06 Jun

Small Desk, Big Color

painted desk

I’m convinced that if I could get my office pulled together the rest of my house would, once and for all, stay clean. Now, it isn’t dirty in a half-eaten-plate-of-food-sitting-on-the-counter sort of way but every horizontal surface in the main living area is obscured by a pile of crap that should go in my office.

The problem has always been finding the right desk.

I thought I had done so a few months ago after responding to a local online ad. But when I went to pick the desk up, I remembered why measurements are important and photo cropping is a bad idea.

small wooden desk

Can you tell just how small this desk is? That’s a kindergarten chair off to the right (which I’ve been known to use while painting). Not only was the desk smaller than I had anticipated, the drawers didn’t fit so into the project pile it went and my search continued.

When my neighbor asked if I had a kid’s desk in stock I knew it was the perfect size for her 6-year-old son.

prime desk

So it got the typical sanded top and primed base treatment before being painted with a semi-gloss blue paint.

painted desk

That I absolutely hated. I really should have known better. Semi-gloss paint is very unforgiving and I have a tendency to over-brush. It wasn’t so bad on the chair and drawer fronts after toning them down with a bit of glaze, but the desk side panels excited my ulcers. I whined about it on Facebook a couple of times before engaging the paint stripper and a razor blade. Good times I tell ya.

Once it was back to bare wood, I mixed up some flat blue paint with Paint Minerals and repainted the desk base.

painted desk

After two coats I was back in business. But then I decided to make some last-minute design changes.

It’s a good thing I’ve already done a few pieces for this neighbor – she wasn’t surprised that I tacked on a few more hours (after telling her the desk was done) because of a great idea I’d had. It’s always nice when clients trust your instincts and work with your insanity creativity.

painted desk

I decided that I wasn’t a fan of the decorative trim pieces under the drawers so I removed them and had to do some touch-up.

drawer hardware

The wooden corner accents, originally under the seat front on the chair, were relocated to a more prominent location and I flipped the drawer pulls around after staining the ‘grips’ to match the desktop.

painted desk

I figured a kid was more likely to use a finger-over approach to open the drawers anyhow. Plus, it looked better this way. Some slight distressing accentuated the glazed drawer fronts and the stained seat pulled it all together.

painted desk

But my favorite part might have been the pull-out secretary return.

painted desk

painted desk

…or knowing that little boy has the perfect spot for all of his crap.

painted desk

Someday I’ll know what that feels like.

painted desk

19 May

A Tale of Trash in Two Cities

close up carving detail

Lately, the weather in southeastern Wisconsin has been all over the board. For those of you who live in an area that doesn’t see much change in temps from spring to summer and fall to winter come hang out with me – you’ll probably experience all four seasons in one day.

This past Friday I managed to get a sunburn while it snowed 15 miles south. A couple of days before that I was sweating bullets in the garage while tornado sirens blared. About two weeks ago I had to skip my weekly curb surf rounds due to early morning sleet and hail.

Although it certainly didn’t feel like it, the next day the kid and I headed down to visit my folks for Spring Break. It’s about a 3-hour drive to a small town of 1500 people. The last time we went for a visit I spent most of the time bringing a vintage wardrobe back to life so this time I planned on visiting family and friends.

Funny thing about plans though…

About half an hour after we’d settled in my little brother popped over and made mention of the town’s curbside pickup scheduled for the following morning. I perked up – wait, what? My mom insisted nothing would be set out until the designated 6:00 pm start time yet as I cruised up and down side streets at 2:00 pm I immediately came across these three vintage wooden chairs. One was stamped ‘Grace Bible Church’ along the back and all had years-worth of dust and cobwebs.

vintage church chairs

I’m pretty sure I lapped that small town ten times in the course of 2 hours and while most of the stuff was trash, I was fortunate to find a really cool old rocking chair.

antique rocking chair

The guy at the antique place uptown estimated it being from the late 1800’s (however I’m guessing the shitty paint job is Circa 2010). If you look closely you can see the floral stencil along the back top rail.

large hinged box

Probably not an antique yet pretty cool in its own right was this large, hinged wooden box just hanging out on a dirty mattress. That’s duct tape and a nickel glued to the top.

old wooden table

I’m not sure if this is a dainty side table or a stool for a very, very lightweight person. The top is slightly curved so I doubt anything could be set on it without being off kilter but I can’t imagine it would be sturdy enough to allow anyone to sit on it. It would make for a perfect feline perch though.

I had come across a really nice coffee table that didn’t need much work but passed it up thinking someone might really need it. Sure enough, when Mom sent me back out for it, it was already gone. Apparently I wasn’t the only one out treasure hunting.

While we were out of town, the handyman I had install plumbing and electrical in the basement shop dropped off a Lane table he thought I might be able to do something with.

