June 6, 2009

New Life - Repurposing Old (IKEA!) Furniture

One of the first projects that arose from my new creative spring was to solve a practical problem.

My condo in Chicago is on the 3rd floor with a landing on the 2nd floor. I love having this second floor area because it gives a little rest stop on the way up the stairs and a place to take off my shoes. (Being Asian, I don't wear shoes inside the house.) However, for 3 years, this created a crazy mess of shoes on my landing, and there was nowhere to sit. Disaster.

So, I decided to clean up my act. I stored my shoes in a separate location upstairs. Great! Check!

Now, all I had to do was find a bench that would fit the landing area. You've all gone furniture shopping, right? I browsed a LOT of different online stores, and they were all too big, not the right color, or just downright expensive.

Then I discovered that the solution was right in front of me. I had an old chest from IKEA that I used as my first coffee table right after college that was sitting unused in my office. It turned out to be the perfect size to fit in that area. It didn't really match the area since it's just a plain IKEA maple-colored finish, and honestly, I found it pretty ugly, but it certainly was more appealing than paying $300 for a new bench that still didn't really match.

Then, I thought that maybe since I wasn't paying squat for the item itself, I could just repaint it to suit my color scheme. I happened to have the paints from when I moved in three years ago (a Tiffany blue door with white walls), so I figured I could get my local paint provider to mix some new paint in order to refinish the furniture. But I still had to choose a design.

I combed websites for ideas, but everything I came upon seemed too complicated for a first-time furniture painter (Martha Stewart) or just not quite right for that area (floral stencils). But as I was looking through an old Martha Stewart Living that boasted 75 "Pretty and Practical Decorating Ideas," I came across this image from a woman's home in NYC.

I loved the pattern in what appears to be some sort of fireplace grate replacement. So I decided to replicate that design on my bench.

First, I went and bought the paint. Two quarts of Benjamin Moore Satin Impervo Alkyd Low Lustre Enamel set me back $50. (The guy at the store told me that oil-based was the only way to go for high-traffic areas.) I bought some 3M masking tape knowing that masking off the grid would be easiest way to recreate the look. They had two types of tape - normal blue painter's tape and painter's tape for delicate surfaces. Despite the fact that it was only available in the 1" width (I had wanted 0.75" for a smaller, more delicate grid), I went with the delicate surfaces tape since it was less likely to pucker and allow paint to seep under it.

Next, a prototype of the pattern. If you look closely at the image, the block pattern is a square that repeats. I created a half-scale version of the pattern in order to make sure I could recreate it and so the measurements would be easier when I masked the actual furniture. Each square would be 13" wide, which allowed for 3 repeats of the pattern on the top of the bench, and 2 plus a little extra on the front.

Finally, I started working with the actual furniture. I lightly sanded the furniture to give the paint something to stick to. This was messy - I recommend doing this outside or in a garage or somewhere that's very easy to clean. The dust was really fine and looked kind of like baby powder.

I painted the chest with three coats of paint. I didn't use any primer, which is probably why it took three coats to cover the wood color. For anyone who doesn't paint a lot, a quart goes a REALLY long way, so there was plenty to spare. I didn't sand between coats, which didn't seem to make a difference. I used cheap brushes and didn't clean them with thinner or mineral spirits between coats. That was probably a mistake. Every time I started a new coat, the old, dried paint from the brush would flake off in tiny pieces and screwed up the smooth surface of the paint. Oops. There were two important lessons in here for me:
  1. Don't start with the side that is most visible.
  2. Things will never be perfect when you do them the first time. Especially if you're impatient. But usually, it turns out okay anyway.
Next, I masked off the pattern onto the bench. This was harder than it looked. I screwed it up a few times because I calculated the number of inches incorrectly when I put three of the squares together. It only took one coat of the blue because the white served as a nice base. Plus, I daubed it on pretty thickly. The "don't start with the visible side" lesson also applies here. I forgot to really push down on the tape to seal it the first time.

8 hours later, I peeled off the masking tape to reveal the painted pattern.

Lastly, I used a tiny 8 ounce can of Minwax clear gloss polyurethane to protect the paint job since it's in a high-traffic area. Plus, since a bunch of stuff I own has metal in it, I think this will help with any of those stupid gray marks that always seem to appear when metal and paint come within half an inch of each other. I applied two coats. Now it's super shiny.

Here's the final result in its new home:

So, maybe the size wasn't perfect. It's a little deeper than I anticipated, meaning that my front door won't open all the way. (Good thing that the carpet prevents it from doing that anyway.) It also makes for a pretty narrow area to get up the stairs - you are forced to use the skinny inner part of the spiral staircase. (Good thing there's a banister right there.) But now I have a place to sit and even a little shoe storage space right at my front door.

Stuff used for this project:
  • Old IKEA chest/coffee table
  • Sandpaper
  • 1 quart Benjamin Moore Satin Impervo Alkyd Low Lustre Enamel paint for the base color
  • 1 quart Benjamin Moore Satin Impervo Alkyd Low Lustre Enamel paint for the highlight color (use less if you can - some brands sell sample sizes of paint)
  • 3 paint brushes (or fewer if you're willing to clean them off)
  • Masking Tape
  • Something to protect your floors/walls when you're painting (newspapers, paper grocery bags, whatever)
  • Ruler (for the details)
  • Tape measure (for the big picture)
  • Pencil (for marking off distances on the paint - it erases off)
  • Minwax semi-gloss polyurethane (8 oz)

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