flammable, breathing the fumes is dangerous and can affect the nervous system.

It cures fast and can be applied in all types of weather! It has the most excellent clarity and depth of any finish, and is considered the ultimate finish ever since it was developed and introduced in the 1920’s.

One problem with lacquer is that plastic migrates into lacquer, deterioting the finish, so you shouldn’t keep plastic in close contact with it for extended periods of time.

There is a big difference between oil and varnish. Varnish is made by cooking oil or different mixed oils with resin, synthetic or natural. The heat causes oil and resin to combine chemically, forming a new substance. It cures faster than oil. Varnish forms a very hard surface, so that it can be built up layer after layer to achieve a thick, hard and beautiful finish that protects the wood from most scratches. A thin coat of varnish does little for the wood. Oil and varnish are compatible, so they may be mixed. Oil reduces gloss and makes the finish cure slowly.

Varnish is often sold as “tung oil” on so-called “oil” finish. True linseed and tung oil have a distinct smell. Once you smell it you know what it is, as they both have nutty smells, tung oil being sweeter than linseed oil.

Oil and varnish blends cure slowly, they can take hours to become tacky, so they are prone to dust contamination. Wiping varnish becomes tacky in 20 minutes depending on the humidity, and it cures hard. Oil varnish blends will be soft enough to dig a fingernail into, especially if the finish is thick

If the finish is wrinkly and thick, it means it had more than 10% oil in the varnish.
Over time, varnish turns yellow.

Water Base
Water based finishes are resistant to scuffs and do not yellow. They don’t have as many problems with fumes and they are not a fire hazard. They are washed out and bland looking on dark woods and are very weather sensitive during application. They raise the grain of the wood. Lately they have become popular on furniture that needs a milky or distressed finish. It’s not completely non-toxic, like latex paint, you will start to feel light headed and dizzy working in a closed room with it. However, it is much less toxic than lacquer.

A lot of the strange milky white and grey finishes you see on World furniture is water base. When you do a “wash” with latex paint that is a water base finish.

A few wood tricks:

All finishes need to be kept out of strong sunlight if you want them to last longer. UV light is very destructive. Even indoor light will eventually break down a finish. All glass does block 80% of UV rays, so it does help some.  To protect against deterioration, you should use a little paste wax or furniture polish.

You can steam out dents in wood if the fibers are still unbroken. It’s not 100% effective but it almost always works. Put a drop of water in a dent with an eyedropper or syringe. Let the water soak in a little. Add more water if needed to form a bead over the dent, then touch the water with a very hot object to tturn it into steam.

Let the raised grain dry before sanding it smooth. If the fibers are broken you will have to cut out the area around the dent and fill it with a patch of wood or other material.

Water rings
Apply an oily substance like petroleum jelly or mayonnaise to the damaged area and allow it to remain overnight. The oil will sometimes replace the water because it has a greater affinity to the finish.

Heat damage
It looks like water damage but it cannot be repaired without striping and refinishing. It also often creates dents in the finish and in the worst cases, ripples of ugly crinkled finish, especially on beautiful deep mirror finish lacquer. You can apply alcohol to a shellac finish or lacquer thinner to a lacquer finish and correct the problem by redissolving the finish and letting it cure again. Its worth a try but usually does not work.

Nail polish, Permanent Markers and other Substances
For nail polish you should start with a plastic putty knife. You should be able to peel the nail polish off without hurting the finish. Apply a damp hot cloth to the polish to soften it.
Denatured alcohol will remove nail polish and permanent marker,  but can also damage the finish, so use it carefully and remove it all quickly as soon as the stain is off.

0000 steel wool can be used to sand away the polish, without too much damage to the finish. 

You can apply an oil like Howard’s Restor- a-Finish or Howard’s Feed N Wax to the wood to repair the finish color and shine.

Toothpaste is an old home remedy for removing permanent marker. It is slightly abrasive and works by scouring the surface.

WD-40 is also known to remove permanent marker stains.

As usual, follow up with Howard’s Restor-a-finish to replace the oils and protect the wood again.

Howard’s Restor-a-finish comes in dozens of wood finish colors, all available at Furniture works in a large bottle for $8.50.