Lane side table

And a couple of days later I scooped up a chest (along with a random drawer) the neighbors set out on the curb.

short dresser

At the same time I noticed a large cardboard box taped up and laying on the ground. Four days later the trashmen had come and gone yet the cardboard box was still on the curb. I had no idea what was inside but I tossed it into the back of the SUV and took it home.

Imagine my surprise when I opened up the box to find this…

vintage full size mirror

close up carving detail

By the way, all the paint in the mirror’s reflection? Yep, nearly full and left on the curb after someone’s rummage sale.

I guess the weather isn’t the only thing fickle ’round these parts.

18 Mar

Room to Grow

how to paint furniture

I’ve mentioned my good friend, Carole, right? During one of our weekly brunch fests she told me she was looking for a new plant table and that it should be wide enough for the plants to not touch. She figured I might eventually come across something that would work and asked me to keep my eyes open.

Not long after that conversation, I found this particle board princess hanging out on the curb. The top was pretty banged up. One of the feet was missing and it didn’t have a proper drawer pull.

roadside rescue

But I liked the twisted legs and figured it was long enough to allow Carole’s plants to keep their distance. So, I mixed up some chocolate and cream mineral paint then layered those on to create a textured finish, dry brushing the final coat. I didn’t bother to cover up any of the gouges, nicks or water spots.

wax table top

Instead, I used dark wax to accentuate the blemishes and add some much needed character. Mass produced furniture pieces serve their purpose but there’s no reason they shouldn’t be unique and attractive at the same time.

wax sheen

Originally, these feet were meant to sit under the legs above the lower shelf. But they worked just as well underneath. At 5’1″ I’m taller than Carole, so I it was fine to lose a bit of the overall height by slightly modifying the configuration.

plant stand feet

And it’s totally fine that I neglected to sweep the floor before taking that shot. You probably didn’t even notice until I pointed it out – since you were no doubt admiring the gorgeous finish on that shelf.

table top paint detail

Speaking of, what do you think of the two-tone look where the original oak color is peeking through the chocolate brown paint? The dark wax over dark paint shined up nicely and made for one sharp piece of furniture.

painted plant stand

At least that’s what Carole said when I set it in front of her sliding glass door.

How to paint a table

Where her plants now have plenty of room to grow.

18 Nov

Custom Built Fireplace

DIY fireplace

Welcome back! Where were we? Oh yeah, I had just debugged a secondhand fireplace my girlfriend, Bridgette, wanted refreshed to accent her living room. She scored a sweet deal on what she thought was a faux fireplace. Turns out, it was a very real fireplace that someone had removed from their home. While it was without the gas component fittings, it came complete with frame, mantle, shelf and firebox.

And I ruined it on the way from her house to mine.


broken brick fireplace {read Part 1 of this Fireplace Renovation}

Once I felt safe to move the pieces into the garage, it got a bath of TSP and hot water and then a coat of primer. While most of the time I’m a huge fan of using mineral paint, I had to be sure that if this were ever used as a functional fireplace again, the paint and sealant could take the heat. I also wanted to make sure that any residue from the previous owner’s ‘pets’ didn’t make its way through the finish so back to traditional measures I went.

primed fireplace surround

It took forever to cover that dark wood with white latex paint but I knew it would be worth the work. While the paint dried I took to sanding the mantle shelf. I was hoping that the deep, dark grain rings would disappear so I could lay an even coat of honey oak stain down to match her existing wood floor. It didn’t take too long to realize I was working with some temperamental veneer and those rings weren’t going anywhere.

tiger grain wood

Bridgette and I agreed that orange, Tony the Tiger stripes weren’t the look we were going for and once again, she gave me the thumbs up to do as I pleased. I’m pretty sure at this point she was regretting putting any money into this project at all.

A long time ago, I picked up some miscellaneous pieces of beadboard on a ReStore trip.

measure beadboard

I figured I would have just enough to build the mantle and reface the surround if I didn’t screw anything up. The only dilemma I could see was hiding the lip that would protrude along the front of the fireplace surround.

Even if I flipped the boards around I’d still have to hide the indentation so that wasn’t an option. {Beadboard fits together in a tongue-and-groove fashion and when installed vertically as a wall treatment any edges are obscured with trim. Trim wouldn’t solve my problem in this application.}

I also didn’t want to rip any of the boards down and lose a consistent board width.

So, I had one option.

…bite the bullet and learn how to use my table saw. It’d been sitting in the garage since Christmas. When Sonne was here over the summer she put it to use on the floating corner shelves I designed but I was still freaking petrified of the damn thing. I should have taken her up on lessons then but chose to operate the video camera instead. Leave it to me to decide the first project I’d attempt on my own would be ripping off less than a 1/4″ from varying lengths of board. (sigh) When will I learn?

