Expensive woods like teak or mahogany, marble, stone and other materials used to make expensive furniture are often imitated by a painted surface. Faux finishes have been used since the days of ancient Egypt.
The Greeks and Romans admired murals that were examples trompe l’oiel (fool-the-eye) paintings. Life-size objects on tables, half-open doors, stairways and furnishings included in these paintings looked real. The tradition of faux finishes experienced a resurgence in the 19th century.
A major Civil War monument with an interior of pink marble walls was restored a few years ago. It was discovered during the restoration that the monument’s walls were actually made of white marble painted with a faux finish that made the wall look like expensive pink marble..
Inexpensive wood used to make furniture has been painted to resemble mahogany, bamboo, teak, birds-eye maple or just decorative graining. Tabletops were “improved” with a faux marble finish. Talented artists also painted tops with what looked like mosaic designs.
Bamboo furniture was the rage in the early 1800s. Bamboo was hard to get in Europe and the United States, so Chinese-style furniture was made with wooden parts shaped like bamboo, then painted with trompe l’oiel graining.
The wooden parts were stronger than real bamboo, so the faked parts often were an improvement. The tradition of painted furniture has continued, and collectors pay a premium for American “grained wood” country pieces made from 1850 until about 1880. But the finish must be original and in good condition.
Q: Can you tell me if the old Franciscan earthenware pattern named Sierra Sand contains lead?
A: Franciscan china was fired at high temperatures and is safe, but you can buy a lead-testing kit at a hardware store or online and test it yourself to see if the glaze contains lead. Lead-free glazes have been required on dinnerware sold in the United States since the 1980s. But glazes may contain some lead and still be considered “lead free,” according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines. If the pottery was fired at the correct temperature for the right amount of time, the lead fuses to the pottery and does not leach off. While your Franciscan dishes are safe, watch out for any pottery made in Mexico or China, handcrafted pottery, pieces that are highly decorated or have decorations painted over the glaze, and pottery with orange, red or yellow glaze.
Tip: Reglue a doll’s wig with rubber cement. It’s removable if you later want to change the wig.