Simple……all the joints at which the individual rods and metal tubing were joined, had decorative “chills” ,as they were called back then, and were made of hot liquid cast iron that was poured into a mold at a foundry. Today we refer to them as “castings”, but back when they were being made they were called “chills”.Castings or “chills”, as they were referred to back in the 1800’s were the intricate design element that held the bed frames iron rods and tubing together. The quality and quantity of these castings are what establish a bed frames value and collectibility.
They were originally constructed with sand cast molds that were then poured with hot molten iron. The detail in the design of these castings was a good indicator how well the bed frame was constructed and the level of expertise of the manufacturer. Then, as is the case today, has much to do with the pricing and value of an antique iron bed frame.
So what’s the biggest mistake a person makes when refinishing an old antique bed? Probably the most universal mistake is thinking an bed needs to be just one color……white. That couldn’t be farther from the truth and also what the original beds were being painted back in the 1800’s when they were made. They were literally every color of the rainbow. Much of the time the castings were gold guilded or painted a different color than the tubing. There was no limit to the combination’s being used. Often the new owner would supply the manufacturer with a piece of their favorite wallpaper or a paint chip of the color being used in the bedroom. But I digress….. Lets get back to the topic of casting detail. So how best can you accentuate the detailing in a casting? First pick two complimentary colors. The photo I’ve included here is a finish we call our “Copper Tone Wash”. The iron bed this sample is on, has particularly detailed castings that really benefited from a “wash” type finish. First…….. your bed will need to be sandblasted and primed with a strong metal primer. Then take the lighter of the two color’s you selected, in the case of the one I have photographed, I used a light terra cotta. Let that layer dry completely. The use your darker color and completely cover the first color………but as you’re applying it, immediately wipe as much of the darker finish off. The darker color will stay in the recesses of the casting, giving the definition you want. You can also use a rag to blend the darker color in on the tubing, giving a streaked effect. Take your time and experiment on small sections. Be sure that the paint you use is a water base paint. It’s much more forgiving and easy to blend.
Your iron bed can look as good as you want it to be. It will be time well spent. No bed should be relegated to nothing but a coat of white paint. Bring it to life with a little color.