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My Grandparents’ Antique Buffet Has Entered the Building

If you follow me on Instagram you may remember back in August when I posted that my parents had arrived with my late grandparents’ antique buffet. Well, the buffet has been hanging out in our garage since. My initial plan was to paint it. I even bought a quart of chalk paint, but I couldn’t pull the trigger.

Well, I got the advice I needed last week at SNAP! when I sat in on a brown bag session with Bruce from Minwax. During his presentation he said to never paint your grandparents’ antique furniture. Never. Ever. Seriously, it’s like he was speaking directly to me. After the session I caught up with Bruce and showed him a photo of the buffet on my phone. He told me how to restore the buffet, and he even gave me a little historical knowledge– telling me the buffet is from the 1920s. It pays to keep your iPhone riddled with photos.

vintage buffet before

The antique buffet means a lot to me because it belonged to my maternal grandparents– Grandma June and Grandpa Bob, but he was just Grandpa to me.

(Many of you said in the inaugural Two Twenty One reader survey a couple weeks ago (results are coming soon– making graphs and charts is hard work), that you wanted to know more personal stuff about me so here we go.)

I called my mom last night, rousing her from her slumber at 10:45 PM, to ask what year my grandparents were married so I could tell you how many years of wedded bliss they shared. My mom couldn’t remember so she got out of bed and started looking through boxes, asking if I really needed to know the wedding date right this second. I told her I was working on this post, so yeah I kind of needed to know now. Then I told her she was a bad daughter for not remembering her parents’ wedding date. After searching for fifteen minutes with no luck, my mom said, “I can swing by the cemetery tomorrow morning and find out, but I’m not going right now”. (Their wedding date is engraved on their tombstone.)   Fair enough. Edit: Grandma June and Grandpa had 57 years of wedded bliss.

grandma and grandpa

I grew up across the street from my grandparents. It was nice having them less than 50 feet away. My grandma babysat my brother and me when we were little. I still have vivid memories of watching Sesame Street and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood while sitting on their living room floor and reading Highlights magazines with my grandma on their scratchy Davenport, as they called it.

Grandma June always had cookies, most often those store bought iced oatmeal cookies, on her dining room table for us to dig into. The buffet sat next to their dining room table, as do most buffets. My most memorable buffet memory as a kid is of me struggling to open the top drawer of the buffet to get my grandma’s scissors and the smell of the drawer when I’d finally get it open. I can still smell the scent of the drawer when I think about that memory. Anyone else ever experience that, or am I just weird?

Here’s my grandma holding my brother and me, and my older cousin in the pool. Now I know where my hatred of people touching my head stems from.

grandma june and kids

My grandpa owned his own trucking company for years, but in his later years he stuck to farming and hauling livestock locally. Grandma June was a stay-at-home wife/mom/grandma and took care of the books for my Grandpa’s trucking company. She also took care of the all house-related things, like running the microwave. I kid you not, my grandpa didn’t know how to work the microwave, do the laundry, or cook. A true 1940s/50s couple.

Grandpa always joked that he’d work until the day he died because he didn’t have a hobby– work was his hobby. Shoot, my poor grandma could never enjoy a decent vacation because Grandpa was such a workaholic. They’d take off in their motor home for a week long vacation in Florida to visit friends only to return after 3 days because my grandpa couldn’t sit still and not work.

Here they are on vacation in Florida in ’83. My grandpa is probably plotting their early departure back to Indiana. Poor Grandma June doesn’t even see it coming.

grandpa and grandma june

That’s my grandma and me. She enjoyed my humor from an early age. Can’t you tell?

grandma june and me

My grandparents were pretty awesome. Except when my brother and I’d act up and my grandpa would go all old school on us and threaten to get out the yardstick or his belt. But looking back now it’s kind of funny. We never got a yardstick or belt beatin’. Well, I never did.

Like everyone says about special people they lose, I wish I had more time with them. My grandma went into cardiac arrest the day before my 17th birthday and passed away two days later, and grandpa passed away two and half years later, on my mom and aunt’s birthday (they’re identical twins). Crazy timing, eh? I swear all my grandparents were a little dark and twisty when it came to the timing of their deaths. You may recall that my paternal grandma passed away the morning of our wedding. Oh, and Grandpa worked until the day he died… at the age of 83.