As it turned out it wasn’t as difficult as I feared. I didn’t get my hair or necklace or fingers caught in the blade as I’d imagined and the boards came out perfectly straight. With my new-found confidence, I even maneuvered some fancy cuts on the boards for the surround since they were about 2″ shy of perfection. With everything cut, I slapped on some stain and left the pieces to dry and built up additional support for the new mantle. Then I took a step back and wanted to cry.

fireplace collage

See what’s going on in that last photo? Remember how I said this was a real fireplace at one point? Well, the gap between the trim surround and the rest of the base is where the hearth would typically lay. Only, there was no hearth with this fireplace because while I was attempting to make it appear ‘built-in’, it wasn’t. I didn’t think Bridgette would want to install brick over her wood floor and that gap was hideous. It was time to get creative.

Actually, it was time to go to bed. At 3:00 am I was beyond exhausted. This quick painting project had turned into a nightmare and I was *this* close to waving the white flag. But I had one more trick up my sleeve.

With a flashlight in hand, I stuck my head under the front of the firebox to see what my options were. From that vantage point I saw that the only thing standing between me and project completion was a 1″ lip of metal. And that lip was only on three sides. So, I hopped up, moved the surround away from the box and flipped that baby over. SCORE!

rebuild a fireplace

Since Bridgette wasn’t planning to connect a gas line the location of the hose hole was unimportant. The box sat flush on the ground and the lip actually provided additional support for the fireplace surround. The best part was that I didn’t have to figure out a way to add another dimension to this project and could go to bed.

The following day, I marked off and cut down the sides of the frame then installed the mantle shelf, crown and trim. The firebox got a complete sanding and was sprayed with high heat primer and paint. And then it all got put back together. Rustoleum High Heat Spray

I took a victory lap around the garage before calling this project complete!

DIY fireplace painted fireplace

Here it is at Bridgette’s house. Aside from the awesome window above, you’d never know this had lived somewhere else. I’m hoping she takes my suggestion to add an electric log set with heater this winter. I think it would be gorgeous and she’d keep her family toasty warm!

Custom Rebuilt Fireplace



08 Nov

Working the Bugs Out

custom fireplace

The cool thing about starting your own business is that you never know where your next project will come from. The bad thing about starting your own business is that you never know where your next project will come from.

I’ve been fortunate. Friends have quickly taken a liking to my DIY skills and have been very supportive in filling up my ‘To Do’ list. For the most part, I’ve been able to crank out a painted table or refinished bookcase in just the way they were hoping it would turn out. So when my girlfriend from church asked if I could repaint a faux fireplace she had just scored, I was more than willing to jump in with a hearty “Yes!”

And then this happened.

broken brick fireplace

The mantle tore off as her husband and I wedged the fireplace into my SUV. In less than 3 miles across town the bricks broke free and the mortar crumbled away. The “big ugly metal box” was the only thing holding everything together and when Dave and I got it out of the car and on to the driveway it occurred to me that my friend was a tad mistaken. This wasn’t at all a fake fireplace. No, it was indeed a very real fireplace that needed a whole lot more than just a quick paint job.

So, I did what any good friend and competent DIY’er would do – I took the entire thing apart.

dismantled fireplace

And I’m glad I did because during my dissection I discovered quite a few creepy crawlies had taken up residence between the wood’s cracks and crevices. After careful scrutiny and a sense of formication, I grabbed my camera and snapped some shots of the little buggers. I did my best to keep the girly screams at bay but I swear each time I focused in, the wind picked up and brought the little bastards to life and I flailed and hopped around like a loon. Fortunately, I managed not to drop the camera and got a few shots for you to squirm at as well. {You’re welcome}

roach in wood

Ew. Ick. Yuck. Blech.

roach poop

You’ll notice quite a bit of ‘activity’ along the areas where the mantle met the fireplace base. Back when I used to schlep Tupperware we learned that the majority of bugs feast on common household glues so it made sense to me that this area would be dotted with roach poop. {It didn’t, however, make it any easier to touch.} But it wasn’t until I consulted Mr. Google that I realized there is actually a wood cockroach. Apparently, they look and behave differently than the Oriental variety but I didn’t get close enough to identify which kind was hanging out on my project piece.


No, I just quickly vacuumed that sucker down and tossed it far out in to the yard to sit…for 2 days. Hey, I grew up in the ‘hood and have had some experience with bugs; I wasn’t taking any chances. {Please notice that my garage door is securely closed.}

After a long, hot shower I gave my girlfriend a call to tell her the bad news. We agreed that the project was going to be a tad larger in scale than originally planned and she trusted that I would make the best of it. She gave me complete design libery and I took to Pinterest for inspiration. Only, I didn’t find anything. Seriously, there were no pictures or blog posts of anyone rebuilding an actual fireplace. Sure there were plenty of folks who had repainted the bricks of their fireplace or switched out mantles. I even came across a couple of innovative homeowners who installed wood surrounds and bricked their drywall to insinuate a fireplace existed where one clearly didn’t but nothing I searched resulted in a project similar to the one I’d taken on – accidentally.