For more in depth information on wood finishes, try the book “Understanding Wood Finishing, How to Select and Apply the Right Finish” by Bob Flexner. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Decorating Small Spaces

Decorating a very small space can be a challenge, especially if it contains architectural details which break up the wall space, such as windows, doors and fireplaces, or if the space is a high-traffic area. The techniques for furnishing small spaces are slightly different, but the basic design principles are the same. The idea in any size room is to create a space that is as comfortable as it is functional.

Scale is the first principle to keep in mind when purchasing furniture for a small space. The deep, overstuffed sofa with rolled arms and floor-brushing skirts that seemed like a comforting place to curl up in the vastness of a showroom may look like a sleeping rhinoceros when you get it home to your tiny living room. 

If you are drawn to the boho chic of overstuffed sofas, consider a loveseat instead, or a pair of armchairs with a small incidental table between them. You can also create the overstuffed feel by choosing a sleeker sofa that fits the scale of the room and softening it with fat, decorative pillows and a sumptuously thick throw tossed artfully over the back.

Design is another way to make a small space appear more open. Look for clean, straight lines in sofas and chairs, and choose those with low backs, small arms and visible legs. The more of the room you can actually see, the larger it will look. 

Make the bed with a duvet and forgo the dust ruffle. Place leggy, one-drawer incidental tables rather than bulky, solid nightstands on either side to further open up the space. 

Consider materials when looking at the overall design. Heavy fabrics with busy patterns will not look as open and un-crowded as softly-glowing natural or crisply-painted wood. 

Color also plays a huge part in helping enlarge the feeling of a room. Lighter colors actual feel less weighty and slightly reflective surfaces can help add the illusion of space. Use patterns sparingly to avoid a cluttered feel. Use variations in tone to define different areas while making sure that the colors in any double-duty space, such as a living room with a dining area, complement each other to make the spaces feel integrated. 

Placement is one of the most important considerations when furnishing a small room. Place larger pieces against the walls unless you are using them to divide a space, such as placing a loveseat facing a fireplace but with its back to the dining area. Walk through the room at leisure and in a hurry, in daylight and in the dark to ensure that no corners are sticking out in traffic paths. Make sure that there`s a clear line of sight between seating areas so that people in the room feel welcomed and included. 

The furniture experts at Oly Furniture Works know that sleek, natural wood furniture adds a natural warmth and uncluttered grace to even the smallest room, so they highly recommend that you visit the friendly professionals at Fortune Woods for the finest in oak furniture to suit any decor and fit any room.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Some Origins of Decorating Terms

Art Déco

The phrase Art Déco, more commonly abbreviated to just simply “Déco” originates in France from a journal by architect Le Corbusier, L’Esprit Nouveau, in an article detailing the 1925 Expo, titled 1925 Expo: Arts Déc”. In 1966 an event celebrating the  1925 exhibit titled itself Les Années 25: Art Déco/Bauhaus/Stijl/Esprit Nouveau, and from then on it became solidified as a style set apart from all others. A few Déco influenced works of art we are familiar with here  in America are The Chrysler Building, the Statue of Liberty, Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer and the RCA Building.  In Olympia, the Armory located at 515 Eastside St. SE, The Greyhound Station at 107 7th Ave SE, and The Old Thurston County Courthouse at  1110 Capitol Way S are all in the Art Deco style.  Art Deco has made a scene on the fashion and design stage recently, and is expected to be an ongoing trend for the next 5-10 years.

Art Noveau

It is nearly impossible to mention Art Deco without mentioning its progenitor, Art Noveau. Noveau was an art movement usually identified with its interest in the structure of the natural world. Vines, flourishes and flowers all took on an architectural feel and sinuous curving lines and feminine figures dominated architecture in many instances of art from 1890-1900. With the onset of the Age of Industry, with all of the shapes and materials that suited large scale manufacturing, the happiest marriage between Nature and Industry was Art Deco, which later gave way to Modernism.  The Art Noveau movement elevated art to the highest status it has achieved since the Greeks or Sumerians. The popular opinion was that art should encompass all facets of life, from caryatids on mantles to flowering silverware. We see this influence today in the importance that is placed on decorating the home and acquiring stylish utilitarian items. The philosophy of the Art Noveau movement was that art should be a way of life. The name Art Noveau stems from a Parisian gallery, Maison de l’Art Nouveau,  owned by a German art dealer named Siegfried Bing.


