RESTORING A CONVERTED 1930'S RADIO CABINET

Mike talks about...
RESTORING A CONVERTED 1930'S RADIO CABINET

What made this piece worthy of restoration?
Just look at it! It's an impressive 1930's era cabinet, made with beautiful walnut veneer, with unique bookended grain on the doors. Deco radio cabinets are a little outside of our mid-century modern focus but sometimes a piece comes along that you feel you must save. And come along it did -- my young daughter and I were kick scooting in our Brooklyn neighborhood when, up ahead, she spotted this piece out on the curb, waiting for the garbage truck. It was in such a dilapidated state -- and what a shame, given its history and quality workmanship. Believe me, I wasn't looking for another project and this needed so much work I knew I could never recoup my time investment...but sometimes these things find you anyway. Sometimes via your daughter. So it took a ride home on our scooters instead of that scheduled trip to the land fill.

What did it need?
A better question might be "what didn't it need?" The wood was obscured with wear, grime and paint in the form of a dizzying array of interlocked, multi-colored circles, which were caused and shaped by old paint cans that had so rudely been piled on the top. The bottom front was very damaged, the interior was shot, the brass handles were loose and tarnished and the mechanism for the sliding doors -- which you could see was pretty cool when working -- was not functional. All of this is par for the course when you're relegated to a 50 year solitary confinement in some dark corner of a basement. Papillion take flight!

What steps did you take?
It had already been converted into a two-shelf storage cabinet many years ago, so there were no radio workings to deal with.

First, I used stripper to remove the finish from the wood. To my surprise and delight, as an added bonus, it had beautiful bird's eye maple detail at the top that had been completely obscured by the original opaque finish.

The bottom front of the cabinet had really taken a beating over the years. So I re-shaped and rebuilt the wood in order to optimize what was still present, while making sure to create an aesthetically congruent line that would seem organic to the original design.

Next, everything was hand-sanded to ready the surface for a new hand-applied oil finish. No machines were used -- they leave subtle but still visible grooves that I never want on any of my restored pieces.

The floor and back of the cabinet had to be replaced. Happily, I was able to fashion those out of salvaged vintage wood.

The sliding mechanism for the doors had become misaligned over the decades and as a result it no longer functioned. The design allows both doors to open and close at once, though you slide only one -- which for its time was quite a magical occurrence. It actually still is a feature that makes me smile every time I open them up. With some time and focus, I was able to discern the ways in which it needed adjusting and then reattach the mechanism so that it once again opened effortlessly and then properly aligned in the center when closed -- probably for the first time in 50 years! I also have a suspicion that it may never have been aligned 100% correctly from its creation, perhaps a slight misstep taken at the factory when originally produced. Better late than never!

The small but very pleasing solid brass pulls needed to be polished to bring back their luster. And so that happened.

And there you have it. It took even more time and effort than I had estimated, but it is now a truly gorgeous cabinet with both a rich history and a bright future.

 



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