I’ve written before about my passion for vintage Ethan Allen furniture, mostly notably in a blog from March 2012. And then there’s my penchant for discovering the occasional bargain on Craigslist. Put them both together and if the planets are in proper alignment, they might spell, “Be Still My Beating Heart.”
As was the case several weeks ago. While chilling out at our Lake of the Ozarks place, I came across four Ethan Allen dining chairs (two with arms, two sides), on Buyers-and-Sellers-Beware Craigslist at the bargain price of $25. Not for each chair but for all four. An exact match to six Ethan Allen finds from six years ago but unlike those shabby-chic, these were in pristine condition. Add these potential four to the seventeen Ethan Allen dining chairs I already have, plus the six decorated Hickory chairs, and Bingo! Twenty-seven people would be able to gather at our obscenely long table in compatible comfort. That is, as long as they didn’t talk politics or religion. Or, God forbid, make negative remarks about my cooking.
My initial contact with the St. Louis area seller soured before it got started. She’d changed her mind about selling the chairs that once belonged to her grandmother. But then after we messaged back and forth, Chair Lady changed her mind again, this time in my favor. Could I pick them up that afternoon? Since D and I were at the lake, that wasn’t possible. So, I contacted Offspring #2, who couldn’t get the chairs until the next day. Chair Lady agreed. But after more messaging between Chair Lady and #2, those arrangements fell through. Another round of messaging back and forth brought the total communications to around 15, including several phone calls. After three days of this, D and I finally arrived at Chair Lady’s home to finalize the purchase.
The chairs were as perfect as they appeared on Craigslist. I thanked Chair Lady and handed her an envelope containing the $25. She shook her head and said, “There’s no charge. I’m giving you the chairs. After talking to your son about your large family gatherings, I know my grandmother’s chairs are going to a good home.”
Oh, yeah. You bet they will.
Be still my beating heart.
As promised, here’s my original post about Ethan Allen furniture.
The Furniture Whisperer (Originally published March 2012)
D and I started out married life with two rooms of hand-me-downs along a new kitchen set, chrome and Formica—a well-meaning gift I never grew to love. Five years and three children later I discovered Ethan Allen furniture. Heirloom quality traditional designed for passing down from generation to generation, according to their high-end catalogues I regarded as my decorating bible. Over many years and two households, we acquired a decent Ethan Allen collection: floor samples, damaged returns, fire sales, and closeouts all—except for the special-order table that extends to seat twelve, a size which seemed reasonable for our family of seven plus grandparents or the occasional guest.
The grandparents are gone now, the children grown and with their own children. The immediate family has expanded to twenty-four and when we gather at our home for a meal, it’s around x-number of tables pushed together to make one extremely long one. No texting allowed; our family uses its outside voice. Hey, these times are precious few and nobody wants to sit at the kids’ table or eat standing up at the kitchen counter. What’s more, I set that humongous table with matching linens, china, and flatware. Don’t get me started on the clean-up. The assorted tables for extra seating have come and gone—one drop leaf oak originating in Germany, so old it sits lower than today’s standard; another drop leaf of indiscernible wood traded for my friend J’s mahogany table that folds into a tight package, a third drop leaf maple returned to its former owner.
Sure, I could make do: move the folding table from the garage; squeeze our everyday table through the dining room door; bang up our knuckles … ouch, that profanity didn’t come from my mouth.
Wait a minute, how about checking out Craigslist? What’s this, an Ethan Allen drop-leaf pine seating eight? For $75? I remember it well from those catalogues. This one looks okay. So okay that I would’ve bought it sight-unseen but the seller convinces me otherwise. I convince D to drive me twenty-five miles to inspect said table. It came from an estate sale, last used as a kids’ craft table—desecrated by paint, crayon, and adhesive backing stuck around the edges—so much for passing down a valued heirloom from one generation to another. We open the leaves, sturdier than any drop leaf we’ve used in the past. I rub my hand across the marred wood and the table speaks to me. D nods, good enough for a guy who doesn’t whisper to furniture. We seal the deal; pay an extra $25 to have the table delivered in two days.
Chairs, we could use some extra chairs. The following evening I peruse Craigslist again. What’s this, an Ethan Allen maple table and six matching chairs for a mere $40? Could use some TLC the ad says; but for $40 who cares. Another set I remember from the catalogues. Sure, the table is smaller than my special order but the chairs, a near match. They look … okay in the photo. Three telephone messages and one return call the next day makes the set mine, sight unseen. I thank the seller profusely. D borrows son P’s truck, gases it up for the ninety-mile round trip. We reach our destination and … yikes! What have we here? Gouges in the chair seats, some of them water-damaged to the bare wood, except for this one with a magazine cover embedded in its seat. Think decoupage. Add traces of food to the grooves of every chair. Did the family pet chew on this seat and that leg and that leg? Oops, missing arms from one of the captain’s chairs. D rolls his eyes; sets his jaw. The table’s okay; I hear the chairs talking to me. It doesn’t matter what they’re saying; I want to slap them silly. Still, a deal’s a deal and their mine. Our ride home is too quiet, D the naysayer and me, the furniture whisperer.
That afternoon the drop leaf pine joins its adopted siblings in the garage. D and I slip our hands into vinyl gloves and tackle the dreaded projects. Over the next four hours he applies good ol’ WD-40© to the adhesive tape; I scrub everything in sight with Orange Glo©. After he finishes with the WD-40©, I work lemon oil into the pine table. Over and over I rub the wood, each stroke bringing us closer until it thanks me with a subtle sheen that almost makes me cry. As for the maple find, we call it a day, having removed every bit of crude, even the reluctant magazine cover. The next day we carry our pine treasure across the front lawn, through the entryway and into the el of our living/dining room where it looks like no other piece in either room. Character, I tell D, a conversation piece that keeps me returning for one more glance.
Back to the maple chairs. After D fills in those holes that once held the captain’s arms, he rubs a near-match stain into the wood of every chair. Amazing! From a distance all of the chairs look great. Close up, most of them quite acceptable; the rest … okay, when covered by any-size rear end. After the stain dries, a bit of 00000 steel wool and a good rub of lemon oil should stop this Ethan Allen madness once and forever. Maybe put them back on Craigslist, make a few bucks for all the hard work and aggravation.
What’s that I hear, the chairs whispering to me. I lean forward, run my hand over each fiddle-back top, and listen.
“Please let us stay.”
“All of us.”
“We promise to serve you well.”
“And never to buckle.”
“No matter how big the butt.”
“Or small the child.”
What else could I say but, “Yeah, okay … welcome to the family.”