Treasure Hunting – White Elephant this weekend!

So it’s been a bit quiet over here, mostly because I spent the bulk of last weekend stripping a mid-century coffee table purchased on a whim, rather than working on future blog posts.  Bad blogger.

I have to say though, I am really excited about my new (old) coffee table.  For starters, I love old things. Things with history. Things infused with untold stories. And things bearing an artistry and craftsmanship that doesn’t exist today… at least not in my price range.

And I love a good bargain. I’ve always been a garage saler, flea market peruser, and now, craigslist regular. I remember in my college days my friend Tory would grab the newspaper classifieds, I’d get the LA County Thomas Guide (yes, we are old!), and drive around Los Angeles from garage sale to estate sale looking for those incredible bargains and precious diamonds in the rough.

Even if we didn’t buy a thing, it was a fun and adventurous way to kill a few hours on a Saturday or Sunday morning. What random insights one gains by meeting total strangers through the prism of their discarded belongings.

I think this is why new shows such as American Pickers and Pawn Stars, and the old standby Antiques Roadshow, have gained in such popularity. They’re fascinating. Not just from the voyeuristic aspect of meeting quirky people with their quirky stuff, but also the incredible history that’s learned through these items.

But back to my coffee table…

I’ve been checking craigslist diligently for months now for just the right thing.  Our living room is oddly shaped – being somewhat small, and very long and narrow. The existing features of the room – a long built-in fireplace mantle with side by side bookcases, and our couch – tend to accentuate this length, so I’ve been looking for something special… something non-rectangular with a slim profile. Needless to say, this is not an easy thing to find, especially on craigslist. Mostly I would just type in “mid-century coffee table” and see what came up.

What came up last Friday was not a coffee table specifically, but rather an ad for an estate sale in Oakland, actually 7 estate sales, all under one roof. I thought, hmmm, that could be interesting… So on Saturday morning, since I was up early and everyone else in the house was sleeping (and sure to be sleeping for hours more), I made my way down to the Hudson Warehouse Sale and waited in line as a stream of people emerged from the warehouse bearing lamps, framed artworks, chairs, and more.

I have to say I’ve never been to an estate sale like that before.  It was pretty impressive and what I’ve since discovered is that it was heavily advertised in the local media due to the fact that one of the estates was that of an esteemed and long-time San Francisco interior designer. 

In any case, the coffee table was the last thing I found. It wasn’t even in the interior of the warehouse, but rather outside with a lot of the patio furniture and junkier items. It looked pretty rough with water stains, flaking veneer, loose legs, and generally just an ugly finish, but the shape was cool and the price was right… a mere $45. I grabbed the tag and scrawled SOLD on it. Here’s a pic…

estate sale find, mid-century furniture

I returned home, jubilant with my car full of treasures purchased for a paltry sum. I raced upstairs to inform Tim I had found us the perfect coffee table. He was annoyed that I bought something without his input, but I told him it was cheap cheap cheap and just needed to be refinished. And if it didn’t work out, I could always sell it on craigslist.

He said, “In all the years I’ve known you I’ve heard you talk about refinishing furniture pieces, but you’ve never actually done it.” And there it was… the superlative that you’re, ahem, “never” supposed to use!

So I got to work immediately, just to prove him wrong.

The truth is, I’ve refinished a number of pieces in my day, but I hadn’t done one recently and I actually kind of forgot how much work it is! I spent the entire Saturday afternoon working on it, which got me to here (right side)…

stripping varnish, mid-century coffee table And then most of Sunday afternoon too, at which point it looked pretty darn fantastic. Through the process of stripping all the snot-colored opaque varnish off the table, I had uncovered what looked to be a very very nice table.  Gorgeous grain matched walnut veneers, beautiful legs tapering from rounded square forms at the top to completely round pegs at the bottom, and more.

Unfortunately, the table was still in pieces, needed to be glued back together, cleaned up with one final wipe down, and then finished with a clear coat. The clear coat I could do, the glueing back together I was slightly less confident about.

It was at that point that I decided to take it to a professional. I knew I could do it.  I just knew someone else could do it better, and that it would likely be worth shelling out a few more bucks to have a really beautiful piece, perfectly finished piece.

I took it to Antiques & Modern in Berkeley because they specialize in mid-century restorations, have great reviews on yelp including information about very reasonable pricing, and my friend Jon just bought some stuff from them and was very pleased.

So there my coffee table sits… I have no picture of its fully restored glory for you.  You’ll just have to imagine, but I know it’s going to be a real beauty, and worth all the effort!

I tell you all this because there is another fantastic pseudo-estate sale opportunity coming up this weekend…

It’s the White Elephant Sale sponsored by the Oakland Museum Women’s Board. The sale only happens once a year, so if you miss it this weekend (like I did last year) you’ll have to wait another 12 months for this super-sale to come around again…

It’s free to the general public and all sales proceeds benefit the wonderful (and recently renovated) Oakland Museum of California. In fact, in spite of the recession, last  year’s sale raised $1.4 million for the museum!  That’s not chump change.

What treasures may be awaiting you?

2011 White Elephant Sale
Saturday, March 5 and Sunday, March 6
10:00 am- 4:00 pm
333 Lancaster Street, Oakland, CA
click for map

The White Elephant Sale is the biggest, the best and certainly the most enjoyable rummage sale in Northern California – presenting for sale an extensive offering of quality used vintage clothing, fine jewelry, Asian collectibles, tools, furniture, sporting goods, and more.

The annual sale is made possible by donations by the public.


More reading…

Oakland Museum of California White Elephant Sale on SFGate

White Elephant Sale Next Week Benefits Oakland Museum on Berkeley Daily Planet

5 thoughts on “Treasure Hunting – White Elephant this weekend!

  1. Rattlebox

    Yeah. What a tease! But I do have to admit I was wrong. It’s a beautiful piece and a great find. Anxious to see the finished product.

  2. billcoady

    You are absolutely right about artistry and craftsmanship of the post war years, especially when it came to consumer goods. Everything seemed better built out of real materials — not plastic/pressboard/who knows what?

    Good luck with your project!

  3. Oakland Daily Photo

    Thanks for plugging the White Elephant Sale. I volunteer there and can tell you that all 17 departments are full of enticing items. The prices are always right. And on Sunday we start discounting like mad. There’s something for everyone. Come on down!!

  4. william

    That’s pretty good!

    Old things are unique and though you cannot see them now, there is a story behind every old thing.

    And if you can transform it into something new and fantastic, even better. That is good hobby, just keep it up!!!

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