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Finishing furniture with fabric

If you want to salvage a nondescript "early attic" piece of furniture, cover it with fabric to give it a new lease on life. All this kind of embellishment takes is time, imagination, and a willingness to do it yourself. It's a budget operation all the way, but it can produce effective and highly decorative results.

And the idea needn't be limited to furniture "uglies" in need of a facelift. New York designer Everett Brown has been covering chests, stools, commodes, tables, and even pianos with fabric for years. The first time he resorted to fabric instead of finish was in the 1940s, when he covered a series of cheap unfinished chests in the same cheerful fabric with which he covered beds and windows.

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He says glazed chintz is an excellent choice, but he has also used striped bed ticking, blue denim, white duck canvas, patterned linen, and good-quality cotton.

The designer offers one decorating trick that he frequently uses to minimize the dimensions of a hulking big chest that looms too big in a very small room. It is to "upholster" the chest in fabric matching the wallpaper, then watch the chest's bulk recede in a hurry.

Mr. Brown says that he has never used any adhesive to apply the fabric except common cold water wallpaper paste. Applied thinly and evenly to both fabric and wood, it has always worked successfully.

Other commercial adhesives are available from paint and hardware stores. One of New York's best such outlets, Janovic Plaza, offers 3M multipurpose spray adhesive and Krylon spray adhesive as well as Elmer's Glue-all adhesive for attaching heavier covers such as leather or vinyl. It also offers the more usual nonstaining cellulose wallpaper paste.

The most recent Better Homes and Gardens Decorating Book recommends using printed sheets for both bedroom draperies and to cover a five-drawer lingerie chest to match. Basic instructions printed here would apply to any chest you are covering.

"To cover a chest, first remove the hardware and plane or sand the drawer edges to allow for the thickness of the fabric. If the chest is unfinished, apply a coat of undercoat paint. Let dry. Mix the wallpaper paste according to the directions and let it stand to thicken. Apply paste to both the fabric and the piece of furniture to achieve a strong bond. Remove the air bubbles as you attach each piece of fabric. Cover the front of the top drawer first, overlapping the edges and stapling them firmly to the inside. Match the pattern on the remaining drawers.

"Next, cover the edges around the drawers, stapling the overlapping sheet fabric to the inside and matching the patterns. Add a strip to the bottom front , overlapping it on the sides. Cut the pieces to fit the top and sides (one piece if possible, otherwise the sides first then the top) stapling to the back of the chest. Allow the wallpaper paste to dry thoroughly. Apply a coat of polyurethane varnish and let dry. Replace the hardware on the chest."

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Another way to protect the fabric surface is by spraying with a protector such as Scotch-gard. A straight-lined Parsons table in any size is another piece of furniture that is well-suited for cloth lamination. Such a table is covered in two phases, the top in one piece and the legs separately, making sure to cut fabric ample enough to turn under the edges by least one inch. Again, both the fabric and the surface of the table should be sprayed with adhesive or brushed with paste.

Closet doors are another favorite area of fabric lamination, since they can be covered to match bedspreads, draperies, up holstered chairs, or chaises.

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