Transitional décor is one of the most common  terms used in decorating because It is a very popular style. A neutral palette and an eye for elegance without too much fuss is the hallmark of Transitional. It’s a traditional style of décor with contemporary simplicity. 
Complementary colors

On the color wheel, when a color is opposite another color on the spectrum, those two colors are called Complementary and were discovered by Isaac Newton. American scientist Benjamin Thompson coined the term in 1793, and even wrote that the knowledge could be used to assist in fashion and interior design.  Today, complementary colors, or complementary opposites as they are sometimes called, formn the cornerstone of modern visual arts, especially interior design. I refer to interior decorating as a “painting you can live in” as the same rules apply, only it’s in 3D.


This wonderful modern fabric repels insects and stains.  Insect  legs including mites and fleas get caught in the fabric, killing them and making it inhabitable. It is half as thick as silk, making it warm and absorbent. This comes in handy when you have pets or kids, and if you don’t, microfiber will reward you with a much longer life than pure linen, silk or cotton brocade and denim fabrics – they barely exist in new furniture galleries today, beaten out by microfiber, the new luxury fabric. It was invented by Dupont in 1989, the same company that invented the first synthetic fabric, Nylon. I was not able to determine if Dupont coined the term microfiber, so its origins remain a mystery. The technical definition of a microfiber is a fiber that is less than 1 denier in diameter. By comparison, a strand of silk, created by the silk worm, is 1 denier in diameter, making microfiber softer and more luxurious than silk.


The origins of the word Veneer are from a French word, “fournier”, and fournier  means “furnish”.  Today, veneer means to cover something normal with a sheet of something luxurious, such as 14kt gold over wood, or expensive coca bola wood over pine. It is used to lower the cost of furniture without sacrificing looks.

East Asian Hardwood

Hardwoods not native to Europe or The United States, Asian hardwood is just as strong and durable as our native woods, but it will have an uncommon grain that most people here in the United States and Europe will not recognize as being hardwood instantly.  Thus it is common to differentiate between the two,  as mango wood sometimes resembles fir in grain and walnut in color, whereas the former is a hardwood, fir is not, and can lead to some confusion.

Hardwood & Softwood

Softwoods are coniferous, meaning they do not lose their leaves in winter. Hardwoods are deciduous, losing their leaves each winter. Hardwood is denser, more resistant to fire, darker and found everywhere on the planet. Softwood is actually stronger than some hardwoods, but not all, and it is weak in shear (strong against the granins)

Partner’s Desk

A partner’s desk is a desk that has room for two people to work at facing each other. True partner’s desks will have drawers on both sides. A desk that is merely large and traditional, is not a partner’s desk, but the term is so often misused it can be confusing.  The origin of the term came from attorneys at law, as it is a common practice to work side by side with a partner on a case, and they are the demographic that purchased most of these desks.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Special Small Repairs You Can Do

At Furniture Works, we of all people know that it’s worth it to fix it rather than haul it. Some simple repairs that we enlist around here are listed below for your personal use.

Refinishing Wood – Easier Than You Think

Everyone loves solid wood furniture, but none of us love scratches, dull finishes or discoloration. Most, but not all of these problems can be solved instantly with Howard’s Restore-a-Finish.
(Seriously, this stuff is amazing.) It comes in every color of wood imaginable and we do sell it here in the store. $8.50 gives you enough for fully covering about 3 large pieces of furniture. It works on trim and veneers just as well. I have seen deep scratches literally disappear before my eyes. It won’t fill in gouges or dents, but it will color them enough to make them appear less like a flaw and more like character. It does STAIN so keep it away from clothing and upholstery. Howard’s will NOT work on deep, thick varnish, also known as “mirror finish” so if it’s thicker than a few sheets of paper, it likely will only improve things very little. Please stop in anytime to ask for a demo – we usually have some furniture coming in at all times that has scratches or dullness that we can use our test bottles on. We can give you recommendations on the color you need for your wood, and if we think it’s worth trying. 

Repairing Thick Glossy Varnish

If you have thick glossy varnish, don’t worry. The repair is a little harder to do but not impossible. What you want to do is soften up the surrounding varnish with a solvent and add in new varnish. This is next to impossible to do in a dusty environment, so pet lovers may have to find a clean room or live with the flaw. After you clean and dry the surface, you’ll spray some paint thinner mixed with the proper varnish onto the flaw. What will happen is the new varnish will settle in on top of the old varnish, while the solvent makes it all melt together again. During the time the varnish is curing and the solvent is evaporating, you’ll need to protect the area from dust and disturbances. If you don’t, you’ll have a much worse mess than a scratch.  

