1949 Howell Retro Dinette Set Is Done

1949 Howell Retro Dinette Set Is Done

Much to the relief of my patient hubby, I was finally able to settle on a vintage 1940s/ 1950s Formica table that fit the majority of my search criteria.  No more constant browsing craigslist multiple times a day for new listings or driving half way across the Southland on our weekends to check out tables.  I found a retro yellow Howell dinette set with four chrome & vinyl chairs, stamped on the under side of the table top with the manufacture date of April 13, 1949.  It is the perfect center piece for our small 1940’s kitchen.

reupholstered 1950s dinette  red table and chairs
Our new (to us) 1949 Howell Dinette set with Linen Formica. I refinished the red metal apron on the table, recovered the vinyl chairs in red and yellow, & took it all apart to polish the chrome parts.

I bought it from a family that was selling almost all the contents of their Venice Beach bungalow because they were relocating into a furnished home in Ireland.  Had they not been moving half way across the world, they would have probably kept it, along with the rest of their vintage furniture.  The sellers had bought the table second hand themselves more than 20 years earlier, and it had been used as their primary table in their cute yellow 1920’s kitchen ever since. Three of the four dinette chairs had tears in the vinyl seats.  I was bummed about that, especially when the owners said they got a quote last year to redo the chairs for $100 each, including materials. Ouch!  But the table had a pretty marigold yellow linen Formica top, and of course, linen is my favorite formica laminate pattern.  The majority of the tables I had seen elsewhere almost always had 1950’s Cracked Ice Formica, therefore I was still really tempted to buy this table, regardless of the chairs’ condition.

I gave it a through inspection before agreeing to buying it.  Other than the issues in the seat vinyl, the table laminate and chair frames were actually in amazingly good shape for its age.  The chrome on the legs looked like it would eventually clean up okay with steel wool, and didn’t have too much rust. All the parts were sturdy, but the metal table apron had faded and a few sections appeared to have pretty much worn off, probably from 70 years of scrubbing and cleaning up.  From the color on the underside, it was originally the same bright yellow color all over, but only the formica had not faded over the years.

original ad for 1949 table and chairs

After chatting with the sellers for about 15 minutes about our mutual love of charming old houses, vintage furniture, and world travel, they were kind enough to drop the price $50.  Yeah!  Despite the tears in the chairs, I was sold.  I am generally handy, and I was optimistic that I could probably recover the chairs, but if not, I could always find someone who could.  The hard part was getting it home. The family lived on one those Venice walk up houses, the kind that only has pedestrian access, and it was almost 1/8 of a mile back to my car, and then I had rush hour L.A. traffic to deal with.   Oh well, in retrospect, the table turned out worth it.

As I mentioned the frustration of searching for a nice vintage table, I really wanted a two toned color table or an inlaid design.  Since the paint on the apron had faded so much and rubbed off in other parts, it definitely needed to be repainted.  I decided this was one time it would be okay to be a bit creative to redo it in two different colors.  I spent an afternoon dismantling the table from the legs and polishing chrome, and masking off where necessary.  Then I used a specialty spray paint made for refinishing farm equipment to repaint the apron.  The table now compliments the burgundy red in the apple design of my mid century Franciscan Appleware dishes.  When I recovered the vinyl seats, I chose similar shades to the red paint and yellow linen formica.  I used a similar shade of dark red for the back rests and golden yellow Naugahyde for the seats cushions.  I have to admit, I am really, really pleased with how the vintage table turned out.  It fits the scale of our small kitchen much better than our old white tile top farm table ever did.  Hopefully we enjoy the table for many years to come, just like the family in Venice did.

11 thoughts on “1949 Howell Retro Dinette Set Is Done

  1. I have a Howell dining set exactly like yours. Where did you find the vinyl to recover the chairs? I am in the process of bringing the whole set back to life. Thankfully we can still find items like this from time to time.

  2. I have a red table from this era that is pretty buffed and scratched– what did you use to polish it? (It actually has the cracked ice top you mentioned, but the underneath was red so I am gonna flip it over).

    1. Hi Denise,

      I wish I had expert advice for you, but I don’t. The 1940’s table we have is a little dull (but not scratched) in comparison to a new formica finish. So far, we haven’t done anything to polish it up and I don’t mind how it looks. However, in your case, maybe a coat or two of polyurethane could help freshen up a table top that is in really bad shape? I am only guessing and would hate for you to ruin the vintage table. I would suggest looking around at other places for tips on the best way to fix the damaged table top. Sorry.

  3. your table looks great! I found your blog by searching for information on Howell tables – my bf and I just scored one last weekend – it is the exact model you have! I was so excited to see how well it polished up. The ad you included was super cool too – thanks for posting it!

    1. Hi Felicia,

      Is the enamel on your table’s apron wearing thin like ours was we when bought it? I am glad we decided to paint ours, and it wasn’t too hard. The legs unscrewed pretty easily. It has held up to daily use and wiping down so far. We did get one stain on the formica, but it lifted out fine with a bit of baking soda left on it for an hour. Four months later, the red paint on the apron looks as good as the day we painted. We have been happy with the Howell dinette, although it is a cozy fit if we have company, even with the leaf in.

  4. The table is just gorgeous! I have been lusting over one, but the reality is they are just too small for our lot. We have a large 6 seater that extends to a 10 seater and it is almost always extended and covered with various projects my daughters are working on. Oh well – it looks great in your place.

  5. Lovely table. Came over b/c I saw your post on twitter. This is such a nice find. We’re looking for something like it for our 1940s home! We originally bought a 1940s drop leaf but it needs its own dining room!

    1. Hi Becca,

      Thanks! When I have time, I am going to get around to posting the before and in progress pictures that I took as a refurbished it. It didn’t look that nice when I first brought it home, but it definitely had good bones to work with.

      You have a cool selection of items over at etsy and a really nice blog at the Bright Haven Thanks for stopping by.


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