June 19, 2013

Putting the Nightstand Project to Bed

When you first get married and move in together, chances are you're filling your new house with everything that you've accumulated individually up to that point. And it's usually an aesthetically un-pleasing fusion of furniture and collectibles from your former lives - a smorgasbord of granny end tables and twin bed frames/mattresses galore. Stuff that you either keep out of necessity or because you just can't bring yourself put them on the curb.

The lamp made out of a long-since-been-emptied Jack Daniels bottle. The framed Dave Matthews Band poster proudly displayed as the featured art piece in the den. Yeah, those both went in the trash. Anything functional remained as a placeholder until you could replace them, one at a time, with something that suited both of you.

Until a few weeks ago, that was our nightstand situation, despite being married for almost four years. When we moved into the new house, we used what we already had for nightstands on either side of the bed, mostly because there were other things that more urgently required our attention and money.

Hers was a classic children's dresser, that her mom had commissioned an artist decades ago to adorn with a whimsical forest design. It was beautiful (back then) and we (she) wouldn't dream of painting over it. But it belonged in a child's room.

Mine was a more masculine piece from Pier 1, that was actually a significant investment (read: not held together by duct tape and hope) for me in my bachelor days. Not fancy, not attractive, but it got the job done.

They needed to go - we were just waiting patiently to find their replacements. Don't worry, her dresser will be used in baby-on-board's room, and mine will get some sort of makeover for future use.

But, there was no sense of urgency to replace them because we hadn't found anything that worked. There just aren't a lot of options when you are looking for a matching pair of drawer chests that are 32" tall or more and don't require a 2nd mortgage to purchase.

That's where these estate sale finds came into play:

No, it's not crooked, that's just the slope of my driveway playing tricks on you.

Yeah, they were ugly - so ugly that we almost immediately dismissed them and moved on. But, when you have the tools (most important), the knowledge (can be self-taught) and the time (almost always overlooked), you can turn most nothings into somethings.

But these looked like they were made out of cheap MDF (medium density fiberboard). It's not made to last, so the result you get wouldn't justify the work you'd have to put into it. Generally it's not worth messing with the stuff.

The guy working the sale was practically trying to give them away, so I looked a little closer, opened a few drawers and saw that they were made out of real wood. That's when I put on my poker face and decided to downplay my interest  - eventually settling on $60 for the pair. Highway robbery for drawer sets that big.

Turns out that finding them was much easier than transforming them.

Back to the Basics
After removing the hardware with a screwdriver, I ended up using a chemical stripper to remove the oil-based paint as quickly and efficiently as possible. It's (really) messy, but it works. You just apply it with a brush, let it sit, then scrape it off. Repeat as necessary.

Also, wear chemical gloves and protective eyewear when handling this stuff. You don't get this stuff on your skin and you definitely don't want it in your eyes. You won't know it for a minute or two, but then it will start to feel like someone prodding you with a hot branding iron. I know...umm - a friend of mine - knows from experience.

Remember how I said it was messy? Here, I made you a delicious pie. Enjoy.

Seriously though, an aluminum pie plate is a great way to collect the crap you scrape off.

After I got what I could off, I sanded the rest down to raw wood.

Let's Try This Again, Shall We?
Now that I had them back to a blank canvas, I consulted with my personal interior designer/client about colors and the negotiations began.

Me: "What do you think about a cool distressed blu-ish or green-ish color?"
Courtney: "White. I want white."
Me: "White? Everything in our bedroom is white! Come on, how 'bout a little color?"
Courtney: " Ok then - cream."
Me: "Umm, that's the same thi...Ok - fine."
Courtney: "Great, glad we compromised." (walks away)

White. Her answer is always white. Or off-white, or cream. But, I was going to find a way to splash some color on these nightstands. Better to apologize than ask permission, right?

The answer? Add some bling to the drawer knobs. I removed the old hardware because it made the piece look dated. I bought the cheapest wooden knobs I could find at Lowe's and stained them to add a base color. You could even just stop there - and I almost did - because it added a great contrast to the cream chests.

So...the color pop. I used Rub 'n' Buff. Yeah, it's a product name, and you can find it at Michael's. It comes in a bunch of colors, mostly metallics (the one I used was Grecian Gold). If you're using the Rub 'n' Buff, unless you are distressing the knobs to have the base color show through (I didn't), you can probably skip the staining step.

As the name suggests, you just rub it on. Your finger works best, but it gets messy. You will need some sort of thinning agent like mineral spirits to get it off your hands unless you want to look like you just slapped David Bowie.

And, here's what they look like against the cream background of the chests.

You'll notice a bit of distressing and darkened areas in certain spots. That's because, once I painted the dresser, it looked a little too clean and bright. A top coat of umber glaze (Sherwin Williams will mix it for you) solved that. I just lightly painted it on with a brush then quickly wiped it off with a dry rag. Work in small areas though, cause the stuff dries fast.

Finally, I applied a single coat of water-based polyurethane in clear gloss to the entire piece, then 3 additional coats to the top for extra protection. Drink rings are a b*tch to deal with. This helps keep that from happening in the first place.


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