a friend and fellow decorating junkie called me the other day from an estate sale to to ask my opinion about purchasing a cool, but seriously rusted chrome etagére. after making a diagnosis over the phone (never easy), i realized that this is the kind of thing that anyone who loves vintage furniture might be interested in and thus a perfect subject for the maison21blog (if you'd sooner D.I.E. than D.I.Y., you may want to skip the rest of the post).
first, check for areas where the chrome plate has peeled off, or shows signs of bubbling up. these areas will pretty obvious, even to a furniture finding novice. if they are present to a great degree, i'd probably pass on the piece, as the only way to fix this kind of thing is to have the piece re-plated. so unless you REALLY love it, or you know it's a rare and valuable designer piece, it's probably not worth it (plating large items ain't cheap). BUT if there is only a dot or two of loss to the chrome plating, i'd go for it. i don't mind a little wear and tear on vintage pieces- it gives character, and proves that it wasn't purchased at design with reach (nothing wrong with that either- it's just two different ball games). plus, shiny reflective surfaces can have a lot of wear before it starts to show.
now if there is no peeling or bubbling but lots rust, it may look scary but it's actually fairly easy to deal with and you can have the piece looking almost new with a little elbow grease. some tiny pitting marks will probably remain after cleaning, but you'll really have to closely inspect to see them (like with a magnifying glass close). so here's the cleaning process:
- wear rubber gloves- don't want to ruin anyone's career as a hand model.
- you'll need "0000" steel wool from the hardware store, windex, paper towels or rags, and chrome polish (optional) from hardware or auto supply store.
- this next step is the most important- ignore at your peril! find an inconspicuous spot- underneath, on the back, the side near bottom- anywhere you won't see it easily and spray a little windex on and scrub a small area with the steel wool. then wipe with towel, windex again and wipe clean. now carefully and in good light, examine the spot you just cleaned- if there are scratches visible, or the area is hazy & cloudy, do not use this method! the piece is not chromed steel and if you clean further with steel wool, you will take a chance of permanent damage to the finish (trust me, i've learned the hard way on this one)! but don't get scared off now- if there are no scratches and the spot is shiny, proceed without fear.
- start spraying windex on with abandon, and then scrub with steel wool- long strokes are best, and it's always smart to try to keep them in one direction to prevent unsightly swirl marks. spray more windex and wipe down as you go- you'll go through lots of steel wool, and paper towels and probably work up a sweat- it's physical work. but as a new looking shiny piece begins to emerge, it will be well worth it.
- when it looks like you've removed all the rust, spray down again with windex and wipe until squeaky clean. then, and this step is optional, you can use the chrome polish and a rag and following directions on the bottle, polish and buff to the ultimate shine.
- stand back and admire your hard work. when your friends come over and compliment you on your beautiful new piece of furniture, tell them in great detail how you worked so long and hard to restore your lovely item, and how you'll never, ever do it again (until the next time :)