November 10, 2010

Evolution of A Table and Chairs

I'm on a roll with all the before-and-afters, can you tell?  Here is a project that taught us both a lot.  We both learned to do things we'd never done before.  We'll start with the very first before.  Well - ok, not true.  The very first before would be a six-year-old picture of a big cross-section of a tree.  I don't have the real picture, but it was honestly not far from this:

It came from - you got it - a yard sale.  Only I think it was more like $10.  It was the same yard sale where Dustan found the aforementioned checkered mirror (and the Paul Revere teapot we've used ever since).

The cross section of the tree was laquered a really tacky honey-colored and shellacked like a million times.  Why would you spend good yard sale cash on something like that?  It looked like something that might hang in a hunting lodge donned with moose antlers.  Or something a hillbilly gift store would stick clock hands on and sell for $59.99 right beside the clocks made of out skillsaw blades that have been airbrushed with Bob Ross cabin scenes.  Is anyone following this?  It was bad.  It was reeeeal bad, and I couldn't see the value of it.  But I'm pretty sure I'm the one who came up with the idea to not only sand the junks out of it until the real wood returned, but to also cut it into a rectangle for a dining tabletop.  So Dustan did, and that's how we ate for the first years of marriage.  He built white legs onto it and I added some white chairs.  It looked like this:

Then when our friends Tee and Christoph moved, they sold everything at a....yeah.  And we scored three tall bar chairs for a total of $30.  (We are serious furniture magnets.  We have never gone to a furniture store and paid full price for anything).  Ever since we moved here, I've been determined to use these bar chairs.  I know they're not the most comfortable, or the most conducive to huge banquet dinners, but when will we ever have another chance in life to make a pub table our dining table? 

So I convinced Dust to build some sweet tall legs for what I now appreciate as a gorgeous, hefty piece of wood with a charming crack, a zillion rings and an old old story to tell.  Who even knows how old.  I mean, you can't buy that at Target!  That's really what I love about all this furniture stuff I've been posting lately.  Underneath the trendiness of paint color and graphics, these are really sturdy pieces that will be in our life forever.  Maybe one day they will have different colors or hardware or whatever, but they're not cheap pieces of crap that we can wear out in five years.  The mirror on that entry piece?  Weighs a freaking TON, and has sweet beveled edges and the original stamp with the name of the guy who made it on the back.  (I painted around it).  I love that!  But these pieces definitely aren't my great-grandfather's hand-carved mahogany china cabinet that's so revered no one will go near it with a paint brush, because that wouldn't really be us either. 

Sweet tall legs:

I was unspeakably impressed with these legs.  I don't really understand what went on to get them like that, but I know that Dust learned to use a tapered jig to accomplish that sweet slant.  And I know that when it was all said and done, this table did not look homemade.  At all.  It kind of looked like...woodworking.  The early stages.

I primed all the wood.  Yes, it's getting painted next.  I don't like white pine.  It looks naked to me.

I'm never sure if priming is necessary, but in this case I didn't have loads of extra paint, so I wanted to stretch it as far as I could and not let the bare wood soak up tons of precious pigment.  But it's such an exhausting, unrewarding step.  And I didn't learn about tinted primer until much later, which is definitely what I would have used in retrospect, and what I reeeeeally wish I had known about when I set out to paint black cabinets over white primer!

Anyway - I knew I wanted my chairs to be bold, vibrant colors, but I had to manage to make them "dirty" enough to not look like they were waiting for a room full of preschoolers.  I knew how to paint something black or white and distress it, letting natural wood show through on the edges, but I'd never done the opposite - painted something a color and then had the distressed part show through darker than the color.  I thought this was the solution:

On the green chair, I experimented by first painting every angle black, thinking that after I painted the entire chair green, I would distress it lightly and the black would show through.  That totally failed.  Instead, even the finest sandpaper took off paint right down to the primer.  If I kept going, it just went to the natural white pine wood and was also too light.

In the end, I figured out the trick.

1) paint your chair whatever color and distress it, like this:

I distressed it heartily (I just use rough grade sandpaper because it gives me more artistic control than a sander, even though it's probably slower and caused my palm to catch fire).

2) Use stain to make your piece come alive.  I used whatever was leftover from the desk project and an old tee shirt.  I'm sure there is stain out there that cleans up with soap and water, but mine was oil-based.  This means a few things.  One, be prepared to clean up your brush with mineral spirits or gas or paint thinner, not just soap - or it won't come clean and you will ruin your brush.  (I'm pretty loyal to my brushes.  They are good to me).  Two, be prepared that your fingernails will also be stained whether you have mineral spirits or not, and you will go to work looking like a mechanic.  And three - yes.  Even though I did this project months and months before I got pregnant, my unborn child is probably still breathing the fumes.

All that to say, the stain is what took my preschool colors and made them robust and jewel-toned, gave them dimension and a little grit.  Really, it made these colors sing.  I let a lot of stain soak into the raw corners and angles I had distressed bare, and it had this effect:

Ok, but wait - that's not all stain.  The last step is

3) dip your brush in black paint, shake it off really good until it's almost like dry-brush, and knock all the edges gently.  I also used this generously all over the chair.  I used it to make a sort of "butt print" in the seat of the chair, and to give the rest of the flat surfaces some character.  Fake, instant character. 

You could definitely go overboard on this kind of finish, but these chairs are all I have in my house like it.  For now.  :)

And I'm okay to stick with just this because IT TOOK FOREVER to do.  Pretty much all of it.  All of it took forever...


You wanna know what's my last step for the "dining room?"  Painting a version of this:

on that empty squash-colored canvas in the corner.

Now I'm beginning to know what it's like to update your blog regularly and have a life, too.  You go to bed when the house is dark and depressing.  You're still up, hunched over your laptop, while the dog and the man are tucked down cosy, and will wake up happier than you.

It's okay because this isn't regular for me.  I hate staring at a computer all day and then coming home to keep staring at it some more.  Besides, tonight I went with Linds and Nikki to a real salon and had my hair cut.  It was called The Vine.  Their logo is a girl with crazy hair sprouting from her head, and the place is overgrown in vines on the outside and painted green with cool art and lots of buzz on the inside.  We all three took the same picture and got radically different cuts.  It was a blast.  I don't look quite so Amish anymore.  She styled it with a curling iron and her fingers, and told me I looked "sultry."  Somehow that word doesn't quite fit with the massive belly/heavy saddled walk I've got going on.  But I'll take it.

I'm sultry AND I finally got around to posting about my beloved kitchen table and chairs!


  1. Thanks Bets, for sharing your furniture adventures. Every piece is a work of art. Don is never going to be able to move beyond the "big hunk of wood" that became a way cool table..... j

  2. Awesome distressing story-your dining set looks great! I made a shelf in college, painted the whole thing red, and then painted cream over top so I could distress it with sandpaper so that red would come kind of looked like crap. Also, I love Revere Ware and want a whole set of the copper-bottomed pots and pans, yep, just like my mom.

  3. wow. just.. wow. May I have your talent, please? This is truly my style. Come design my home!!

  4. Bets,

    Why have you not been on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens yet? You guys are so talented. I just love to see all your creations!! Congrats on your pregnancy!!! :)

  5. the red chair was so bright and must have been in the part of the color spectrum that just hurt my eyes.. but then it was very distressed and was easy to see..haha... I like how they turned out Ive seen it before but didn't know how they did that so cool...

    im an old friend of Dustan
    I recently got a hacked email from yall that when i saw the name was uber excited but then crushing disappointment when I read it. God works in all kinds of ways... it got me thinking about yall and wanting reconect to see how life was so here I am... talk to you laters


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