More progress! After my initial sanding effort with medium grit sandpaper, I quickly went and bought some 80 grit, and needless to say, everything went much faster this time. My "mouse" sander has been keeping up okay, but if I do this again, I'll need a higher quality orbital sander. I have all the wood pieces ready for fine grit hand sanding, and then staining.
I also got my buttons back! They look perfect - there's no way I could have done such a nice job. The interior designer at work had them made for me at Decore Upholstery in the South End - 14 for $40. They also threw in some cord! (I love having an interior design dept. at work!!!!!)
I read online that some people use the "cover yourself buttons" from Jo-Ann's, and I've used them for sewing projects, but I don't see how they would be nearly as strong or as professional looking - even with epoxy or extra backers.
Anyway, my sewing machine tension is acting up, so off to Singer Sew & Vac tomorrow to get that fixed before I begin sewing the vinyl.