Leather Scratches

Don’t use vegetable oil, not even olive oil. I know it may seem like a good idea, and it DOES work – if you don’t care about the appearance of the leather!  Trust me, once that yellow olive oil sinks into the leather, it WILL come back up out to haunt you!  Yes, some oils will make it soft and it will extend the life of the leather, but can disrupt the delicate balance of the chemicals used in treating your leather as well, which can lead to some absolutely gross looking leather. Discoloration, stains and a loss in tone are all effects of using homemade leather treatment.  Sometimes the enzymes in the oil will also eat away at the structure of the hide cause the leather to decay more rapidly than usual. Other than this warning leather is fairly easy to buff with shoe polish, however, tears and really bad problems should always be handled by a professional – there is no getting around it. I had a professional leather repair person tell me that if a customer botches a repair job, it can make the cost of the repair go way up. It’s often delicate work.

For information on what products to use to maintain your leather (not repair it) check out Wild Rose Trading company:

Broken Sofa or Chair Leg

Cheap sofa legs can break or become wobbly over time, especially with heavy use.  No need to throw it away if you know how to fix it. Most of the time all you need is a new T-nut. Replacing them isn’t difficult, but there are quite a few steps to getting it back in working order. We repair our sofa legs using the instructions in this tutorial link:

Missing pulls

Missing drawer or cupboard pulls and handles are very easy to replace. Sometimes you have to replace more than one, and if you can’t find the exact match you can replace all of them at once to get a new look. Find cheap pretty ethnic handles at World Market or a cute mix and match at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore which is located downtown (they will be moving soon to Harrison Avenue next to the Goodwill)

Sticking Drawers

Wax or Wd-40 will cure most drawer sticking problems. Sometimes beautiful wood furniture will expand  after moving to a different climate, and the drawers can be repaired by sanding them down to fit. This happens a lot when furniture from California or other Southwestern states moves to Washington State where we have nearly 100% humidity in our lovely capitol.  Some drawers are finisghed on the inside as well, so you’ll need to match that varnish or stain after you sand it to fit. It’s best to have a woodworker or someone with experience in restoring furniture do the sanding if you don’t feel confident about where to whittle down the edges.

Broken Glass Tops

Glass can be expensive to replace but often times it’s worth it to save a piece you love. Sometimes you can substitute glass for a nice wood top or even a large frame with glass in it from a secondhand store. If you want to have the glass replaced, I recommend you try Olympia Glass or some other local glass shop in town to check their prices. It may cost less than you think. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Simple Refinishing Tips for Old and Outdated Furniture

Refinishing furniture is easier than it was ten or twenty years ago. Did you know you can recolor leather, vinyl and fabric quite easily? There are special products on the market now that let you paint fabric couches, spray on leather color and even waterproof it for patio use. I will introduce you to some of these technique and special tools and you can see if they would work for some of the old pieces lying around your house. 


These are outdated in today’s computerized age, but they’re still used by painters for doing measurements of complex geometric patterns.  Projecting a floral pattern onto a dresser can allow you to paint within the lines and create a beautiful custom piece. The image will wrap around curves and nooks and crannys, taking away the guesswork on painting the pattern.

Leather and Vinyl Spraypaint

You can now recolor leather and vinyl easily using readily available spray products, like Meltonian Nu-Life color sprays,  which cost around $10 a can. Refinishing has never been easier. The finish stays, too. Customers who used the paint for its original use as a shoe re-finish claim it lasts for years without any wear.  You’ll want to take a look at a few tutorials on this before you start, to get some ideas. I would start with Amy’s  stenciled barstool examples which are beautiful over at her blog, Amy’s Casablanca:


Stencils are a great way to spice up an old piece of furniture, or add the finishing touch to a painted furniture project.  Cutting Edge stencils at  has some fabulous designs that are easy to use.

Fabric Medium – Repaint your Couch!

Available at any fabric and craft store, this product is added to your favorite paint color in a can (yes, house paint) and then you can apply it to upholstery. Recolor any sofa. Do you have a shabby looking old Victorian settee but can’t afford new upholstery? Paint it! This may sound outrageous but professional decorators do this all the time for an inexpensive accent. The fabric will take on a “crisp” vinyl feel, so if you’re looking for a soft finish, this may not be for you.  

