In our most recent blog post we introduced you to our friend, Frankie Allen. By day, Frank works as manager of the North Street consignment shop in Geneva, Closet to Closet. By night she sometimes helps Stomping Grounds connect with terrific old furniture, interesting rare books, funky secondhand jewelry, and various other vintage treasures. It was Frank who led us to the barn in Waterloo where we found, among other things, four massive Victorian piano legs that would become what is currently known as, “The Piano Table.”
James was literally climbing over a pile of old furniture in the barn when he spotted the half buried piano legs. He managed to pull them out from under and behind a mishmash of dressers, desks, bikes, boxes, suitcases, lamps and other miscellany. Because of their size and weight, combined with the awkwardness of the climb, James took four separate trips over the pile to bring all the legs out from the barn. When he laid them out in the driveway, the light of day showed them to be dusty, dirty, scratched up and covered in cobwebs. I wasn’t sure some beat up old piano legs were worth his effort, but James said he “knew they were gold” the moment he saw them. I was less certain, but their ornately carved details showed through the gunk. We decided to buy them with the hope that we could come up with some way to make them useful again. We asked our friend Tommy Fish of Fish Woodworks to take a look.
Tom thought the height of the legs was less than ideal. They were too short for a standard table but too tall for a traditional coffee table. We all agreed that we didn’t want to cut the legs down in order to make them shorter, but Tom thought he could probably add a little height easily enough. With more height they could serve as legs for desk or a dining room table. As we loaded the legs to send with Tom, we mentioned that he should stop by that barn in Waterloo where we had discovered so many old treasures. We knew the owner of the barn had some lumber for sale, and we thought Tom might run into something he could use.
A day or two later we heard some good news from Tommy. He had stopped by the barn and talked to the owner about buying some lumber. While there, Tom mentioned that the folks at Stomping Grounds had sent him, and also mentioned that he was looking for some wood to complete our piano leg project. The owner's response: Well, I’ve got the top of the piano around here somewhere. Would that work? And that is how we happened to reunite the legs of the piano with its original top.
As work progressed on this project it became clear that the finished table was going to be really special. The top of the piano ended up informing much of the new design. Because the top was angled at the corners, Tom built in angled corners between the top and the legs. And because the top had a deep, dark, rich color, Tom used a black walnut oil to polish and restore color to the legs. Because the top was hinged, we decided to add storage within the table to hold odds and ends like silverware and serving utensils, napkin rings and linens.
Once the legs were cleaned up, their carved details really started to sing. Tom found a maker's mark while working on them which allowed us to date the legs to the late nineteenth century. Considering the high Victorian styling of the legs, that date seems about right, although we've seen similar legs on pianos built as early as the 1860s. The piano itself was a square grand piano - a popular style in the 1800s, but which went out of fashion around the turn of the century when common uprights, cheaper to build, took their place.
Once Tom had the top and the legs joined by new construction we all hemmed and hawed about how to paint or stain the new, raw wood. We eventually decided to stick with a simple white primer, sealed with a bit of shellac. The reasons we went this route were several. For one thing, we wanted the legs to really pop. We also wanted to celebrate and clearly define that the table was a blend of new and old. We wanted to stay neutral in our color choice so that the table would work in many different environments, and we wanted to pay homage to the fact that the table was made from what was once a black and white keyed piano. That being said, when the black and white table arrived back at Stomping Grounds, as happy as we were with what Tom had created for us, we thought the look was a little stark. So in the spirit of high Victorian design, James and I decided to add some embellishment… and then more embellishment… and then a touch more.
First, we took some pretty red and gold framing length and capped the top of the legs.
Then we lined the storage area inside the table with rich red velvet. James also added some wires so that the top could stay open hands free.
Finally, we added a pretty little architectural fragment to the front, which turned out to be just the right antique detail to complete the table.
James and I didn’t know what we would end up with when we decided to take a chance on the piano legs, but the piano table has turned out to be a fun project for us.
We couldn’t have finished the table without the help of some friends. Thanks again to Frankie Allen of Closet to Closet and Tom Fish of Fish Woodworks for their help. My dad, Bruce, also offered some help along the way. We’ve priced the table for sale, but we’ll miss it when its gone! Luckily for us, there is always a new project around the corner.