Thursday, September 22, 2016

The cure for discombobulation: Projects!

So in my last post, I felt a little lost and unfocused... for good and obvious reasons, which you can see once you gain perspective the comes with time passing by. Being the type-A goal-oriented person that I am, I needed something to be able to work toward, something in my life (albeit small) that I could control the outcome of and see progress with. I needed a project. Or twelve.

When I decide to do something, I don't just take a stab at it. I sink the entire sword in... to the hilt. Sometimes to my own dismay and frustration. But, I just pull on my "tenaciously yours" pants, rub some grit on them, and get back out there.

Case in point, this oak desk.

Sure, it seems like a fairly ordinary roll top desk that you might have seen in a principal's office a decade or three ago. But something about it sitting in the basement of an Iowa consignment thrift store made my heart happy in a time when my heart wasn't sure what to think.

But the dark stain did not make my heart happy. I am more of a golden oak girl. I knew I needed to strip the dark stain off, but I had never done it before. Fortunately, my mother-in-law and aunts-in-law had stripped furniture before and were happy to give me tips on how to get started. However... no one told me that this task would take so long... or that August wasn't really the best month to tackle an outdoor project. It's a little hot and humid.

On top of the color change, I also needed to repair the roll top part of the desk. The canvas under the slats had torn and needed to be replaced. by Googling frantically, I learned that the roll top part of the desk is actually called the tambour and it is actually surprisingly easy to fix. Removing stain from each individual board... not so much. Let's just say that with the chemical stripper came a lot of elbow grease and sweat equity. A LOT OF SWEAT EQUITY.

The torn tambour had been repaired with additional canvas before, but it truly needed its canvas replaced.

Water soaked these off... and made them super slimy. Yuck.

My mother-in-law, Peggy, introduced me to stripping stain off, starting with these drawers. The drawers made it seem like the job would be easy.

Old stain color on this side............... "new" original color on this side.

The stain came off of the desk bottom much easier than the rolltop part... I was pretty frustrated after getting in to the double-digit applications of stripper... and worried about drying the wood out beyond repair. 
Five rolls of paper towels were used in the stripping of this desk. How many trees did that kill? 
After two weeks, the entire desk was finally devoid of stain.
Linseed oil followed by two coats of polyurethane

I love the color... and the battle scars!
Attaching a new piece of canvas to the tambour was my last task... amazingly, all of the slats fit on the canvas. I was so glad I carefully followed the steps listed on that website. It was really the easiest part of the whole thing.

And then the desk was reassembled...

The cubbies inside the desk were not original, so I took the liberty of painting them peacock blue. :)
In my travels I found a $12 golden oak chair that just needed it's cushion reupholstered. So I added so padding, because I knew I was going to be sitting there a lot, and recovered it in a fabric that, well, made my heart happy.

Ultimately, it took three weeks to finish the desk. In the balmy 90-degree heat with 60 percent or more humidity. Talk about a project. But it turned out beautifully, and I'm so happy with it. In fact, I am sitting at it now as I write this.

I was so happy, in fact, that I decided to take on even more projects.  After four years in Japan wasting time on Pinterest, looking at the repurposed furniture and vintage decor, pinning like a mad woman, I was finally able to take some of these pins I had saved and turn them in to reality. And living in the heart of the midwest, there are lots of cheap (and free!) vintage furniture that desperately needs to be upcycled. I'm so fortunate that my mother-in-law has been tolerant of my taking over half of her garage with in-progress and waiting-in-the-wings projects.

Yeah... that's a lot of projects. I admit that. But I am planning to open a photography studio in a few weeks and need to furnish the place. It's like a furnishing a small apartment. And I'm keeping myself on a first-apartment budget. Which means shopping one step above dumpster diving, and investing in sandpaper and paint. But it's working out. Before I got serious about some of the bigger pieces of furniture and started transforming them, I needed to learn some skills on some smaller pieces of furniture first.

I bought my first electric sander and needed to practice with it before I ruined one of my bigger, more important, pieces of furniture. I found an $8 end table at Goodwill that had a lot of damage to its surface. Of course I forgot to take a before photo... but I wanted to make a table for beside my bed. The guest room I have taken over while the spouse is working overseas for the next year didn't have a night stand. So I decided I needed to channel my spirit animal in his absence and decided to paint a peacock on the table. I can barely draw a stick figure, much less a peacock, so I may have found an image on the internet. And I may have printed it large, in sections, taped it together and then used carbon paper to trace the design on the table the way I wanted it. Maybe I did that. And maybe I didn't.