Most tutorials available online recommend satin finish paint for the base.  I suggest looking at the tutorial at the blog Fabric Bliss:


Always sand your surface lightly with a rough sandpaper to make sure paint and primer adheres properly. It’s a simple process that will save you hours of frustration . You don’t need a fancy sandblaster either – a manual hand sander will work just fine. Remember to sand WITH the grain.


If you have time and patience and are good at deconstructing patterns, DIY reupholstery is do-able, but it certainly isn’t easy. There is one exception and that is dining room chairs. They are usually just a board with foam on one side and fabric that staples underneath. They’re easy to recover. The most complicated part is if they have tufted seats (buttons) You’ll have to thread it through with an upholster’s needle, which can be a little tricky. (doll needles will work too) I asked the experts at Jo-Ann what they recommended for good durable upholstery that would last a while and they said regular 100% cotton would do the job just fine, at about $7.99 a yard. 

Colored sheets you are not using anymore will do just fine as well.  If you have a little extra cash, they have a beautiful selection of upholstery fabrics for $15-50 per yard. You’ll need about a yard per chair on average.  A new dining chair costs about $120 on average, so even the most expensive fabrics can seem like a deal in comparison to buying new. If your dining chair has metal or wood elements, remember you can paint these too to coordinate with your new fabric. Just remember to make sure your paint is designed for the finish you’re applying it to. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

An Intro to Flame Retardants in Furniture

It is a terrible thing to die in a house fire and for many years building codes have required fire alarms.  Flame retardants, chemicals which inhibit a fire from starting, have been a component of clothing and furniture for many years.  Many of our customers have expressed an appropriate level of concern about their effect on health.  Here’s a fairly brief introduction to flame retardants, their health effects and what you can do.  Caveat: I am not a scientist so all the facts here are gathered from outside sources.

What Are They and How Do They Work

One of the first fire retardants in popular use was polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs).  Odorless, tasteless PCBs easily penetrat latex, polyvinyl chloride, foam and, sadly, skin.  Since the 1930’s it has been known that it accumulates in body fat (and transmitted to infants through breast feeding) and can inhibit and imitate the main sex hormone in females, feed estrogen-dependent breast cancer cells, cause rashes, fatigue, headaches and coughs. The US Congress banned production in 1979.

This was followed by a rash of other chemicals.  In 1975, California began implementing Technical Bulletin 117 (TB 117), which requires that materials such as polyurethane foam used to fill furniture be able to withstand a small open flame, equivalent to a candle, for at least 12 seconds. In polyurethane foam, furniture manufacturers typically meet TB 117 with additive halogenated organic flame retardants. Although no other U.S. states have a similar standard, because California has such a large market, many manufacturers meet TB 117 in products that they distribute across the United States. The proliferation of flame retardants, and especially halogenated organic flame retardants, in furniture across the United States is strongly linked to TB 117 (cf. Wikipedia).

These chemicals work by interfering with the oxygen, reducing the ability for combustion. Several studies in the 1980s tested ignition in whole pieces of furniture with different upholstery and filling types, including different flame retardant formulations. In particular, they looked at maximum heat release and time to maximum heat release, two key indicators of fire danger. These studies found that the type of fabric covering had a large influence on ease of ignition, that cotton fillings were much less flammable than polyurethane foam fillings, and that an interliner material substantially reduced the ease of ignition (cf. Wikipedia), however these are not currently standards for furniture manufacturing or sale.

Are they harmful?

According to a Seattle Times article, nearly all Americans have some trace amounts of flame retardants in their bodies. This is mostly from the dust from TVs & computers. From a recent visit to LOTT, I learned that they go through the water treatment plant and into the Sound unchanged.

A longitudinal study of 329 mothers found that children with higher levels of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) scored lower on tests of mental and motor development at 1–4 and 6 years of age.

What can you do about it?

