Curved Council Benches
The City of Port Phillip approached Darren McBride to restore these four art deco Council Chamber benches for the St Kilda town hall.
Before restoration, these benches were broken in places and damaged from everyday use, as they had been relocated from the council chambers to the catering area downstairs. The wood was splitting and several coats of different finishes concealed the original finish and look of the benches.
Darren started this project by stripping back the different layers of finish and washing the benches down. Mr M. Samman of Versailles Fine Furniture repaired the splits in the sides and tops. Darren then got the drawers back into working order by replacing the runners, and replaced the old casters with modern double-wheels, in combination with multilock wheels on the four corners so that the benches could be fixed into position. He researched and hunted down the most suitable wheels for these benches, and also painted the metal parts black to match the wheels themselves. The result was practical for use and visually consistent.
Darren’s next step was to sand down the benches. He created a customized stain and then sealed the timber. He proceeded with building it up to a high-class finish by hand rubbering – a process that took months of work to achieve. This process also included black japanning across the top edge molding and bottom skirting, resulting in a final look of light encased by dark – the brighter tones of the benches lined by the rich, dark edges. This was achieved by layering different black stains.
Darren then progressed into cutting back, wooling down, compounding, and then finishing off the benches. The final step was to refit the casters and drawer handles. Darren also made a unique template for each bench top (the measurements of each bench were slightly different) and Varga Brothers cut glass to size and had it toughened to sit on top of each bench.
This original staircase resides in a 1860s terrace home in Carlton. Australian red cedar makes up the rails, spindles, and newel posts, while the steps, rises, paneling, and skirting is all a combination of old Australian pines. Several of the spindles in the upper staircase had been replaced over the years, and the steps and skirting had all been painted over a number of times to keep up with changing fashions.
Darren commenced by stripping back the whole job from top to bottom, including the steps, landing, paneling, and the door along the fascia of the side of the staircase. Along with Fraser Campbell, Darren proceeded with the repair of the carpentry works, of which special attention was paid to the rises beneath the steps and the edge of the steps that had been worn with use over time. The end result was a perfectly level staircase.
Repair work complete, they moved onto sanding. In this project, Darren customized different stains for different parts of the job: a unique stain for the balustrades and japanning work, and another for the steps, paneling, and skirting. The sealing was undertaken next, layering up the build by hand-rubbering across the entire project. The Australian red cedar received the most attention, requiring a wood grain filler before sealing due to its porousness. Once the layers had been built to a high-class finish, Darren moved on to the final stages, including cutting back, wooling down, compounding, and burnishing.
The black japanning involved creating a positive and negative effect, making a peripheral path to safely guide one’s steps. This warm visual effect is very rare to see in modern day, as carpet runners have taken over this traditional look.
As with all of his work, Darren brought out the warmth and depth of this wooden staircase, enhancing what Mother Nature had provided in the timber. The finished piece rings true to the architectural essence of this terrace house, a historic feature that doubles as an integral part of the owners’ daily lives, connecting the family within their home.
Tasmanian Myrtle Suite
This Tasmanian Myrtle sideboard and table-and-chair set had previously been changed from the original timber to a green liming colour. After a conversation with the owner, Darren decided to bring back the original, natural timber look of this suite.
He stripped the sideboard, table, and chairs to raw timber. He then repaired the items, which included new drawer runners, fixing the split wooden top, reblocking the table and chair, and regluing all of the parts. Darren then sanded and sealed the pieces, and used a finish built appropriate to the design and timber, and suited to the contemporary, bespoke style of the home.
The upholstery of the chairs was completed by Neil Graham.