Restoring the Glory
Bill Allred restores timeless treasures for the simple joy of it
When furniture retailers mask up for the High Point Market later this month, Bill Allred will be mixing up stains in the workshop behind his house.
While they’re rubbing in hand sanitizer, he’ll be patching cracks in wood grain — painting them so expertly you’ll never know where the split was.
As new furnishings roll out, Allred will continue what he’s been doing for most of his 75 years: reviving the old pieces.
“Bill is a treasure for North Carolina and for Greensboro,” says Benjamin Briggs, executive director of Preservation Greensboro. “He has spent most of his life learning the old ways of furniture restoration and incorporating new techniques.”
Recently, Allred rejuvenated a 200-year-old whiskey table for Blandwood Mansion, Preservation Greensboro’s headquarters and the former home of antebellum Gov. John Motley Morehead Jr., a.k.a. The Father of Modern North Carolina.
The marble-topped table, done in the Late Empire style, was probably made in Philadelphia or New York in the 1820s or ’30s. Morehead likely bought the piece for Blandwood’s expansion in 1846, a year after he finished his second two-year term.
The handsome table, adorned with scrollwork and cove molding, was meant to be ogled. “People would have been impressed,” Briggs says.
A progressive Whig, Morehead entertained those sympathetic to his causes: education, transportation and manufacturing. He offered visitors corn squeezins from his own distillery, locked in the table’s base.
The piece was passed down through the family to Dr. William Elliott White Jr. and his wife, Shirley, of Charlotte. Their estate donated the table to Preservation Greensboro in 2018. Benefactor Terry G. Seaks paid for the restoration; much of the mahogany veneer had peeled away from the white pine substrate.
Allred returned the piece to its former glory by replacing after-market corbels, a missing mirror on the cabinet door and the lustrous veneers.
“They just glow,” says Briggs. “They remind me of dark chocolate.”
Allred learned his craft at the knee of his father, who owned a Greensboro refinishing and repair shop called Style-Craft. Allred retired from the family business, sort of, in 2009.
“I played golf, but after a while even that gets old,” says Allred, who wears a cap from the public course at Gillespie Park.
These days he’s picky about his jobs, restoring only exceptional pieces for individuals, dealers and museums. He completely overhauled a slant-top desk for the Ford Museum in Michigan.
“I’m not in it for the money anymore,” says Allred. “I do it because it gives me something to do, and I enjoy doing it. I can’t get over the looks on people’s faces when they see the difference between what they had before and what they’ve got when it goes home.” OH
Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry. For information on Blandwood tours, go to preservationgreensboro.org.
Photographs courtesy of Bert Vanderveen