Monday, August 27, 2012

A Place to Rest Your Tootsies

You know those projects where everything comes together easily and the pieces fall into place quickly and the stars seem to align? This project is not one of those. The bench and I fought. Bitterly. Our battle lasted longer than most middle school relationships. I learned several ways not to finish a bench. Oh and I should warn you, because this process took so many days, weeks even, the pictures are a hodge podge of iphone photos, camera photos and photos from a friend. Consider yourself warned. Also, this post is a monster. Consider yourself double warned. Let me start from the beginning.

During the first week of August, my friend and I went to a Goodwill event downtown. They were hosting this pop up sale to boost their visibility in downtown D.C. I had been searching for a bench/shelf unit for fiance's entryway. Some place where he can plop down his wallet and stick his shoes in/under. This little shelf caught my eye and in one of those impulse moments, decided it would be fun to refinish. I carried it home on the metro, getting several interesting looks along the way. And so it sat in our hall for a few weeks until I "finished my work project and got to use the bench as a reward". Well the work project didn't get finished, but I got impatient and decided to give it a go.

I planned ahead by ordering a yard of grey and white chevron fabric on etsy and some foam for the seat. I had the brilliant idea (if I do say so myself) of ordering a foam mattress cover from Walmart. The craft foam at Joann's is crazy expensive and Walmart ships for free to local Fedex stores, so a twin mattress-sized piece of foam cost me $20! How awesome is that! Not only was it cheap, but I have tons left over for future projects. Fiance- contain your excitement!

Well once I got those pieces, I got excited and wanted to make sure the bench came apart easily. So it sat in this state for at least a week.

Finally the weekend came around when I was going to finish the bench. Or so I thought. My friend came over to help and we decided to try sanding first. I had my heart set on a removing the paint and restoring the wood finish on the legs. Well the paint was really thick. So we quickly abandoned sanding and went to the store to get a paint stripper.

On the way back from the store, we saw the funniest thing ever. Yes, this person is holding a tree in their convertible. Hilarious.

We applied one coat and returned about 30 minutes later. No dice. So we applied another coat and went to upholster the seat. I'll get to that in a minute. Later that afternoon I tried scraping down the paint and had some success. I figured a quick sand would remove the rest. So the next day I got ready to sand and quickly realized the paint wasn't coming off. And it was raining. Boo. I thought maybe a power hand sander would be the magical instrument.

So I got a power sander at the hardware store and closed myself in my bathroom (see rain above, plus the need for a power outlet). Result? Failure. The sander wasn't working on the slope of the legs and was taking off too much wood and not enough paint. Frustration!!!!!

The next day I applied a third coat of stripper. This time I really applied it liberally. Which I should have done the first two times. Like REALLY liberally. Clumps. Oozing down the side. I finally had a good amount of success, although with hindsight should have applied even more.

By the way, the instructions on the stripping agent are hilarious. Literally, whoever wrote those either completely lacks a sense of humor, or is possibly the funniest person ever.

Then we were out of town for two days (which I'll talk about later this week). When we got back, I returned to sanding. First rough, then fine. And FINALLY I was ready to seal. First, I wiped down the entire bench with a wet rag and let dry.

Then, using a paint brush, I applied a thin coat of a clear poly seal. I let dry for about two hours and applied another thin coat. I let the whole thing dry and then reattached the top.

So the top. Thank goodness for my friend. She's done lots of upholstering and really helped me. We laid out the foam and the top and cut around the outside. Winston helped of course. And terrorized Amanda's feet. Obviously.

Then, using a staple gun, we attached one long side and then the other. After the first long side we made sure the chevron stripes were straight, and re-checked after the second side. Then we did the short sides.

Then the corners. We stapled as close to the corner as we could, then using a twisty motion, pulled the corners tight. It's sort of hard to explain, but it's the same principle as wrapping a package.

Ta-da! Isn't it pretty? Winston tested it out for comfort immediately. Luckily, now that it's complete, he's left it alone.

I should mention that using an exacto knife we cut out tiny squares in the fabric on the bottom for the screw holes. Once the sealer dried, I reattached the top. And it's all done!

I haven't decided exactly where it will go. Here is option one: Centered in between the mirror and the hooks.

Here is option two: centered under the mirror. From this angle it actually looks like it's too far to the right, but that's just because I didn't want to capture a shot of me in my pajama glory in the mirror. I've also considered putting it on a separate wall under some art, but for now Winston's litter is there. We'll see how it goes.

Conclusion: the bench is a little low for this space or the mirror is hung too high. But for now, I love it. Second, I have much to learn about furniture. But this process was a great learning experience. I did end up buying lots of stuff- tools, equipment, materials, etc. However, I have faith they will all be used again and thus are not a waste. I have a really great fiance. He never once made fun of me for my struggles along the way or questioned my process. He encouraged me and let me take over the bathroom for sanding and staining. He ignored the disaster zone that was the hallway for weeks. And now he likes my final product :). Most importantly, I LOVE my bench. I'm so excited it turned out the way it did. I think I'll have it for years to come and I'm so pleased I did it myself, rather than buying something!


  1. Ahmazing! It may not have gone to plan but it certainly turned out better than I could have ever planned! Nice work!

    1. If it had gone to plan we wouldn't have seen the people with the tree in the car! And I wouldn't have learned how to strip paint or use a power sander! So all in all, I think it was a win! :)

  2. When I first picked up our industrious blogger from the metro and saw that she was clinging for dear life to a slightly run-down bench that was practically as tall as she is, let's just say that I was a bit concerned. But, trusting in her determination, her skill and her determination (did I say that already?) I watched idly as she labored at length to restore that needy bench. Actually, if we're being honest, I mostly tried to stay out of her way, going so far as to spend a Saturday at a cigar bar drinking with a buddy of mine (the horror!).

    But, now that the bench is done, I am a huge fan. I've been dragged to enough furniture stores to know how expensive something like this would be if you bought it new, and I'm extremely proud of our motivated (stubborn?) blogger for having done such a great job.

    1. Thanks sweetie :)...although I'm sensing a theme. Do you think I'm stubborn?


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