Distressed Comfort

Dear Billy: A dear friend gave us a great coffee table that needs some kind of refinishing. We want the finish to “invite” guests to use the table comfortably—to feel they can place their feet on it and not feel the need to use coasters for beverages. (A glass top would not be our first choice.) What would you recommend?

Answer: I’m assuming that if the coffee table needs refinishing, it is made of wood. Check to see if it is solid hardwood or a veneered finish. A lot of furniture is built out of hardwood or medium-density fiberboard with a thin veneer applied over it. Veneered pieces are generally dressier, whereas solid hardwood pieces generally have a more casual feel.

If your table is solid wood, I think distressing is your answer. You will need to sand the existing finish to accept a stain, and pick a stain color that blends with the other wood pieces in your room.

The general idea is to duplicate a finish that has worn over time and developed a patina, a naturally aged look. This can be achieved by using a fine rasp and easing all of the square, hard edges. The next step is to create a distressing tool by using a metal ring. You can add a short piece of chain and different sized nuts and bolts to the ring. Start out by gently beating (if it’s possible to beat something gently) the entire piece of furniture to duplicate the nicks and scratches that would have taken place over time. Be sure to change the direction ofthe ring to avoid a set pattern.

Years ago, when I worked for my uncle at Robert Lenox Associates, he had a beautiful hand-distressed coffee table delivered to a client in Edina. Shortly thereafter, the phone rang and the client said, “Bob, this table looks like it fell off the truck. It’s covered with chips and nicks, and it is just not acceptable.” My uncle replied, “You don’t understand. It’s distressing.” She snapped back, “It certainly is—send somebody out to pick this thing up!”

But back to your coffee table: After you have distressed your table, apply a layer of stain, and remove the excess with cheesecloth. This will allow the excess stain to accentuate the distressed portions. For an extra durable finish, apply an eggshell or satin top coat, which could be poly or varnish.

Now sit back, relax, and feel free to put your feet up and your drink down. Down the line, touch ups can be done with a product called Old English furniture polish. Simply wipe on and wipe off, and you’re good to go.