On to the final piece of furniture to make my home complete…a dresser for the master bedroom. I’m more than a little tired of living out of plastic tubs. Eleven months have passed since my big move to Aurora, Ontario, and I’m ready to be completely unpacked.
I bought this dresser 2 decades ago for $100 at a yard sale. It had been in a neighbour’s basement for years and smelled like it. A good scrub with Murphy’s Soap didn’t help much. But I used it for years, and eventually the musty smell dissipated. At the same time, my cats scratched the hell out of the top. Oh, no!
In 2010, for reasons, it was relegated to the shed, then in 2018, it moved, along with everything else I owned, to my new home in Aurora. The dresser ended up in my unfinished basement workshop. The musty odour resurfaced, and all the cat litter and coffee grounds in the world didn’t help! Yikes!
So I turn, of course, to Upcyclers Anonymous, the awesome Facebook group with all the answers. “Paint it with Kilz,” they advised. “But you have to paint every crevice.”
So I buy a quart of Kilz before Christmas and set it atop the dresser. But I wouldn’t start on it for 7 more months! I wanted to practice before I tackled the China Cabinet and the Vintage Dresser. So I began with a few small pieces, attempting bigger and more valuable pieces over the past 9 months.
Finally, in June, I’m ready to start on the dresser. First, I take out the drawers, remove the hardware and start to paint. I thought back then, I’d paint it grey. I’d read you can tint primer, and people achieve all sorts of paint colours by mixing, so I tried mixing dark grey chalk paint with the Kilz. It worked, but it was a lot more like peanut butter than paint. I asked on list and apparently what I’d done is mixed Things That Should Not Be Mixed. Oops. So I let it sit a couple more months.
In August, I finally had a plan. I’d dress my dresser in a tux. Why not? The colour scheme of my house is black and white and grey with “pops” of colour, so it should fit nicely. I removed the cupboard doors, along with the rest of the hardware. Now I’m using Kilz without trying to tint it. The drawers take a couple of coats to cover the grey folly. (By now you know the sanding and prepping is implied, right?)
I carefully pried off the decorative spirals on either side… OMG! They were affixed using SQUARE NAILS! It’s then I realized that the piece was really old and probably would have been valuable if some previous owner hadn’t hammered it together with big nails and huge screws, not to mention painting the entire thing dark brown. By then, I’d already begun painting it, so I had little choice but to carry on.
I got my nephew to help me lift the dresser sans drawers, doors and hardware out the basement walk-out and into the back garden. That’s where I sand, prep, and spray. There’s a white square in the grass to prove it.
One quart can of Kilz should do it, right? But back to Home Depot I go for can #2. Then again a half-hour later for can #3. Huh. But it got into every crevice.
Then I decided for the rest of the project (which would be Benjamin Moore Pearl White and Fusion Mineral Paint Coal Black), I wanted to move it to the front of the house. It had to go upstairs eventually, so that made sense. I wondered if I could move it by myself. It’s a big sucker, but I got out my industrial-strength dolly and heaved… I began rolling it up the hill. I worried that if I lost control, it would run me over, so instead of pushing, I pulled. I got partway up the damp lawn and… my boots slipped on the wet grass and down I went. But I didn’t let go and no damage was done to either the dresser or me. So I carried on, and eventually transfered it from the dolly to the 2 wheeled carts.
I finished painting the outside, got my neighbour to help me lift it into the house. Then it sat awkwardly in the front hall for a couple of days till both my nephews were available to haul it upstairs. They got shrimp and steak for their pains.
I put 3 coats of Polyacryllic on the top while I finished up the drawers and doors. I knew there’d be issues with the drawers sticking, and wouldn’t have painted it if I hadn’t had to, but after having some success rubbing both sides with a candle, I went to Canadian Tire and bought a silicone lubricant that didn’t seem to smell too badly. I would have used WD-40, but it stinks. (I once used it on a dress zipper and it smelled for-evah!) I haven’t used the lubricant yet; I will tomorrow morning to give it maximum time to air out before I have to sleep there again. I didn’t realize the uneven door knobs would be so noticeable. The cupboard doors had always been uneven, but when the whole thing was painted dark brown, it wasn’t quite so glaring. I’m going to have to address that at some point, but right now, I just love my tuxedo dresser. Don’t you?
My kitchen is small, originally with golden oak cabinets in one corner. When I first moved in, I got the painter to paint the lowers dark grey and the uppers lighter grey, both darker than the walls (all of which I know now I could have done myself). But… my kitchen looked junky and I knew I needed more storage space:
I looked at adding cabinets, shelves or other small kitchen alternatives. I hunted from Ikea to the ReStore. After finding Upcycler’s Anonymous, a Facebook group of 60k+ people from all over the world and seeing the gorgeous work they do, I decided on a china cabinet. I then watched Facebook marketplace for just the right one. Before long, a faux Mission Style cabinet popped up for $175.00 just the next town over. If I knew then what I know now, I would have waited, because china cabinets are often given away free; I’ve seen some nice ones, too. I recruited my nephews, rented a truck and off we went amid ice and snow in March to pick this badboy up.