While I was working on the peacock, my 10-year-old complained about he felt distracted doing his homework at the dining room table. So I kept my eye out for a solution as I visited the antique furniture stores around the area. I found this children's desk and chair that looked like they had been in a flood...

I got the set for $25, brought it home and my son was less than impressed. Yes, it looked pretty rough and he just hasn't cultivated his ability to envision amazing results yet. So I simply asked him what color or theme he wanted the desk painted... and he quickly answered "Cardinal's baseball colors!"

OK, son, can do.

He was much more impressed this time.

And then I saw a Pinterest pin of an old travel trunk turned footed coffee table. I liked the way it looked but wanted to see how hard it was going to be to do. I found an old trunk for $20 and looked online for Queen Anne-style furniture legs. I couldn't find decent ones for less than $14 each. Yikes. That's not first-apartment budget when you need four of them. So I settled for $1 spindles (from a staircase railing) I found instead. But, before I cut those spindles down, I fortunately found a $10 ottoman that had seen better days... but the Queen Anne legs it had were in decent shape. Boom! Back to the first-apartment budget!

I glued and bolted the legs to the bottom of the trunk using the hardware the legs came with, and then taped the silver tips on the feet so I could paint everything without worrying about paint dripping on the small bts of metal and felt.

My Dad said this photo makes the trunk look like a dead cow... mmm, maybe.
 I used off-white furniture paint and antiquing wax to finish it off.

Then I found a booth where the antique dealer was going out of business. I found a maple lazy susan living room table for $10. I already have one of these, it's in storage, but I love it and couldn't pass this deal up. But I wanted to do something a little different with it, so I painted it like a distressed clock. (Sorry... I forgot a before pic of this, too, but it looked like this.)

I also found a victorian-style end table with drawers that - surprise! - needed a lot of work done to its surface.

Even after sanding it and trying to level the surface with wood filler, there were still a few areas that weren't as smooth as I would have liked. So, I decided to try another technique that I had had my eye on: spray painting through lace. Hopefully that would mask the flaws.

And, indeed, the flaws were masked pretty well. The lace design isn't as sharp as I would have liked because I used stretchy lace fabric I found at Wal-mart. As it got wet with paint, the lace bubbled up and moved slightly. So, I recommend not using stretchy lace. Try finding lace tablecloths or curtains at thrift stores instead.

And I have also been working on some small fall decor things, too... the mason jars are straight off of Pinterest and will be used to decorate at a local church fundraiser...

But this one was my own idea... so that old ottoman I stole the legs off of had four springs in it

... and I've see a lot of things done with old springs like those, but none of the ideas really appealed to me. But as I kept looking at the springs, one of them was bent in a way that reminded me of a cornucopia. A piece of burlap and a few miniature fake fruits and vegetables from a garage sale and I have the furniture spring cornucopia of my dreams...

While I am proud of what I have accomplished in a month, this post is not about bragging. Well, maybe a teeny bit. But mostly, it's to help others like me, who are feeling discombobulated. While it might appear that my mind and energy were completely focused on making my heart happy with these projects, there was a lot more going on in my life that could have stressed me out worse than it already did and made me crazier than usual.

My kids each started a new school and wouldn't be on the same campus for the first time in their lives. The spouse was dealing with the transition from military to civilian. I was adjusting to living under someone else's roof with 90 percent of my belongings being stored across America. I was planning to open a photography studio in a small town where I new few people, and even fewer people well enough to tell about my business dreams. We had a weekend of revelry celebrating my husband's retirement from the Marine Corps, with friends and family coming in from all over the States. I planned two parties for that weekend and drove to the airport that's 70 miles away five times in 10 days. And then there was the little thing of my husband preparing, packing and planning for a year-long contract job in Saudi Arabia. I wasn't feeling like being very social and meeting new people. It seemed like it would take a lot of energy I just did not have. All I wanted to do was stay home and work on projects. There was, and still is, a lot of crap going on in my life, and these projects are my way of coping, of attempting to maintain my sanity. And, here I am, about five weeks later, and I am feeling more like myself. I actually don't mind being around people again and am looking forward to meeting new ones. And I still have a dining room set, a drop leaf table, hutch and an entertainment center turned bench project to work on. I have given myself another month to get those done.

Your way of coping and remaining sane may not be to spend three weeks refinishing a desk. Maybe you're more of a 30-minute spring cornucopia person. Or a go-for-a-3-mile-run girl. (more power to you, there.) But you must find something that makes your heart happy through tough, stressful times. It will do yourself and everyone else around you a favor. Yes, it's OK to be a little selfish and take up time (and space... yikes... sorry, Peg) for yourself so you can be stronger and ready to take on the world once these challenges are over. Because have you seen the world lately? It could use a little taking over... ;)


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