How to restore a mid-century storage cabinet

This old Paul McCobb storage cabinet needs a facelift


A reader wants to know who can restore this mid-century Paul McCobb storage cabinet. (Reader photo/Reader photo)
July 30

Question: I have an old Paul McCobb storage cabinet that my parents bought back in the early ’50s and delivered to my husband and me after we moved into our first house in the early ’80s. It held no significance for me, other than being a piece from my childhood that provided good storage, until The Post did an article around 1990 about mid-century pieces being the new antiques. Featured with the article was a picture of this exact piece. So I’ve held on to it. But it needs a facelift. Your recent column on vintage sewing machines made me wonder: Is there a “maestro” of furniture repair and refinishing who’s experienced with vintage furniture from the ’50s and ’60s?

— McLean

Answer: Woodworkers skilled in restoring furniture can generally work on pieces of different vintages, provided they take the time to understand the nuances that make various periods unique. That said, if you go to someone experienced with mid-century pieces, you’re likely to get more help in understanding exactly what you have and how to preserve it. Someone who doesn’t appreciate modern design might be more inclined to try to reimagine it.

Luckily, mid-century pieces are very popular, so you have several specialists to choose from. Doug Meyers, owner of Modern Mobler Vintage Furnishings in Washington and Kensington (571-594-2201; www.modernmobler.com), and Pierre Paret, owner of Acme Mid-Century + Modern in Alexandria (703-836-0333; www.acmemidcentury.com) both said they’d be happy to do the work. And Glynn Romero at Millennium Decorative Arts in Washington (202-483-1218; www.millenniumdecorativearts.com) offered this tip: He’s had great results from Schoenbauer Furniture Restoration in Charlotte Hall, Md. (800-955-7603; www.schoenbauer.com).

Paret looked at the pictures you sent and agrees that you do appear to have a modular storage unit from the Planner Group collection of Paul McCobb, an American industrial and furniture designer who died in 1969. The sleek Planner Group designs, made from 1949 to 1964, were so popular that many manufacturers tried to copy them. One hint that your piece could be an original is the texture of the sliding doors. The panels appear to have a grasscloth covering, a McCobb innovation. The overall style, the drawer pulls and the colors are other tips. But to be sure of the lineage, Paret would inspect how the legs are attached.

Don’t do any more refinishing than the piece really needs, or you could lower its value. “Generally, less is better with a piece of this age unless it has damage or significant wear,” Paret wrote in an e-mail. He suggested you might want to refinish only the top, which typically gets the most dings.

Until the scope of work is determined, there’s no way to estimate what refinishing would cost. But Meyers estimates that a fully restored Paul McCobb bench could sell for $1,500 to $2,000 in a store that specializes in pieces of this vintage.

Question: When I purchased my four-story rowhouse in late 1986, the windows were single-pane and very drafty. After some research, over the course of three years, I replaced all the windows with Season-All double-pane casement and double-hung windows through Washington Gas. I chose Washington Gas because it was a reputable company and offered a deferred payment plan. Since then, three of the casement windows and two of the double-hung windows have developed moisture between the panes and are therefore very cloudy. But Season-All has gone out of business, and Washington Gas does not guarantee the windows. How can I get the windows fixed?

— Washington

Answer: The glass in a double-pane window is separated by a strip filled with desiccant to absorb condensation, which forms between the panes when warm air trapped there cools. Manufacturers install sealant on the edges of the glass units. But as window parts expand and contract with temperature changes, small gaps in the sealant almost inevitably open up. This lets in additional moisture. Eventually, the desiccant can hold no more water and the windows cloud. Window manufacturers know this is likely to happen at some point, so although some companies now offer lifetime warranties (it’s a terrific sales pitch), most window warranties are good for only 20 years or fewer. So even if Season-All were still in business, it’s unlikely that your windows would still be covered by a warranty.

A company that specializes in window replacement can fix your windows. Unfortunately, the solution isn’t cheap. Replacing a 24-by 36-inch glass unit would cost $425 to $467 for a wood window or $215 to $265 for a vinyl window, said Mehdi Essa, manager of AA Window & Glass Repair (202-289-8444 in Washington or 301-760-3002 in Maryland; www.anawindowrepair.com). Dealing with a wood window costs more because it’s harder to extract the glass unit without damaging the rest of the window. The glass unit is nailed or glued to a wood window; with vinyl, the unit is held with screws or snaps into place, Essa said.

Replacing the glass, even at the prices Essa estimated, still costs less than replacing the entire window. A new wood window typically costs $1,000 or more; a new vinyl window, $400 or more.

Have a problem in your home?

Send questions to localliving@washpost.com. Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

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