Then it sat in my garage in two pieces, side-by-side, until July, completely blocking everything. “Why did it sit so long?” you ask. Sure you did. Because this newbie needed to be good enough at upcycling to tackle an important (to me) piece. So I practiced on some side tables and benches (see previous posts), and eventually decided I was ready.
I bought two wheeled hand carts, so I needed no help to wheel the pieces out of the garage and onto the driveway. I tackled the base first. I removed the drawers, doors, shelves and hardware. I sanded, prepped, painted the inside white with primer, and the outside with black Fusion Mineral Paint. I had the neighbour help me move it indoors, where I re-installed the drawers and doors and shelves. The best part was that the cupboard doors in the base were comprised of square “bars” over a back that just pulled out, having been held in with tiny staples.
By painting the backing white and the “bars” black, I achieved a perfect black and white striped look that goes perfectly with my decor.
I then painted to upper piece, first removing the glass sides and the back. The back was mirrored, which, once it was filled with contents, would just look so busy, so I removed the mirrors. The wood underneath wasn’t great quality, but 2 coats of primer plus 3 coats of Fusion Champlain, and it was acceptable.
At this point, I bought a spray gun, and the painting sped up. It took 2 more trips to get it together–one to lug the frame into the house, where I re-attached the back while it sat in the front hall, and then again lifting it onto the base. At that point, I re-attached the glass sides and the door hardware and lastly, installed the glass shelves.
It fit along the wall opposite the cabinets as if made for it, and as both the sides and the front cabinet doors are glass, it doesn’t block the light from the passthrough.
I couldn’t be more pleased. Now I have, as my mother used to say, “A place for everything and everything in its place.”
And of course, because I had googled “Black China Cabinets,” Facebook keeps sticking this in my feed:
$7,690, Facebook? Srsly? Have you met me? And that’s American $s, before taxes and shipping. I don’t happen to have a spare $10,000 on me. I like mine better. I figure, by the time I was done, I’d spent:
$175 Cdn, for the cabinet, no taxes
$100 truck rental,
$30 wine for nephews
$50 in paint (probably less because I’d bought a box of misc. Fusion paint and accessories from a women moving into a condo for $50 and it included both almost full jars of Coal Black and of Champlain.)
So, let’s call it $350. Versus $10,000. Anyone wondering why we upcycle?
Now, on to the final piece of furniture I need to complete my home. Bet you can’t wait to see what I do with an antique dresser!
The previous owner of my treehouse was kind enough to leave behind a single bed. It wasn’t great—an old mattress, box spring, and one of those metal frames on wheels. It was handy for the first few days I lived there before my furniture arrived, last October. (BTW, if you need a box spring and/or metal frame, speak now, because I’m putting it out for garbage on Thursday unless someone responds to my Freecycle notice.)
But its time had come. I decided I wanted a mate’s bed–you know, the ones with drawers underneath. I’d seen them on Wayfair for $250 to $350, and at the Mission Thrift Store for $70. But June is garage sale season, so what did I find the very first day of saling? A pine mate’s bed in perfect condition. It was set up on the lawn so I could see all the pieces were there, and the guys selling it even took it apart and loaded it into my car. Whoo hoo! Only $20.00!
I sanded off the shiny shellac-like finish and painted the entire thing black. I found that an edger was the best thing for all the flat surfaces. I didn’t paint the inside of the drawers because they were spotless.
I’m particularly proud of the fact that I added handles. I had purchased some of those nifty cup handles in brushed nickel at a Home Hardware that was closing. I used my trusty drill and screwdriver to add them. Only one is a little crooked. But remember my first post? The one where I didn’t know which was the drill and which was the power driver? I’ve come a long way, baby, haven’t I.
Here’s the end result.
The sheets are top quality, obtained from Salvation Army. The bedspread was low quality but great-looking from Giant Tiger purchased for $35.
The cow-dragon? was bought from a vendor who made them at MediaWest a dozen years ago.
And, oh, look! Here’s the hat girls which were one of the very first projects I undertook to make this house my home.
My ex is coming to stay next weekend to look after Stormy while I’m visiting friends. He’ll be the first to stay in my newly upcycled guest room.
Here’s Stormy, because why not?
My new house is full of funny angles–weird for a new-ish build, but it’s a feature I find quite charming. When I saw this weird old bookcase, I knew it would fit perfectly into a crevice in my livingroom.
I posted my garage sale finds on Facebook, and my niece in England commented: “I think it used to be a clock.” Doh! Of course it was. I’d never noticed a grandfather-type clock with shelves before, but having subsequently googled it, yes, indeedy. That explains why the top shelf is missing and the space behind the glass is empty.
Now what to do with it. You can’t tell from the picture, but the wood was exceedingly dry–it had turned a light grey colour with a lot of black that was probably dirt.