This checklist is cited from the Department of Health in Washington state.
  •          Cleaning - PBDEs in indoor dust is one of the primary sources of people's exposure. Reduce your exposure to indoor dust. Use a damp cloth to dust indoor living and working areas. Avoid stirring the dust into the air. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter. Open windows and doors while you clean. Wash hands after dusting and cleaning.
  •          Foam products - New foam items that you purchase today are unlikely to contain PBDEs. However, mattresses, mattress pads, couches, easy chairs, foam pillows, carpet padding, and other foam products purchased before 2005 likely contain PBDEs. Replace older foam products that have ripped covers or foam that is misshapen or breaking down. If you can't replace the item, try to keep the covers intact. When removing old carpet foam, keep the work area sealed from other areas of the house, avoid breathing in the dust, and use a HEPA-filter vacuum for cleanup.
  •          Electronics - Deca-BDE has been used in electronics for years but is now being phased out of most electronics. When purchasing electronics, request products that contain no Deca-BDE or other bromine-containing fire retardants.
  •          Foods - PBDEs can concentrate in the fat of poultry, red meat, fish and other fatty meats. See how to reduce the fat when preparing and cooking fish (these tips can be applied to other meats). Wash hands before preparing and eating food.
  •          Disposal and recycling - PBDEs will continue to pollute the environment unless flame retardant products are disposed of properly. To keep PBDEs out of the environment, dispose of foam containing products and electronics such as TVs and computers at your nearest hazardous waste collection site.

My Takeaway

My personal opinion, and others will disagree, is that, generally speaking, any chemical for which you need an acronym (PCB, DDT, et. al.) is probably not good for you.  I suspect there is a cumulative effect to the toxins we ingest and we do well to avoid them.  That said, not every toxin is avoidable and that as long as we are cautious our health will be better.

As for the industry? I think there is clear evidence that flame retardants are not going away but that they are becoming less dangerous.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

How to identify your personal style

If you have trouble deciding what to purchase for your home or office, this article may help you. I talk to a lot of people about their décor and style because I work at Furniture Works, so naturally I need to match people to a piece that suits their needs but also appeals to their sense of style. I can usually tell people what their style is if they tell me what they like, but some people don’t even know what they like.  The “I’ll know it when they see it” expression can be very self limiting. First of all, you won’t, and secondly it wastes your time. In the design industry, when a client says this colloquial expression it means they will never be happy and you should drop them as a client, immediately. I know a lot of customers like this who whim buy and end up with furniture that is not true to their needs. A good salesperson is there to guide you to the right purchase, that you’ll really be satisfied with. They are not there to just take your money. If you can’t bring yourself to accept help from a professional, invest 20 minutes of time investigating your style and you’ll end up saving yourself time and money.

Style can be summed up in four basic categories:
  • Color
  • Tone
  • Silhouette
  • Culture

I will explain each of these categories in a moment. It’s important to note that even if you prefer one style over another, feel free to mix it up a little. Most great decorating scheme incorporate a dash of quirkiness and personal touches. For example, a modern décor scheme might break the ice with a collection of framed LP’s or an ornately carved accent piece painted a bright unconventional color. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different styles.


Color preferences and how a color influences us is extremely important to know about yourself, since it drastically affects your mood and can make you depressed or tense if it’s the wrong color for your personality. I once painted a bedroom a dark red, which looked great with the red and black accent furniture, but I felt very tense in the room. It was too much for me, and the reason is because I’m naturally high strung. If you are easily excited, you should try to steer away from bolder colors like red, orange and yellow if you can. There are ways to tone down these colors if you must have them. Pairing grey with any of these colors will immediately make the color seem a lot more conservative. If you’re calm and laid back, bold colors may be your thing.

Try to think about what you want to feel in a room. Do you want to feel rested and relaxed in your living room, or energized and awake? If you’re not sure which color is right, here’s a list of common color schemes and how they affect mood in general. Read through them and pick two or three that resonate with you based on your personality.

Red: Exciting, passionate and warm, red stimulates appetite and makes some people feel awake and alert. Be careful though, it can also cause tension, stress and anxiety in those prone to hypertension. A good compromise for red is merlot or coral.

Blue: The opposite effect of red, blue is soothing and calming, lowering heart rate and blood pressure. It especially shines in bedrooms where it can provide a restful sleep. People who are already very relaxed sometimes dislike this color, as it may seem cold or boring. It’s not a good color for offices or kitchens in general because of its soporific effect.

Don’t think color can have an effect on you? Just try it and see. The subconscious will almost immediately pick up on the effect of color, and even if you don’t notice that immediate effect, over time – say a few hours - you’ll come to understand how powerful color is.

