Thursday, May 23, 2013

Hello, beautiful!

As I mentioned yesterday, before the Great Flea Debacle of 2013 I was working on a new furniture restoration project.  This one took me almost a week to complete, but it was worth every minute (not to mention all the sweat and sawdust).

I've been looking for a small desk or chest of drawers to put in our dining room for ages.  One corner in particular gets the best natural light in our house, so that's where I take all of my Etsy photos.  I've been using the sewing table that goes with my mom's old Singer as my photography surface, but I'd really like to sell that machine with the table since I no longer use it.  So, anytime I go to the thrift stores, I make sure to keep an eye out for a possible replacement.  On Mother's Day, I stopped by Goodwill to drop off several boxes full of stuff and made a quick trip inside just to browse a bit.  Well, happy Mother's Day to me, because I found the most perfect desk!  It was in desperate need of a spruce-up, but I snatched the tag right off and practically ran to the registers to buy her.  The best part?  The price.

Yep, you read that right.  They'd marked the desk for only $9.99.  I gave it a few quick shakes just to make sure it was sturdy, because at that price, if it wasn't crumbling into sawdust right there I was going to buy it!  When I got it home, though, I looked it over more carefully and could hardly believe my luck.  Not a single bit of particle board, no veneer, gorgeous original brass hardware...I could go on, but you get the idea.  This was a genuine antique desk in shockingly good condition, despite the bad paint job.

And look at the hardware!  It was all in really good shape, so I decided to use it just as it is.
I thought I could see some nicely grained wood peeking through the chipped paint on the desktop, so I decided to try stripping it back and refinishing the wood.  After reading a bunch of tutorials and reviews, I went with Citristrip as my stripping agent.  The traditional paint strippers stink like nobody's business, and the reviews of Citristrip made me hopeful that it would work well enough.

To start the stripping process, I painted on a relatively thick layer of the Citristrip and let it sit for a bit while I worked on sanding the drawer fronts.  I'm ludicrously impatient, so I only waited the bare minimum of 30 minutes before testing to see if any of the paint would come off.  This is what happened:

Are you kidding me?  I was prepared for hours of grueling, smelly work!  I was ready to have to crawl back inside after finishing and flop pitifully on the living room floor, looking for sympathy for my immense suffering.  No such luck.  The paint came right off with just one application of the Citristrip, and it hardly smelled at all.  I'd definitely recommend using this product in an open space (like a garage, which is what I did) just to reduce the fumes you're exposed to, but it's significantly less noxious than its traditional counterparts.  And man, does it work like a charm.  I'm pretty sure what I was stripping was just one layer of latex paint with no primer underneath, so I can't speak to how the Citristrip would do with say, several layers of oil-based paint with primer but I suspect it would still work well.  Oh, and Citristrip is definitely not paying me to say this.  I was just really pleased with their product!  (Actually, though, makers of Citristrip, I'd be happy to take any money you'd like to send my way.  I might even write you a little song if you ask nicely.)

After the absurdly easy task of stripping the paint from the top was complete, I used mineral spirits to remove all the residue before sanding the wood down.  Here's how it looked pre-sanding.

The wood was pretty smooth already, but there was quite a bit of discoloration and a few significant water stains.  The sanding actually took much more work than the stripping did, as a matter of fact.  I used my palm sander with several successive grit levels of sandpaper and got the top looking much better.

After a lot of sanding, there were still some spots on the wood that had a bit of discoloration.  I eventually decided to leave it as it is above, since as an antique, I want a bit of this piece's history to show through!  (i.e. not perfect is juuuuuust fine with me)  As usual, I went with my Minwax English Chestnut stain, since I seem entirely unable to move away from it.  I just wuv it so much!  Plus in this case, the little bit of red stain left from the previous finish combined gorgeously with the chestnut color to create a stunning finish.  After the stain dried, I applied 4 coats of furniture wax, and now she absolutely glows.  Just look at her new top!

I'm head-over-heels in love.  I adore all the little dings and variations in the stain.  I can just imagine all the people who have sat at this desk since it was first made.  I hope they all loved the simple beauty of its lines, and appreciated the craftsmanship it took to put it together.

For the body of the desk, I knew I wanted to do a painted finish.  I'm really drawn towards the cool, fresh look of gray painted furniture lately.  Gray is the perfect chameleon: it can blend into any color scheme or decorating style.  I have a good amount of AS Paris Gray on hand, so that's what I used for this desk.  I plan to paint our IKEA hutch with that color, too!  Good thing I love it. :) 

After two coats of the gray, I did just a tiny bit of distressing to keep the finish from looking too flat.  I'm so thrilled with every aspect of this project.  The top turned out fabulously well, and the paint job is perfect, too.

I didn't measure this piece when I was at Goodwill, but I was pretty sure it would fit into the small space where it was destined to sit.  After I'd taken all these pictures I dragged it over to its new home, and it fits like it was made for the space.  So. perfect.

From all the little details in the wood, to the beautiful original hardware, to the way the paint finish turned out, this desk turned out even better than I'd hoped.

From a much-abused $9.99 Goodwill cast-off, to a piece I'll treasure and use for years, I think this little lady is just as happy about this makeover as I am!


  1. It's a cutie. It's great how your loved it back to life!

  2. I saw your link on MMS. Beautiful job! I love how it turned out. Makes me want to run right over to the thrift store and see what I can find! :)

    1. Hi Nancy! Thrift stores have such incredible treasures, don't they? Glad you like my desk :)

  3. what a great find! all that work paid off... looks great. love the Paris Grey. visiting from MMS.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Mimi! I'm so glad you liked this makeover :)

  4. Beautiful! Thank you for taking the time to include your 'in progress' photos. I appreciate your tip to use mineral spirits to remove the residue...I didn't know that step. What a deal you got yourself, finding such an incredible piece of furniture that was just waiting for your amazing transformation. Well done!