When it was time for my mom to clean out my grandparents’ house she asked what furniture I’d like to have. I immediately called dibs on the buffet. When I claimed it I remember my mom saying something like “that old clunky thing?” Yes, mom, that old clunky thing. Then I proceeded to store that old clunky thing in my parents’ pool house garage for oh, 6 years. Note: My parents were here visiting this weekend, and my mom had only nice things to say about the buffet.

So this weekend I got busy restoring the 90 year old beauty to the best of my ability. Here she is re-coated, sans hardware, in our dining room.

1920s buffet

Tomorrow I’ll share all the details on how I cleaned her up. Here’s a teaser before-during-after photo in hopes that you’ll come back tomorrow. Ooh, just look at that leg.

refinished vintage buffet

Read how I re-coated the buffet here.

Do you have any family heirlooms in your home?
Do the people in your family recall important dates by swinging by the cemetery?
Did you have any close calls with your grandpa’s belt?
Were your grandparents dark and twisty bucket kickers too?

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  1. I’m so glad you decided not to paint it. I love painted furniture, but only when it’s lower quality non-heirloom pieces. This is such a beautiful piece! I can’t wait to hear about your tricks and tips!

    1. Martha J Bartel says:

      I Think that you should have carved in to the inside of the drawer or door. I would have every all the records some how of the family that was so happy with it on every piece of furniture. My grandmother was great about inheriting freinds and families furniture and she would write on underside WITH PEN OR MARKER the names and dates of the people she got it from some have their births and deaths some just date got. I have a Maple round coffee table her great uncle made and now 8 families have had it since. Wow.

  2. I have a buffet very similar to this one!! I just got it for 50$, I’m so excited to fix her up. I plan to paint her up in annie sloan old white.. I can understand you not wanting to fix her up.. I don’t have heirlooms so I don’t know what that’s like:( but I love your blog keep up the great work 🙂
    Jordann @ jhousetawk.blogspot.com

  3. Thank you for not painting this piece! 🙂 It looks awesome cleaned up. There is a time and a place for painting old furniture and most of the painted pieces I’ve seen are great, but some should just be cleaned up. You made the right decision.

  4. So funny you call them dark and twisted. I was just talking to my husband as yesterday was my birthday. My niece and my grandpa cashed in their chips on my birthday (not yesterday but 14 years (niece) and 7 years (gpops).

    I’m very happy that you didn’t paint the piece. Looking forward to the clean up process.


  5. I love this post! I guess swinging by the cemetery is one way to figure out historical details! I’m glad you decided to restore this piece – it’s gorgeous! I inherited a corner display cabinet from my grandmother & although I think it would look awesome in a bright color, I could never paint it! Oh and I definitely get the smell thing – I have a similar memory with my grandparents’ buffet actually.

  6. I can’t wait to see the end result. I’m getting one very similar to this from my mom in a few months to go in our new house and I’ve been toying with the idea of painting it or restoring. Leaning heavily to restoring for sure…

  7. This is looking good! I love that it was your grandparents. I wasn’t big into furniture when my mom’s parents passed away. Sad news.

    Grandpa’s belt was less scary than grandma’s. I’m still afraid of angel food cake to this day because of Grandma. She’d get so mad at us for running through the house and making her angel food cake fall. Memories.

  8. Such a nice memory! luckily I was able to incorporate some of my grandparents furniture into my own house and I love that they hold memories of them. I absolute ADORE your buffet…in fact I have been like a mad woman scouring CL for something just like that to put in my own dining room. So lucky gal you are!

  9. Looking forward to seeing it all in it’s personal glory! Antiques, especially with memories attached should stay as is…

  10. It looks really beautiful, Chelsea! We also love restoring pieces from our grandparents to use in our home. They are now all deceased, so our parents get to enjoy seeing them all around again! They hold so many great memories. Enjoy 🙂

  11. Oh memories. This was such a sweet post Chelsea! I’ve got a few pieces in my house that belonged to my grandparents and I really don’t want to paint them, so I’m really looking forward to your post tomorrow!

  12. I love this post! My Nanny (my mom’s mom) recently just passed away and left behind a home full of beautiful pieces of furniture! Her home, and many of these pieces, are full of family memories (that include smells, too!). I laughed when you said you left the buffet in your parent’s pool home for 6 years. All of the furniture I inherited (a piano, hoosier cabinet, brass bed, and these amazing vintage yellow velvet high backed chairs) will probably sit in my parents’ basement for at least that long. Gotta love parental storage! =]

    Love the buffet and glad you did not paint it! Thank you for sharing your sweet memories!

