The one question we get asked the most is "where do you find your inventory?". The answer is "everywhere". Quite frankly there is never a time we aren't picking. If there is something we like and have to have, we will drive most any distance to pick it up. We usually start out in our truck and end up pulling a trailer home. Beyond looking for the most amazing pieces to bring back to our shop, we also check out every Mid Century and vintage store in whatever town we are driving thru. We like to see what other sellers are doing (or not doing), what the inventory in that part of the country looks like, etc....So at this point we have been in hundreds and hundreds of shops all over the country. We can tell you that 98% of Mid Century and vintage dealers sell items in the exact same condition they acquired them. That last 2% consists of dealers who "wipe off" their items before pricing, and high end dealers who completely sand and refinish/reupholster their items so that they look new. Those same dealers who refinish usually always sell Mid Century reproductions as well.
In our years of scouring shops we have yet to see another dealer that does what we do, and that's what makes us different.
We have 2 basic philosophies at Dirty Girls Restoration. The first is - we don't believe anyone should pay hundreds or thousands of dollars on a designer Mid Century piece and then have to clean it up before it can be placed in their home. Would you want to pay thousands for an authentic Pearsall sofa and then have to get it reupholstered before it can be used? Of course not, the same goes for wood pieces. If you are paying retail pricing for something, why should you have to put any work into it? Doesn't make sense. We would feel really uncomfortable selling something full of scratches, or with holes in the upholstery, or spider eggs attached....but that's exactly what most dealers do....put it in their shop exactly as they found it. 50+ years of use leaves some pretty nasty things in its wake...let us tell you....but we'll get into that later
Our 2nd philosophy - don't remove what makes it great! Our customers are seeking out and buying authentic Mid Century furniture....furniture with character and attitude, when designers made furniture "sexy" and not just "functional". So why in the world would you sand away the vintage? The original finish that can never, ever be reproduced again? Granted there are those pieces that are just too amazing to pass up and the finish is too far gone to save, or the scratches are just too deep. Fine. We have sanded and stained the occasional piece. But you will never, never, ever get it to look original again - I don't care what you do to it. Blonde pieces especially. Have you noticed when people try to "refinish" Heywood Wakefield pieces they always end up some weird dark color? There is no way to reproduce the proprietary blond finish that was applied in the 50's. On any piece, light or dark, blonde or walnut....the piece won't look original...it will forever look "refinished". We don't see the point. Our customers are buying a Mid Century item for a reason. Which is why we will only buy pieces that once "restored" using our 5 step restoration process will look as close to how it did in the 50's and 60's as possible......or we won't buy it.
Sure there will be minor surface scratches and bruises or small nicks here and there....hey, it is 40-70 years old....I have scars too....but none of our pieces will have major flaws, never anything structural, never large tears in fabric, never stains, never disgusting smells, never spider eggs, never large scuffs....none of that.
Our 5 step wood restoration process consists of cleaning, nourishing, enhancing, waxing, and touching up. Every single piece. Every single inch of every single piece. We don't just touch the parts you see, we touch EVERYTHING. We remove every drawer, we clean the slides, the metal, we tighten all joints and hardware. We remove any and all scuffing and paint marks. We repair everything that is not working as it was intended to. Even if you see a piece of wood that appears to have a split in the grain or seam, we have used a special glue that swells the molecules in the wood and fuses them together better than any wood glue you typically find. Bottom line is that we restore every single piece as we would want to have it restored for use in our own home. That's the key to being in business that most business owners have either forgotten, or just don't care about.
Now for the nitty gritty....I (Amy) do the restoration part and Anna handles most of the wood repairs/structural issues....simply because Anna doesn't want to touch most of the disgustingness that I deal with daily :)
Here are estimates from my experience:
5% have gum stuck under them
40% have a nice sticky coating of nicotine...that has hardened...until you try to get it off...which is a freakin nightmare...but can be done.
50% have clothing behind the drawers....mostly underwear and socks
70% have hardware that is loose or broken
80% have spider eggs underneath
90% have that missing ear ring you've been looking for stuck under drawers once you remove them...plus old clothing tags, bills, etc.
98% have straight pins, glitter, band-aids, and a lot of dirt in the back corners of the drawers
99% have obvious light scuff marks and generally look "used"
99% of the drawer slides and frame are coated with a thick layer of just plain ol' dirt
100% have specks of white paint. I'm not kidding you. EVERY SINGLE PIECE we have ever had in stock has specks of white paint that must be removed! Sometimes its 1 or 2 specks, sometimes its hundreds of tiny specks...but always always white specs. People...cover your furniture before you paint the walls!!! :)
2% are in near perfect condition. Spent its life in the room no one could go in and most likely
had plastic over it.
