How To Identify Old Furniture




Warning, this blog post is not filled with pretty and inspiring photos.  It contains photos taken in my basement where the lighting conditions are poor. However, it was the only place I could capture some “before” photos of this cupboard.  Hey!  At least I remembered to take some “before” photos.


Photo: Sky Lark House


This cupboard is OLD.  How can I tell?  Well, let me show you.  There are a couple of things that indicate its age.  First – if you look at the doors – each door, with the exception of the trim on the edges, is cut from a single piece of wood. If you look closely you can see that the door on the left has started to “check”.  Checking is when large or wide pieces of wood dry over time and the wood shrinks along the grain. This causes the wood to split or crack, which is also known as checking.

If you find checking in the wood, that’s a good indicator that you have an old piece of furniture.


Photo: Sky Lark House


Another note, in modern furniture, doors are made by gluing and clamping multiple pieces of wood together.  Very seldom is a door (or back of a cupboard or side panel on a cupboard) made out of a single piece of wood.  For more recently constructed furniture, buying a single piece of wood wide enough to use as a door- just isn’t cost effective.  Although you can still find boards that wide, they aren’t normally used in the construction of furniture.

As an aside, I love that someone took the time to repair the checked wood in the door panel.  Rather than throwing away the cupboard, they decided to repair it and extend its life.


Photo: Sky Lark House


Another indicator of its age was in the interior.  As you can see in the image above, there is a yellow grained wood on the interior of the cupboard door.  Well, that’s faux grain painted wood.  Somebody took the time to paint this “faux grain’ wood on the back of the pine doors.  I also love that someone pasted these two book pages on the door.  I’m not sure what exactly its purpose was – but it looks to be a list of books or written stories.  Since it is a part of the history of this cupboard, I kept both pages intact.

When I look closely, I can see someone continued to add to the list, writing new titles in pencil.


Photo: Sky Lark House


The back of the cupboard is also made out of wide planks of wood.  It’s not plywood.  It’s not MDF.  It is clearly wide planks of solid wood that have some rusty nails holding them in place.  It’s a terrible photo, I know, but it illustrates my point.

Another sign that this cupboard is very old, is that the nails are square.  Modern nails weren’t introduced until 1890. So, I know this cupboard was made before then.

Now, having identified these characteristics and knowing that the cupboard was quite old, I still don’t think it was a museum piece of furniture.  The truth is, the paint on the outside was in rough shape.  The cupboard had been used in a workshop or in someone’s garage because there were grease stains from motor oil (?) that could be seen in various places.

So, I decided that in order to find this lovely old lady a new home, she would need a facelift.

As usual, the first step was cleaning.  LOTS of cleaning. A big bucket of warm water and some cleaner, along with some elbow grease.


Photo: Sky Lark House


She cleaned up pretty well!  Of course, I also gave her a couple of fresh coats of milk paint on the exterior. It’s always a balance when refurbishing old pieces.  I try to preserve their character and history but still make them appealing and useful in our modern world.  It sounds easy – but it’s often a challenge.

With this particular piece, I decided not to paint the interior since someone had pasted the book pages on the inside door. Those were part of its history and character and I didn’t want to alter that.



Photo: Sky Lark House


This little cupboard would be perfect for office storage.  It would also be great for jams, preserves, and canned goods. It would be excellent in a bathroom for storing lotions, cotton balls, and toilet paper. It would also be great in a craft room for keeping things organized.

As you can see, I kept the faux grain painting intact.  Someone put so much time and work into the faux grain – I couldn’t bear to cover it up.  Even if it is imperfect.  They even faux grain painted the little edge on the front of the shelves!



Photo: Sky Lark House


Here are a few more photos. I will share a secret – I also love enamel top tables.  They are so functional.  That could be a separate blog post . . .


Photo: Sky Lark House


If I were to guess, I would say this cupboard is from the 19th century.  It could have been around during the Civil War.  It was definitely around during World War I.  This cupboard has seen more than I ever will.   Just think of all the events that have happened in the last 100 years.  For that reason alone, it deserves a new lease on life.  Don’t you agree?





Thank you for stopping by the blog today.  It’s always nice to have the company of people who want to preserve the life of old furniture.

Also, you might want to stop by the blog for future posts.  Particularly if you love enamel top tables. There might be more information about them .



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