  13. You know what? I grew up wanting to paint over all the dark, inherited furniture that was around our house – but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to see the charm in all the old stuff my parents wouldn’t dare part with.

    I’m about to inherit a gorgeous old dresser in major need of a fixer upper. Can’t wait to see your transformation.

    And yes, I can definitely remember the smell of some of my memories, including my grandma’s hutch. There’s just nothing like it.

  14. I seriously love this post. Every single thing. The old photos, the stories, your mom getting their wedding date from the cemetary, the fact that your grandma called her sofa a “Davenport” (so does my grandpa).

    And this buffet is quite lovely. I actually really like the wood on this piece. I tend to be a painter, but only when the finish doesn’t behoove me (I’m talking to you, honey oak). This is a gorgeous finish and you did a lovely job bringing it back to life.

  15. I have the table that matches that piece. A tenant was moving out & didn’t take the table. I just loved those legs & the whole design of it! I asked him how much he wanted but he never gave me an answer… I was willing to pay a few hundred bucks. A week later when his time was up to get everything out, the table was still there. I got it for free!

    When I refinished the table, I found a stamp on the bottom that said 1918.

    It wasn’t long after that I saw a matching buffet & chairs at my boyfriend’s family cabin built in 1926. They offered me the furniture with the only stipulation that I replace them with something new. Sadly, that was the only structure loss in a huge wildfire later that year.

  16. I think you made a great choice! The buffet is beautiful, and this way it can last beyond the ‘trends’ that come and go in the DIY world. It’s wonderful that you have such a history with your grandparents. And it’s even more wonderful that you can call your mom at quarter to 11 at night and she actually gets out of bed to rummage through boxes. I think most moms would say, “I’m sleeping. Call tomorrow.”

  17. I don’ think I would have been able to paint it either! And I loved reading about your grandparents. They sounded like amazing people and you were lucky to have been so close to them. 🙂

    I’ll be back tomorrow. ;P

  18. Good call on not painting it. It is a beautiful piece!!! My grandmother used to call the couch the davenport too. My grandmother’s couch was very retro 50’s ‘ish. I don’t have any furniture pieces. I wish I would of been allowed to have one of their secretary desks. They had two. I have memories of sitting at the one in my Grandpa’s bedroom doing my homework in elem school. I do have my grandmother’s cow cookie jar and a ceramic canister set that she made at ceramics class she and my mother used to go to. They look like those toadstool mushrooms. My grandparents were married June 5. 1937. I asked my grandmother as an adult. My grandpa used to threaten the belt too. He was very old fashioned in his thinking.. children were to be seen and not heard. But, even as strict as he was, he loved all of us grandkids and didn’t play favorites like my grandmother and my mother does with us kids. Let me say, it sucks being the black sheep. I miss my grandpa very much!! He passed away at the age of 83, May 9, 1994.. the day after Mother’s Day that year and one year before I got married.

  19. Barb Hesselgrave says:

    Wow. That is beautiful! Your Grandma would be very happy to see how you cherish this item.

  20. I’ve got a few heirlooms around here, but none as pretty as that. I do however have a mom named June, and a trucking dad, but I am right there with your mom of not going to the cemetery at 11:00 at night.


  21. I’m also glad you didn’t paint it! I have a coffee table and end tables that my grandfather made. They’re way too big for our home, but we’ve made them work.

  22. Can’t wait to see the after pics! It’s a gorgeous buffet.

  23. Jean Bullock says:

    I love the buffet. I almost had a heart attack when I thought you were going to paint it. You did a great job. One thing though, the experts on Antique Road Show are always telling people to NOT refinish these beautiful antique pieces. It reduces the value of the piece considerably. Collectors want the original patina caused by aging to be visible. Also, they tell you to keep the original hardware on the piece and not do anything to those either.

  24. I loved this post and loved getting to know you better! My grandma always had those same cookies at her house too! I haven’t been able to buy them at the store because they just wouldn’t be the same. And I remember smells so vividly too!