Orange: Optimism, sociability and youthful impulse all describe orange. It’s the go between color of yellow and red. Orange retains a degree of its power even at subdued levels. Terracotta or Peach are still orange and can stimulate the appetite and evoke conversation just like the stronger tones, without being too pushy. Orange is one of the most controversial colors. Some people immediately dislike strong oranges but enjoy terracotta without realizing it’s in the orange family.

Yellow:  Optimistic like orange, but with a more cheerful spirit, yellow bestows joy and has a streak of intelligence. Some people don’t like it and it can make people feel ill at ease, so you may consider pairing it with grey or blue.

Green: Green is the color of vegetation and has a calming effect. It can make some people feel uncomfortable as it is also the color of mystery and the wild. Classically it has also been the color of luxury as it used to be difficult to create as a dye. Everyone associates green with emeralds of course, and Pantone recently announced Emerald as the color of the year, explaining that people were tired of the lean recession years and wanted some luxury in their lives.  I’ve been seeing a lot of faux malachite treatments on DIY blogs, which is indeed an elegant and rich look. It creates a sense of coolness and intimacy with nature. A very small percentage of people report that it makes them feel sick. I have a pea green paint color from previous owners on my bedroom wall which needs to be repainted, because even though I love green, it does indeed make me feel nauseous.

Purple: Calming and relaxing like blue, purple has a regal feel that is the associated with luxury and new modern ideas, science and outer space. It’s also a classically rare dye, used only by royalty in Rome when it had to be distilled from shellfish . It’s a popular color, but effects vary amongst audiences. Some people report having it make them feel powerful and energized, others report that it’s a welcoming and friendly color.  It happens rarely, but a few people find it cold and repulsive.

Brown: Warm and homey, brown has a wide range of colors that can lean towards yellow, red or orange. It tends to make a room feel less sophisticated and puts most people at ease. Too much brown can be oppressive. If you’d like to make a room feel both luxurious and relaxing, different shades of chocolate and gold accents can make you feel like you’re living in a chocolate box, which can be wonderful.

Grey: One of those colors you either love or hate, grey tends to be elegant and formal. Some find it boring and conservative. When paired with brighter colors it tends to formalize the brightness and ground it out. It pairs well with red, yellow and orange. Grey lends a seriousness to any room and too much of it can be oppressive. All colors look wonderful with Grey so it allows us to play around a lot with palettes.

White: Cleanliness and elegance is conveyed by white, and it can make you feel alert and make the room feel bigger. Some find it to be sterile and cold, so it’s up to you whether you find it appealing. Blue makes it more relaxing, while red can create excitement.  White tends to amplify any color you pair with it, so if you want to brighten a room without drowning in color, white is the way to go. A whole room done in whites and the family of whites can be very relaxing and clean. 

Black: Black is another love it or hate it color.  Morbid to some, elegant to others, it can make a room feel smaller, so it’s useful for spaces that feel too large. It pairs well with any colors but does best with a mixture of neutrals and solo bright accents, such as a grey, black and red palette. Dust and dirt tend to show up quite badly, so if the surface will be soiled regularly try not to use black.


Have you picked your favorite colors yet? Great! Now we need to know your tonal preference. This is just a very simple preference that determines what shades of your favorite color you like best. Try playing around with paint chips from your local hardware store and mix it up until you get a color combination you like. You might discover that, while you hate purple many shades of purple, you love a dusty eggplant, for instance.  Combine your favorite colors with one of the following categories, and you’ll know your best decorating palette.

Pastel: Very light colors, with a lot of white in them. It’s used to evoke a light and airy feel, and should be paired with some earthtones or white to avoid a cloying, easter egg feel. Whites are a special category within tones as they tend to be very specific and the white family is quite diverse. Pastel whites tend to be tinted with a little color. Add white to almost any bright color to create a pastel.

Neutrals: Colors with grey added to them. Neutrals are not necessarily what we traditionally think of as a neutral – beige, taupe, grey and cream are common, but any color can be a neutral. For example, a grayed jade green is a perfect example of a neutral color, and a very popular one lately.  Neutrals tend to “middle” between extreme darks and extreme lights. This can be a very relaxing and sophisticated palette.  Neutral whites tend to be very understated, neither bright nor colored, like their pastel relatives. Eggshell would be a good example of a neutral white. Adding grey, black or white to any color can create a neutral.