5% have marbles rolling around in the bottom of them
30% have a structural issue
70% have rips, holes, or thin places in the fabric (if original)
85% have crunchy foam that is turning to dust
85% have finished wood or accents that need restored.
95% have a mix of change, old dried food, and many many unidentified things (that I'm better off not knowing) in the crevices between the upholstery and frame.
98% are full of dust. Don't slap the fabric...it's not pretty.
99% have torn or missing dust fabric underneath
NONE OF THAT YOU HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT IF YOU BUY FROM DIRTY GIRLS RESTORATION! We take care of it ALL before it gets listed in our shop.
The below photos are what the frame of a chair looks like once you remove the seat...yes, we clean the parts you can't see too. (And just an FYI, we bought these dining chairs from a MCM retailer/dealer).
We already told you about the wood pieces, fabric pieces are fully restored as well. We make minor repairs to vinyl/leather if needed. We replace the dust fabric underneath with new. We make structural repairs. If the original fabric is in near perfect condition (which means no holes, tears or stains) then we will professionally clean it. If it has any of those things then we will reupholster in an age appropriate fabric. Most of the time we also replace the foam because if there is wear to the fabric, then the insides are pretty shot as well.
When it comes to upholstered pieces, there are 2 things that we will overlook if the fabric is in good condition. First is the under cushion fabric or under seat cardboard. It usually has water stains where someone has cleaned the sofa or chair in the past. If you have never cleaned an upholstered piece of furniture before, that light/thin fabric under the cushions is a nightmare. You can breathe on it and it will stain. Any drop of water, anything that touches it will forever be there. Cleaning it actually stains it. So, if we see some light staining on the fabric under the cushions - we deem that acceptable as long as the rest of the fabric is in great condition. We do clean it, as well as the entire piece....but the staining you see is from water.
# 2 is sun fading. If you can find a 50+ yr old sofa or chair with the original fabric with no imperfections other than a little sun fading from sitting in front of a window....(you've hit the jackpot)...and we let that pass. You can't find great, old Frieze fabric anymore. You can't find original Knoll fabric anymore. There are reproductions....but nothing is like the original.
Just a note on dining chairs. If you buy Mid Century dining chairs and reupholster them yourselves - actually take the time to remove the old fabric. Most of the time you will find 2- 5 layers of fabric underneath. No one takes the time to remove the old fabric before putting on the new....except us. We remove ALL of the old...why? Because 99% of the time is it stained and smells and is disgusting. Putting a new layer of fabric over it is just covering a layer of shit and hoping it doesn't smell...kinda pointless. We painstakingly remove every single one of the 100's of staples in each chair seat. We hydrate and wipe down the wood seat frame and/or replace it if there are just too many holes. We re-pad the foam because usually it is a flat pancake from being used so much or crunchy and disintegrating from age. We structurally tighten the frame, make any needed repairs, restore the wood frame of the chair and then re-attach the newly upholstered seat.
The below photo is what we typically find when we remove all of the layers of fabric - it reveals the old, nasty, stained padding underneath.
So - like I said, we have yet to find another MCM dealer that does what we do. That's not to say they don't exist. Also, we have nothing bad to say about other dealers. If you prefer to clean out the dirt and food, remove the smells and hydrate and restore the wood yourself, then by all means...but we don't think you should HAVE to do that. We also have nothing bad to say about dealers that choose to sand and re-stain Mid Century pieces. There are some customers that don't want to see a single light scratch on what they are buying and don't care about the vintage history. Which is fine...that is probably who the "new" Mid Century reproductions are tailored too....we just don't agree with removing history and removing original finish if it can be saved.
There are some things we don't agree with at all...which are Mid Century reproductions and painting MCM furniture. Reproductions have some of the same basic lines the (now famous) designers came up with in the 50's and 60's....but they are not anywhere close to being the same quality. Just pick them up...they are half the weight even though they are twice as big. You can always tell MCM reproductions by their size....furniture in the 50's and 60's was small, low to the ground...but very very well made in their construction value. MCM reproductions are large (just like all new furniture is today). Not as well constructed, cheaper wood, little to no detail in veneer graining, and generally just aren't the same. Plus it was made yesterday....you can't call it Mid Century!! ugh
Painting Mid Century Modern furniture is just a huge NO in our opinion. We urge everyone who paints furniture to just do a quick Google search before applying paint to brush. We can't tell you the number of times we have seen a designer piece worth several hundreds or thousands of dollars that has been newly "shabby chic'd" and now that $2K piece is priced at $300 (since it has been spruced up and all)......cringe-worthy.
So there you go. That's our process, it's what we do, it's how we feel, and it's how we run our business.
Dirty Girls Restoration :)