There once was a man whose need for furniture far outweighed his means to procure such commodities. Not one to be easily daunted by these circumstances, he turned to a questionable, yet occasionally lucrative source: the Free Stuff ads on Craigslist.
Having become thoroughly engrossed, enthralled and enraptured with the cornucopia of discarded miscellany at his disposal, he quickly filled his apartment. As his curiosity grew, so did his addiction to finding trash that he could turn into treasure: turning waste into gold, like a modern-day, working-class Midas.
It was on a balmy Spring evening that the gods and goddesses of Free Stuff looked down upon their lowly servant and gifted him with the incredible: an antique stereo console, in a mid-century modern style that almost perfectly matched his girlfriend’s coffee table.
Rugged though this piece of furniture appeared, he had a vision of restoring it to glory and using it not only as a beautiful television stand, but also as a sound system.
As you may have guessed: the author is that man.
Having met a quirky woman along the crowded docks of an inland harbor, and wrestled the heavy furniture into a car entirely too small for the task, we got the console back to the apartment to assess its condition.
My first task was to check out the electronics. While the record player itself did not work, I was pleased to discover that the radio worked; as did a tape input for which I hastily rigged a cable that allowed me to connect my phone and play MP3s. Happy so far, I moved on to the speakers, themselves.
The speakers were originally covered with a black fabric that was accented by a lattice of paper-thin wood, but the fabric had long been sun-bleached into a hodge podge of unappealing browns and beiges that clashed furiously with the wood. My initial plan was to replace the fabric and keep the lattice–which I did in my first round of tweaks and polishes.
Once I had established that it was functional, and had replaced the speaker fabric, I pushed the console into place and made plans to revisit the rest of the project when time, money and accommodations allowed.
Several months passed, during which we moved to a more amenable location, and having just come down from the high of completing my first upcycling project, I decided to initiate Phase 2 of the restoration. This would include rewiring the electronics, upgrading the speakers, refinishing the wood and recovering the speaker grills.
Rewiring the electronics was my highest priority at the time, as steady use over the months had revealed a terrible tendency for the speakers on the left side to randomly and arbitrarily cut out. It could temporarily be remedied by opening the lid and jiggling the Pan knob, but I wanted a more permanent solution.
Unfortunately, a more permanent solution was not to be found with the original electronics. After dismantling all of the electronics, cleaning all of the pots and rewiring all of the external components, there were still issues with consistent sound quality and I was forced to gut the electronics and replace them with a set of computer speakers whose subwoofer would power the console speakers. Admittedly, I was upset by the defeat, but that feeling was short-lived as I began to appreciate just how much better the new speakers sounded.
The top of the console had some significant damage, so hauled it out into the front yard and used paint stripper to remove all of the old finish. Afterwards, I sanded everything down nice and smooth. This would be the first time I would encounter something that I have found to be commonplace in old mid century furniture: It is very often made of several different types of wood and finished with either paint or a colored varnish that is used to mask this fact.
After discovering that the flat surfaces of the console were an incredibly different color wood than the edges and legs, I attempted to tape off the lighter colored area so that I could stain them a darker color and try to recreate the original effect. I eventually dispensed with this foolishness, embraced the beauty of the contrasting wood and went all in on the look.
It was also at this point that I realized the lattice work for the speakers couldn’t be salvaged. Or rather, they could be salvaged, but they would never look as good as the rest of the console. A decision was made to dispense with them and try something else. Fortunately, a quick visit to a nearby craft store resulted in a fantastically vintage-looking fabric that was the perfect complement to the piece.
Once finished, the console ended up so much more beautiful than I ever imagined it could be. Hiding under all that filth and damage was an amazingly rich wood tone that stands out in stark contrast to warm honey of the legs and edge work. Not only that, but it sounds fantastic.
Also, the cats love this one, too.
- Varathane Early American wood stain
- Minwax Clear Semi-Gloss polyurethane
- DAP Weldwood contact cement (for attaching the fabric to the speaker grills)
- Contractor-grade gel paint remover
- Lots of sandpaper
- A set of computer speakers from the Goodwill
- A bolt of fabric
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