Jeweltones: Many people do not understand this category of tone. It is not synonymous with earthtones. In fact it is quite different. It means a fully saturated color, such as fire engine red or lime green. The name can be misleading, because many actual gemstones can be dark, subdued or pale, which is not a design “jeweltone”.  Jeweltones are used in many design schemes, from modern to moroccan. Beautiful complementary opposites can create excitement. I use emerald and bright red in my Chinese themed study to create warmth and an energizing effect against dark wood and heavy carvings and sculpture. Jeweltone white is stark, often enameled. It’s also referred to as modern white or titanium white.  Jeweltones happens when you add saturation to a hue.

Earthtones: Earthtones tend to have a lot of “mud” in them, or black, plainly put. A burnt orange happens when you add a little grey or black to bright orange. Earthtones are warm and friendly, though they can also be drab if used improperly. You can usually combat this with the addition of shiny or metallic elements.  Olive green is an example of an earthtone green. Take any color and add a darker shade to it and you’ll probably get an earthtone.


Silhouette talks about the underlying structure of an piece, whether it’s a room or a piece of furniture.  Silhouette is very important because it can set the tone for the whole piece. It’s just as important as color; however, color tends to have more power. It’s easier to work around silhouette issues than color issues, which is why Silhouette is placed after color. You may find you love all of these categories I’m going to describe to you, which is perfectly alright – the goal is to find which silhouettes you absolutely cannot live with, and the ones you love. You can combine silhouettes – there are no hard and fast rules.  Here I’ll list a few of the more common types.

Ornate: This silhouette is over the top and likes to announce its presence. It tries to entertain the eye with scrollwork, lots of curves and intricacy. A good example of this silhouette would be the Victorian settee or Chippendale chairs. It can also include complicated modern art styles.
Bold: Big and often with comfort in mind, bold designs take up a lot of space and are less popular than they used to be, but they still exist. An “overuse” of materials is often utilized, such as thick lumber, overstuffed cushions and oversized bases or legs. A good example of a bold silhouette would be the Papasan chair or column canopy beds.

Minimalist: Understated, often sacrificing comfort for style. Minimalist silhouettes play down decoration and emphasize simple straight lines and geometry. It has a clean and modern feel. They can be very functional pieces, but tend to be less forgiving when it comes to allowing for soft cushions and color and pattern options. A good example of minimalist silhouette can be found in traditional Japanese furniture, midcentury modern and Scandinavian design.

Contemporary: This is a mix of curves and straight lines, sometimes with a little bit of ornamentation. Modern and contemporary styles have been merging lately, and this trend is expected to continue. Contemporary tends to be a little softer than Minimalism, and may include transitional elements. Sometimes function is chosen over form, and this is where contemporary diverts from true minimalism and modernism.

Classical: Soft edges, symmetry and flowing design are all hallmarks of classical design. Of all of these, symmetry is probably the most distinguishing mark. They may not be heavily decorated or even very old, but they will have symmetrical structure, tasteful ornamentation – if any – and emphasis on traditional beauty from the old world.


You can turn to any point in time on any place on the globe and find a unique style of decorating based on a culture. Having a sense of your favorite culture is something that happens over decades, but one almost certainly can find fast favorites by browsing through an antique/vintage store or by looking through decorating books. Try to write down a style you find, if you like it. There are so many that knowing whether or not you prefer Hollywood Regency to Mid-century modern can save you a lot of time and energy!

For example, I have loved Asian art since I was a teenager. I began collecting asian furniture in my twenties. I started with Japanese décor, which is generally minimalistic or rustic but later discovered I really preferred the more ornate and refined furniture of Southeastern China. I also found out that even though this doesn’t mix that well with American Chinatown glitz and glam, I like all of that, too. I wasted a lot of money on pieces I loved from department stores and lifestyle stores that never really fit right with the rest of the anchor pieces in a room. If I had known my style before I went out shopping, I would have saved the money to spend on pieces I knew immediately would match my taste and the rest of my décor.

If you love a certain type of style, find out who in your city carries that era or style, and check back with them frequently. Get to know the salespeople so you can get an inside scoop on the next great piece for you décor. For example, if you love Victorian antiques and their ornate, classical style, figure out which antique stores specialize in Victorian era furnishings. As always, no matter which era or style you’re looking for, always check back at Furniture Works, because we carry furniture from every era in every style!