In our restoration galleries we present additional information and illustrations of the furniture restoration work we do that hasn't fit into any of the other pages in this section. The conclusion we hope you will draw from all this is that if it is made out of wood, we can most likely help you with it, even if you don't see the exact piece or need you have.
Many of our Western readers will respond to a name like that with a mixture of puzzlement and disbelief. What in the world is an opium bed? Apparently it is a bed used by customers of establishments offering both the substance and a place to use it. It was an expensive piece of furniture for the use of big spending guests.
One particular opium bed found its way to us. It was loose and wobbly and weak. As is common with other examples of fine Asian furniture, it was held together by intricate interlocking joints designed by geniuses. No glue or fasteners such as nails or screws were needed to hold these massive structures together--the brilliantly designed joints did it all. When wood shrinks, as it will do especially when moving from a humid climate to a dry climate, those tightly fitting joints become loose and sloppy. Our task was to figure out a way to make the joints of this bed fit tightly again.
In addition, the most prominent feature of this opium bed was lost. The central "dream stone" was gone. The dream stones were marble features which displayed interesting patterns. These patterns could be launching points for opium induced dreaming. The two smaller stones remaining on this bed are pictured to the right. Our second significant task was to replace that missing central stone with something else which could stimulate modern opium-less dreaming.
This is the end result of our work. The wood still needed to be oiled and waxed, which our customer intended to do herself. We have put it all back together so that it felt tight and wobble free. Her decision for a replacement for the missing dream stone was redwood burl, which we formed in a book and butt matched pattern and oiled and mounted.
Our western minds are baffled by one thing. How this could be an actual bed for sleeping or any form of comfort. Perhaps only once the opium took effect?
Next we will show you some of the details of how this bed was formed and what we did to restore it.
This is the underside of the bed. The actual thickness of the wood was about 1/2 inch. That planked surface was held together and supported underneath by interlocking slats which were slid from end to end into thin dovetailed slots underneath. Hopefully the photo to the right illustrates the slots adequately. Our first careless observation was that these were straight sided slots. It was a revelation to discover the angled sides and to wonder how they had been formed.
Shrinkage meant that this surface no longer fit into the slots at the sides. We had to glue shims to the long sides.
These are examples of the joints used on this bed. We are always amazed when one of these Asian pieces comes in with this incredible interlocking joinery. To imagine and design these joints is incredible. Then to actually create them so precisely that once fit together, they lock and become difficult to separate, is also incredible. And, it is incredible to imagine these being made without any computers to assist in the design or the construction. Amazing!
BTW, these photos were taken without flash, same bed, different lighting!
Shrinkage. What to do? Remake the parts so they fit tightly again? And have to reconstruct those joints? We aren't smart enough. What we were smart enough to figure out was a way to fill the gaps created by shrinkage, and in a way which looked consistent with the design of the bed. In the photo to the left there are seven shims filling gaps left from shrinkage. You should easily see three of them. We created curved shims to fill the gaps around the oval frames of the dream stones.
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GRAGHGH!*#*!!! Missed the before pictures...again! We will do our best to tell the story with words instead.
This bed had been stored for decades because it didn't work. The owner brought it to us wanting to be able to use it again. Numerous parts of the carved crest were missing and the finish overall was old and tired looking. She wanted those things taken care of, but only if we could get the bed to operate as intended.
As a Murphy Bed it obviously had to pivot, it had to rotate up to close and down for use. Sounded easy. Others had tried to do what seemed so obvious. Holes had been drilled and bearings inserted for a rotating shaft. The guessed at pivot points hadn't worked so additional holes had been drilled and the old holes plugged. There was evidence of screws holding fittings of various kinds, shadows from former parts. It was a mess. We assumed it was too difficult for us to figure out so we asked a couple mechanical engineers to look at it and offer recommendations. They did look at it, blankly, and said the pivot points were in the wrong places. One did some calculations and told us where the pivot point should be. By that time we had figured out that there could not be a single pivot point and suggested to him that a single pivot would not accommodate some travel we thought needed to be incorporated. He was sure of his calculation, so we tried it, but were not surprised that though the bed would close, it would not open from that pivot point.
We then realized that we just needed to figure this out ourselves. We started studying the old markings that were unrelated to any single pivot solution. We started thinking about where the pivot points seemed like they should be in the closed position and where they seemed like they should be in the open position. A light bulb turned on in our head and a solution began to take shape that also accounted for some of the holes and markings that seemed so oddly placed. We got onto our simple graphics program on the computer and sketched it out. It seemed to work. We made wooden templates, installed them and gave the idea a test. It almost worked! Minor tweaking was all that was needed and we had our solution. We took our wooden templates to a metal fabricator, had the pivoting plates made, installed them and celebrated by completing the rest of the work our customer wanted done on the bed.
The upright oval piece is perpendicular to the bed. In other words, in this position the bed is all the way down and ready for a napper.
The bed is slightly raised off the ground.
The bed is half way up, half way put away.
Almost all the way home!
Fully closed. Now you can look in the mirror and see if you really must do something with your hair.
Here is a top view of our templates.
The Murphy Bed, closed and open. This really is a beautiful piece of late nineteenth century furniture.
There actually were several other challenges for us in restoring this piece. You can faintly make out the handle on the right side of the bed when it is down. The handle was there connected to nothing. There were also some miscellaneous unidentified parts. We did finally figure out that the handle engaged a lock connected by some of the unidentified parts to a pin which held the bed down. When locked, if you sat against the headboard, the foot of the bed would not begin to rise.
Continuing on our bed theme, this was a sofa sleeper which had seen better days. It had the design and parts of a very early application of the unfolding sofa bed concept. It also had the distress that sometimes is seen when a piece has been around a long time. The leather cushions were shot, the mechanism wouldn't operate because it was no longer mounted and connected correctly, the veneer covering all the wood faces was loose, peeling or gone and the back corners were coming apart. Wasn't much to start with!
First, all the upholstered and moving parts were detached from the frame. We then removed what was left of the finish.The framework was aken apart to be re-glued. While apart, the dilapidated flat center panels were disposed of and replaced with new oak panels. We removed the worn and chipping veneer on the top of the arms, on the top back rail and on the shoulders which join the top rail to the arms. We then attached new quarter sawn red oak veneer to all those surfaces. Finally, the little rolls under the front of the arms were gone. We formed new pieces to attach under the arms to complete the roll. What a job! The customer did the finishing herself.
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