Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hank Tosh, MCM Furniture Savior

Because we're coco-poofs crazy about MCM furniture, we've had Hank Tosh on our radar for some time. Hank owns and operates Toshmahal on Hampton Road in Dallas, where he restores and refinishes furniture and also does custom framing. This man truly appreciates midcentury and deco furniture and is an artist at what he does. Hank says he's been restoring and refinishing furniture for about as long as he has owned furniture, about 18 years. He's serious about his craft, but he's also one of the nicest guys on the planet (just don't tell him you own a sander!). Hank was kind enough to answer our gajillion questions, some sillier than others (Does he watch Mad Men? Um, no.)

Why such an interest in midcentury pieces?
I have been into midcentury-era things as long as I can remember and had collected and fixed up many things of my own (plus I had a little background in finishing and woodworking from working in other mediums) before I started doing it for a living. I do work on earlier pieces as well, just normally, since I do work for a lot of dealers around town, this ends up being the majority of what I work on.

We'd love to restore every MCM piece in RetroMania. How did you learn how to do it?
I started many years ago when I first moved to Dallas, doing gruntwork like sanding, and stripping -- a little staining -- at Lakewood Furniture under the tutelage of Billy Keith Leatherwood (RIP). he taught me quite a bit. The rest I have learned by reading everything I can get my hands on, lots of trial and error, experimentation, and my trusty friend and mentor, Rik Wood, who is a 3rd generation craftsman and worked in Dallas for many years with his father.

How come so many people buy great midcentury pieces and then "ebonize" them? What's up with that?
There are a lot of designers out there who seem to know more than their refinishers and like to do bad things to good furniture. It is unfortunate but true. Sometimes it is just because they want to match everything so badly, but other times it is because the piece may have been damaged and just looks better that way. I think ebonizing is still a good look, sometimes. Fortunately, I think a lot of designers are coming around to the idea that it is not necessarily a bad thing to have many different natural woods in the same house or the same room, so hopefully it will make for less of this. I really don't like to ruin good furniture. I am in the 'restoration' business and it hurts me a little to 'paint' something or to make something a white laquer that should be a light mahogany or a light walnut.

Can you give us a little insight into some of those old finishes that we see on midcentury furniture and nowhere else -- stuff like the dark-gray/light-black stain that shows the wood grain, and also the yellowish brown that resembles spicy mustard)?
Most of this is done with oak or ash because they have a very open and deep grain to them. They will rub a glaze or a mixture of color
into the grain and then use a stain or a toner over that and then clear it. (this is a very simplified description, but it is all based on
the fact that the deep grain holds the color of whatever you rub into it when you wipe it). The lighter finish you are referring to has many
names, but many people did it: One is called the 'limed oak' finish. The darker is just a variation of this. There are also finishes that
were done with mahogany (called a white mahogany, or a bleached mahogany) that are also quite a process. It also takes a lot of work
to restore these pieces. Somehow, in the late '60s I think, faux finishing got really big and people started hiding beautiful wood grains.
I say, if you want plastic or fiberglass, then buy it and don't ruin the look of a beautiful wood grain. I think today, more people are wanting to see the wood grain and the natural color of the wood.

Is Heywood Wakefield the "gateway drug" of midcentury furniture? (As in: You start there and the next thing you know, you're into the heavy stuff.)
Well, there is a lot of Wakefield out there. The great thing about the early Wakefield is that some of it is actually just on the verge of
deco and entering into the modern realm, which I love. Another thing is that (and there are also many misconceptions about this) it is
made of solid maple (not birch. Only the newer stuff is made of birch), so you can literally bring some of this stuff back from the grave.
It definitely leads to other stuff ... Conant Ball, Paul McCobb -- also all solid maple. I have done many Wakefield pieces and am actually one of
the only people around who knows these finishes. It took me a little while to perfect the recipes, but I have them, for both the Wheat and
the Champagne (there are, even from the factory, about 3 different variations on each finish).

As a refinisher, what pieces are your favorite projects?
All of the Danish walnut stuff. A beautiful Walter Kagan chair was definitely one of my favorites. And, of course, all of the Heywood Wakefield stuff, because I really love both deco and modern.

You've got such an interesting niche here in DFW: How did you become the go-to restorer/refinisher for area midcentury dealers like Sputnik Modern?
Most of these clients hear about me word-of-mouth. It is the best way to get business and the only way to survive as a small-business person. It boggles the mind, how some businesses can get away with some of the travesties I've witnessed. It just makes my head spin.

If you could recommend one product for keeping wood furniture looking nice, what would it be?
I always top everything off with a good coat of carnuba wax. I don't get the beeswax because it is usually cut with some chemical. I use one that has a good, thick feel to it. (Trewax) The one I use has enough carnuba in it that it acts as a great cleaning agent as well as adding a little extra protection to the finish against some of the moisture it might encounter.


MCM DFW said...

Thanks for posting this! I live in an MCM house in Oak Cliff and had been wondering who we could have refinish some of our pieces. It's good to know that there is someone close to us that loves mid-century furniture as much as we do.

Felicia said...

It's possible you've moved, gotten a different job, god forbid even died, by now. I want to thank you for saying "thank you." I love this furniture so much that I buy it even when I can't sell it or pack it into my house. So it's a problem. I'm so glad you appreciate it, too. Maybe by now you've met Hank! BTW, I LOVE OAK CLIFF!