  25. I totally get the smell thing…I have a dining room server that one of my Dad’s college friends made (the table that went with it is long gone) and most of my furniture is from my parents or my in-laws–some of which was from their parents and their in-laws. I really treasure that stuff, especially since my parents have been gone 20+ years now and my husband and I are the grandparent generation now. I moved 1000 miles away from my family right when we were starting our own family and the memories and the memories that certain smells invoke are all I have now. And I mean that in a good way, not a melancholy way. The smell of lilacs, the smell of peppermint lifesavers, the musty old-napkin-old-candles smell of my dining room server drawer and so many other things trigger memories that take me right back. I’m startled to see a 59 yr old woman in the mirror and not my 6 yr old self in the mirror! I’ve stayed close with friends from growing up and when I see some of them they will always say that they remember that the house I grew up in was always clean and fresh and smelled wonderful. My mom used to put Jasmine soap made by Americe that she bought in boxes (truckloads actually) from Marshal Fields. I have searched for years (ever since I used up my last bar of it) for that soap and have occasionally been able to almost match the smell, but not quite!! As I’ve said before, I love reading your blog–you are so authentic and I love your sense of humor.

  26. I love your grandparent’s antique buffet! I love old pieces of furniture….. they always have a great story to tell

    My in-laws have an antique dinning set that they’ve given to us (they down-sized), but we have no room for it, so it sits in my sister’s dinning room for the time being. My mother-in-law also has silverware that has the family’s last name initial engraved on every piece and we’ll eventually receive those. I believe both the dinning set and silverware have come over from Holland.

  27. Poured over every word. I do know exactly what you mean about smells. And how they can transport us and make us remember. Love the buffet and this entire post! 🙂

  28. Awesome post! I also can immediately recall the smell of my grandparents’ house–I always found it comforting. I love the buffet, and I’m really glad you didn’t paint it! Although I do love painted furniture and I have no doubt that it would have looked amazing, when it’s an old antique with meaning like this one, it’s kind of special to keep it looking the way it always has. And I always worry about trendiness–who knows, maybe 5 years from now when painted furniture isn’t as hot as it is right now, you might have really wished you had kept it in its original condition! Love the buffet, and can’t wait to see it in action in your house somewhere.

  29. Whitney D. says:

    I’m so glad you didn’t paint it. It looks beautiful. Can’t wait to see it in person! And great post about grandma and grandpa. 🙂

  30. It looks beautiful! I’m excited to hear all of the details! What a blessing to get to grow up so close to your grandparents and share so many fun memories! I agree about the strange timing thing; I had one grandmother pass on my birthday and a funeral for another on my birthday. Not so fun…but it is fun to think back on all the great times we spent together. Thanks so much for sharing, Chelsea–have a great night!

    ~Abby =)

  31. I LOVE that. And I’m glad that you didn’t repaint it. So many people take such beautiful pieces and redo them completely but they are so naturally beautiful. You did a great job restoring it!

  32. Don’t even dare to sell it because it’s is one of the most beautiful antique pieces I ever see. If how much you love and care your grandparents do the same with this furniture.

  33. Hello friends, good post and fastidious arguments commented here, I
    am truly enjoying by these.

  34. I found you when hunting through google images to try to find a photo of an antique buffet that we found at an auction years ago – and gave away later. WAH. It looked almost identical to this one. What a fun post, by the way.
    I’m your newest follower, via Bloglovin’ and Feedly. Stop in sometime!

  35. wonderful post, very informative. I wonder why the opposite specialists of this sector do not understand this.
    You should proceed your writing. I am confident, you’ve
    a great readers’ base already!

  36. You’ve done a beautiful job taking care of this wonderful piece! Do you know what style it is, or where it was originally made? I ask because I have a matching secretary desk that I bought in a thrift store, and have been trying to research it for months. I have found nothing in this style until now. The turned stretchers on my piece seem to have a seam down the middle though, and I’m wondering if it has been reworked. Still, can you imagine the work that went into your piece? Amazing!

  37. Molly Emslie says:

    I have this exact one! I also have a china hutch and table. They all desperately NEED cleaning up! THANKS!

  38. I am SOOO glad you refinished this and didn’t paint it!! All of that painted furniture is going to look dated and ugly in 20 years but this buffet will be turning heads for decades to come. I really feel like people don’t appreciate wood these days, which is incredibly sad. It makes my heart ache to think how many beautiful pieces we’ve lost to Annie Sloan.

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