What Do You Do When Good Veneer Goes Bad?

The Paint Factory LLC
by The Paint Factory LLC
It was an impulse buy. I saw the shape of the French Bombe Commode dresser with Ormolu in the corner of my eye. Initially, I wasn't sure if I loved it or I hated it.
It really wasn't 'my' style - but the shape. The shape was exquisite. And I dared to look past the peeling/cracked veneer.
Bubbly, peely veneer - and not in a good way!
I wasn't that concerned that the black and white marble had crackled along the vein. The professional repair was only slightly noticeable.
It was a reproduction. The stamp underneath the marble said that it had been manufactured in Egypt, and imported by a Washington State import company. Had it been a 'true' antique I would never have considered touching it. I know my limitations. But a repro? Well, a repro I'm OK with trying to fix.
I debated for several days about whether to try to repair the cracked/missing/peeling veneer - or should I try to 'tone it down' a little, and make it more appealing to a broader audience. I decided to try and repair the veneer. Out came the steamer (in preparation for steaming the veneer to make it pliable), then I would glue and clamp the veneer back into place and secure it. Simple, right?
No. Not at all. The more I pried the veneer up (to glue and clamp it down), the more it just seemed to give way. It was a complete mess. I knew pretty quickly that the veneer just wasn't stable enough to even try to fix it.
Days later (seriously, days later) it ended up looking like this. I had to removed the entire body of veneer. So, what do you do when good veneer goes bad?
You make it beautiful again.
I wanted to make it look like Italian plaster. I was working with a imperfect surface, and I wanted to embrace that. I wanted to go the the real patina feel.
I gold leafed all of the ormolu, and the brass trim work. And put gold leaf edging around the drawers. I used a new paint line that I've fallen in love with Pure & Original Classico, (here's a link if you're interested in seeing it)


and choose a dark blue for the base, and then a sage green for the mid tone, and a light blue for the final 'wash' coat. I also used about four different General Finishes glazes, to get the aged look.
I love how it turned out. It was a labor of love. I hated it, then I kinda liked it, then I hated it again and wanted to chop it up. I wrote a blog post about it, saying that I hoped I would never see it again!
It sold almost immediately. And then I got an email from Pure & Original (who had seen my post), asking if they could use my image for an upcoming promotion. Well, yikes! Of course. The next day this came in my in-box.
And that - made everything (including the splinters embedded in my hands) seem a little bit better.
Frequently asked questions
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  2 questions
  • Wonderful job! I know how much work that entails. I have not tried the actual gold leafing yet. Do you like it better than using one of the metallic sprays or the rub and buff?? Also, I noticed on your blog you se YRC to ship. I have been using Plycon to ship my pieces across country. Just wondering how YRC compares to them and in pricing. Thanks!

  • Karen Karen on Feb 23, 2016
    I have a table that has veneer that is bubbling. How do you suggest I remove it? Will sanding it work? I am going to paint it then stencil. Thanks

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4 of 55 comments
  • Cheryl Cheryl on Jan 12, 2016
    You took that hot mess & made it haute perfection!

  • Wendell Cochran Wendell Cochran on Mar 06, 2018

    The Italians have made an art out of faux antiquing these kinds of decorative pieces for a hundred years or more. Their secret making a stabilized surface is gesso -- ground up marble dust in a paint-like liquid paste. Its the same stuff artists use to prepare raw linen canvas as a substrate for oil paintings. They paint several coats on raw wood, let it dry and then sand the entire surface smooth. They apply a coat of sealer, often shellac, and then several coats of finish color before they begin to distress the surface, add raised faux wood carving trim and apply false scratches, worm holes and layers of fake grime. They can get very fancy in their creations of "new" very old well preserved family-owned antiques. Try applying gesso to areas where veneer is missing on an old piece of furniture. Over fill the area and then sand it down smooth to the surrounding surface. Paint the patch to match the existing surface color and then add a clear sealer.

    • See 1 previous
    • Wendell Cochran Wendell Cochran on Mar 06, 2018

      Store bought, commercially made. Gesso can be purchased at most any art supply store in different amounts up to five or ten pound cans. It can be thinned with just plain water. Once dry, gesso is practically indestructible, water proof and stable against cracking or shrinking.