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Vintage Backyard Credenza

As a young graduate architect, I’m often sent to do the field work that isn’t worth anyone else’s time. This includes different things, but most often, it involves measuring existing buildings down to the quarter of an inch, both inside and out. Here in Indianapolis, many of the buildings we are working on have long since been abandoned; and I don’t mean they’ve been recently foreclosed on, I mean the only thing living in them for the past few decades has been cats. They are always full of tons of surprises, and it’s actually one of my favorite things to do.

One project I got to work on (1728 Delaware), had all sorts of junk in it. Both the backyard and basement had a decently large collection of not so decent furniture. But there was one piece that caught my eye, a seemingly mid-century modern credenza. While I was giving it a decent look over, the contractor told me I could have it if I wanted it. They had a large dumpster on site, and were planning on trashing everything. I told him I would definitely be interested in it, but I’d have to figure out a way to get it.

Wait a second, that piece doesn't look as crappy as the others.

While there, I noted the name of the manufacturer on the inside of the top drawer, American of Martinsville. I was unfamiliar with the name, but after a short perusal on Google, I found what I was looking for… (Furnish me Vintage) (Manly Vintage) Awesome, so it was clearly a MCM (Mid-Century Modern) piece with some history; and at that time, both of those sites had it listed for sale at over $1,000. Thus began my obsession with making it mine.

I drive a rather diminutive Honda Civic, and no matter how many times I measured, there was no way that thing was fitting in or on top of my car. Being new to the area, I didn’t know anyone with a truck, and so I was at a loss for how to get it. I also didn’t feel like hiring someone to help me move this thing a measly mile and a half down the road. I was beginning to resign the thought that I would ever acquire this dresser, when I noticed a refrigerator dolly in the basement of my apartment building, excellent. At least a week had passed, so I went back to confirm that it was still there. Sure enough, everything else had been cleared out but it still sat there all alone, simply waiting for me to take it home. I loaded up the drawers in my Civic, and headed home to grab the dolly.

I then proceeded to drag/roll this thing down a mile and half of sidewalksto my apartment. Let me also mention that this was a piece of crap dolly, it was only about 3 feet tall and I’m pretty sure it had been abandoned in the basement. After eliciting the help of a buddy I ran into on the street, the credenza was finally in my third floor walk-up apartment. And now I had some work to do.

It was in pretty rough shape, but it was mainly cosmetic.

It’s condition wasn’t terrible, but it was clear it would need to be entirely stripped and refinished. I had never done something like this, so I looked to several resources, including my Grandpa, to figure out the best course of action. The entire process was completed in the living room of my 600 sf apartment, so my first step was cordoning off a section with tarps and drop cloths (I didn’t suppose my landlord would be too happy if I got stripper on the “wood” floors). I found a stripper, Motsenbocker’s, that was supposedly safe for indoor use. Stripping it was a chore, I ended up applying stripper to the whole thing at least 4 times. This may have been because it was an environmentally friendly product, but it didn’t kill me, so it was worth it.

A large percentage of my living room looked like this for no less than a month.

I took off all of the metal hinges and decorative pieces and cleaned those with Noxon Metal Polish. It wasn’t quite able to get rid of all the stains, but I didn’t necessarily want it to either. After some thorough sanding, I moved on to the refinishing. At the recommendation of my Grandfather, I used a wipe-on poly finish. I wanted the walnut to look as natural as possible, but almost as if it had just been rubbed down with a moist rag. The wipe-on poly did just the trick.

It turned out pretty good.

American of Martinsville actually produced two versions of this credenza, two-toned and one-toned. My version was originally the one-toned, but I fancied the two-tone version, so I took the liberty of upgrading mine. I bought some fancy black spray enamel and gave the doors a thorough covering. I had hoped that the enamel would lay on thick enough to hide the grain of the wood, but this was not the case. I should have used a wood grain filler first, maybe next time…

Now that all the work is done it looks great. I’m still trying to find things put in it, but it is easily the nicest piece of furniture I own. I would love to do it again if I got the chance, but it would be nice if I had someplace to work on it other than my apartment, and perhaps a truck, that would have been nice too.

About bjmcghee

Architect in training.


5 thoughts on “Vintage Backyard Credenza

  1. Hey, great adventure, great story. I’m glad I found your blog.
    Keep up the good writing.

    Posted by collier1960 | April 24, 2012, 20:39
  2. Reblogged this on BuildingContents.

    Posted by collier1960 | April 24, 2012, 20:40
  3. Nice piece Ben; the furniture AND the writing. I’m glad I found your blog. Keep it up.

    Posted by collier1960 | April 24, 2012, 20:42


  1. Pingback: Geurrilla garage sale shopping: six tips for success « oldvogue - September 23, 2012


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