One of them was this old sideboard I bought on eBay. It nearly had me giving up painting furniture! A blog reader, Jessica, asked me to keep an eye out for a television cabinet for her. Sideboards are generally too high for this purpose but this one was very top heavy and had ugly legs that I thought could be chopped off to make it the right height for a tv to be mounted above.
I asked the guy on eBay lots of questions including do the doors open and shut okay? Yes, he said, it's all fine. Well off I went to pick it up and fell in love with their house. It was amazing: imagine stumbling across an old crumbling French two storey mansion in the middle of Burwood. I was positively drooling ...until I saw the cabinet. OMG. It was filthy and I could see it needed more work than he let on but I thought I was up for the challenge (and I'd already won the auction so was committed to buy anyway).
After a tour of the house, I got to work on prepping the sideboard for transport. I cleaned off a few spider webs and chopped the bottom H bracket off the legs so it would all fit in my car and brought it home. They laughed a bit nervously when I pulled out my electric saw and asked "You're not going to get offended if I chop up your sideboard, are you?"
Once I got home I sawed the ball bits of the legs off and kept them aside (I'll show you later what I did with them). Once the cabinet was level, I took the back of the cabinet off. It was just plywood and nailed on with little nails so it just levered off. And so I started cleaning..and cleaning...and cleaning.
I then sanded the top initially to get out a massive blue ink stain (where you can see the pale wood below after sanding) and then stripped the whole top back to bare wood. I used my orbital sander for this one. Best power tool ever.
Once the top was bare. I stained it with my favourite walnut stain and when that was dry I gave it three coats of wipe on poly, sanding between coats. After the final coat was dry I sanded with 1500 grit sand paper and gave the top a coat of dark wax and buffed it to a lovely sheen. Below is the top as it is finished. In other photos further below you can see the sheen. The oak grain is beautiful. I also stained the inside and waxed it to make it all nice and clean and new(ish) again.
Because the oak sideboard was very dark wood and I wanted full paint coverage (rather than the see through look you sometimes see on shabby chic furniture) I gave it three coats of Zinsser primer and 3 coats of white paint (Dulux's whisper white). I distressed it very gently after much discussion with my client. We both prefer furniture that is not heavily distressed but this old piece needed some distressing to keep in character and also to bring out the beautiful shape and carvings.
So you are probably wondering where the stress came from - all the above seems very straight forward doesn't it. Time consuming maybe but nothing stressful. Let me show you the little thing that did my head in.
The base of the cabinet had bowed (sunk in the middle) which pulled down the central panel that the middle doors hung off. This meant the doors DID NOT open and close properly at all. Thanks eBay guy. Although to be fair perhaps he doesn't know about cabinet making and he did sell it as a restoration project. At first I tried just tightening the screws on the hinges (this should always be your first step when fixing doors) but they still grazed the wood when opening. Without completely dismantling the cabinet and replacing the wooden base, I couldn't fix the bowed wood so instead I got out my portable belt sander and planed the doors and also rehung the central doors which meant they sat slightly high but swung well. This took me 4 and a half hours one day last week and I still didn't have it perfect and it was doing my head in and keeping me awake at night.
But then on Wednesday when I was at the Hunter Valley and I was telling my lovely friends how the cabinet was getting the better of me to the point I had woken up the night before and stayed awake for several hours thinking about the bowed base and how I couldn't get it "perfect" but Leanne and Jen were wonderful and supportive about my work, my furniture and the brand that I'm trying to create. Jen pulled me up and said "Fi, wait a sec, it's a very old vintage cabinet that your client's buying and it's never going to be perfect. That's not what you are about. You are about creating unique furniture and you will make it beautiful and she will love it." I just love how good friends know exactly what needs to be said to calm you down. Thanks Jen and Leanne xx
So I came home last night from our little holiday much happier, confident and calmer and today I finished painting the cabinets, I made shelves for the video and foxtel machines etc to slide in out of thick MDF and painted them and glued them in place with Liquid Nails, I distressed the cabinet and gave it a quick top coat of wax (Howards feed'n'wax). It was picked up this afternoon and Jessica who bought it loved it. Phew!
As a little extra for Jess, I also turned the round bit of the chopped off legs into candle holders. Jessica's husband is going to tap them so you can inset a long candle into the top. I painted one in Annie Sloan Chalk Paint French Linen with a lighter wash over the top and the other I whitewashed to bring out the oak grain.
I think they'll look beautiful on top of the tv cabinet once it's all set up in it's new home. I am actually very relieved how it all turned out and also that I have a few weeks off painting any more furniture. I won't start any more pieces until after the school holidays. It will be good to give my kids some undivided attention for the next week and a half.
I absolutely love painting furniture but find that it is a bit of a roller-coaster with my emotions and confidence at times. I wonder if it is like that with any creative endeavour. If you also paint furniture, do you find this? When it's all going well, I'm on a creative high but when I struggle with a piece or sales are slow it can really get to me.
I wish I was born with a more even keel...but hey where is the fun in that!