And that got me all kinds of excited.


I spent the next couple days measuring and digging through my wood pile. Using a couple of the original pieces mixed with things I’d picked up but had no real idea how I’d use them, I concocted a game plan. The overall goal was to make this fireplace look like it had always been in my friend’s home.

Read Part 2: Finished Custom Fireplace


21 Oct

Plain Jane Gets Pretty in Pink

Wardrobe details

When I left you last I had just wrapped up the first day of work on a vintage wardrobe my mom had picked up at a local auction. The sides were badly warped and the entire lower half had water damage, mold and mildew.

See how the maple veneer buckled from sitting in water? Along the bottom front the finish had completely washed away leaving behind a green tinge of mold. Pretty huh?

Water Damaged Wood

I repaired and replaced all of the damaged wood before loading up my brush and putting on a few coats of cream mineral paint. The following morning at 7:00 am, I rolled off the couch and headed back out to the porch. In the early morning sun it was easy to see why my right arm was killing me. No, I hadn’t slept on it wrong rather I had forgotten to pack a paint roller and wound up hand brushing the side panels – twice.

Brush marks

Can’t you tell? I had a feeling it would wind up streaky once I sanded the sides down with steel wool. Since the nearest hardware store was 30 miles away, I planned to finish up the rest of the piece and stop in at the local shop the following Monday morning. Until then, I finished sanding down the rest of the piece and washed it with a stain.

Stain over Paint

Since I was going to let the kid play hooky, I enlisted him to snap a few shots of me hard at work. I also bribed my little brother to bring over his IPod dock. I couldn’t take another day of the local station full of static. It was chilly but the sunshine made working outside easier. Every time my dad popped out on to the porch for a smoke I had to resist the urge to shoo him away. My guys know that my work space is a ‘spectator free’ zone but I couldn’t tell my dad to bug off. Besides, it was fun to watch him watch me work. He never said as much but I don’t think he is a fan of painted wood. I could tell by the way he furrowed his brow when he thought I wasn’t looking.

Now, I have been revamping furniture for over a year but this was the first time either of my parents bore witness to my new line of work. What has become old hat to me seemed to have them in awe. My mom commented how cool it was that I knew what I was doing. You know, even as a 36-year-old woman it’s still great to hear your mother say she’s proud of you.

What I didn’t want to hear her say though was “…it looks cracked.” I guess my mom is as much of a fan of the distressed look as I am. But with this piece, I really wanted to pay homage to the years it spent storing unmentionables and looking back at whoever stood before her working on their face and hair preparing for each day. As I explained to my mom, had I just slapped a few coats of paint over Jane’s ‘wrinkles’ she would have looked a cakey, trashy mess.

Wardrobe details

Instead, I added dark wax to the areas that would accentuate the wardrobe’s years of experience and brightened up the drawer fronts. After rolling the darker green paint along the top and down the sides, I stenciled a cream border to add a youthful touch of whimsy.

After three long days of work Jane didn’t look so plain any more.

Painted Wardrobe

After a final coat of clear wax, my dad and I hauled her back to the bathroom against those powder pink walls where she looked like she belonged all along.

Mom's Linen Closet

12 Oct

The Customer (and Mama) Is Always Right

I’m hanging out on my folk’s couch after a 12-hour session with my mom’s $1.00 auction score whom I have affectionately named Jane.

Oh, I’m writing this post via smartphone so cut me some slack. It’s too dark to work anymore tonight and I’m too scurvy to head up to the bar. So, instead I blog.

You’re welcome.

Anyhow, it’s been almost a year since I made the 2-hour+ trek west. When my mom finally agreed to let me paint something wooden I packed up my tools & paintbrushes and headed out.

water damage

What I didn’t know, though, was that her wardrobe had previously lived in a soggy basement. I didn’t realize this little town had such an extensive builder’s supply either. Pairing the two, I managed to replace the moldy, rotted maple sheets with new wood.

water damage

water damage

water damage

The sweet guy at FS even cut them for me. I spent the afternoon reinforcing joints, gluing down wayward veneer and prepping the existing wood for paint.

water damage

Then, I painted. For hours. I skipped lunch {and got yelled at} and was late for dinner. How do you explain to your mom that you just can’t stop mid-stroke because gas-station-made pizza arrives?

…by eating it cold & liking it apparently. You know why my kid likes to come here? “Because you’re the only one who is allowed to yell at my mom” he tells his grandmother. Nice.

So, like a good girl I’m camped out on the couch, watching the 10:00 news and waiting for morning to get back to work on Jane.

water damage

I kinda feel like I’m grounded. I’m just not sure which part is my punishment. [The finished piece can be found here.]