I decided not to paint it. Or at least, not all of it. I find many dark curio/display cabinents end up hiding your collectibles instead of showcasing them, so I removed the back, sanded and prepped it, and painted it light grey. The grey matched the wall colour where I intended to place it so it would look like there was no back.
Then I sanded the rest of it, leaving a lot of the black in the creases and corners. I drove to Redefined Finds in Stouffville and purchased some Fusion Hemp Oil. You just slam this stuff on with a brush or a rag and voila! It looked awesome.
It did, indeed, fit perfectly into the little corner I had in mind.
Here it is, dispalying my best tea-related possessions, plus a few other things.
You can see one of the office chairs I recovered, and the gong my father used to open each set before he performed at Lichee Gardens in Toronto. My mother, the original upcycler, re-purposed a bird cage stand to hang the gong from. The red leather magazine holder is, of course, also thrifted.
I love it! Don’t you?
I saw this little table at Salvation Army a couple of months ago. It was already black (my fave. Yay!), and had some cute styling to it. It weighed only a couple of pounds and fit in my shopping basket nicely. I think it was less than $10.00. It was, however, chipped and scratched, but I immediately thought about using it outdoors, so what did it matter?
I finally got around to sanding it and repainting it. Since it was going outside, I used Rustoelum outdoor paint. Then I covered it in a couple of coats of Polyacrilic. Now the best way to apply Polyacrilic in order to not leave brush strokes or bubbles, is to put on a latex glove, hold onto a piece of sponge, and pull a cotton sock over it. It is way easier to paint detail and rounded things. I’ll definitely be doing this when it comes time to paint my staircase.
As it would be outside, I suspended the table and dipped each foot in Polyacrylic.
Here’s the finished table:
But I worried. It was going outside. So I grabbed some clear peel and stick protective plastic and applied that. Yikes! Well, I wasn’t careful and it ended up full of air bubbles. When I tried to smooth them out, the plastic scratched. It looked awful.
But I had some puffy plastic shelf liner I liked, so I glued that down. I don’t love it, but I’m afraid it I remove it, it’ll tear off the protective plastic, the paint and the veneer, and I’ll have to start again. Which I just might.
But in the meantime, here’s the little table by my front door. I can put my stuff down on it while I hunt for my keys. A future project is to paint the front door red and the side windows black. But for now, this is quite handy.
EDITED TO ADD: I wasn’t at all happy with the way it turned out. When a friend on Facebook mentioned it looked a little like tile, I got a brainstorm. What if I just glued some leftover tile to the top?
The glue under the black and white shelf liner was still wet, so I just washed it off both the shelf liner and the table top.
I had a few tiles left over from doing the mudroom in my previous home. They were one of the last things I decided to haul from Toronto, but now I’m glad I did.
Much better, eh?
You may recall the little storage footstool that had been one of my first practice projects. Snagged at a thrift store for $4, I was so pleased with how it turned out.
Then disaster struck–the hinged unhinged. And I didn’t know what to do. It sat lonely and discarded while I worked on other projects. So sad.
But then… someone posted the same little footstool for sale on Facebook Marketplace. With pictures, one of which showed the proper placement of the hardware. You were right, @JoanLeacott. They go inside.
And so, armed with my fancy new cordless screwdriver… Wzzzt! Wzzzt! times 4 and it was good as new. Better, even, as it never looked this good.
A happy ending. The footstool and I will live happily ever after.
Back in the winter, I found an attractive wooden end table on the ‘net. I happened to be going into Toronto the next day, passing right by, so I arranged to pick it up. Massive snow fell that night. Picture me clambering over unploughed snowdrifts, hauling this table with me like I was scaling Everest. It’s pretty heavy. But I got it!
“Why are you giving it away?” I asked.
“The kids scratched the top,” she answered, and indeed, there were minor scratches to the finish.
This table is of recent make, and solid wood–no veneer or laminate in sight. It was factory-stained that reddish brown mahogany look. Might have come from Bombay Company.
I chose to work on this piece for a Painting 101 course.
The class was a lot of fun and the women who ran it knowledgable. They were as surprised as I was when, from a certain angle, the scratches showed right through 2 coats of navy blue F.A.T. chalk paint. Huh.
So I brought it home, sanded the top back to the wood, and re-painted just the top using Fusion Mineral Paint’s coal black and then giving it 3 coats of Polyacrylic on the top, and 3 coats of chalk paint protector on the body.
I don’t have any use for it at my house, so it’s going to be my first professional sale.
OPINIONS, PLEASE (no commitment):
What would you pay for a sturdy little end table like this?
Back in July of 2018, while my then-husband and I were getting the Toronto house ready to sell, I found these chairs on Kajiji. I posted this at the time:
I loved these chairs. I know they look a little “office-y,” but if I recover them…
I did a little poking online, and these chairs, for which I paid $10 per chair, retail today for $261.95 on sale. So the 10 chairs that cost me $100, would have cost, new, $2,619.50 + tax!!! And mine have a comfortable padded seat and wheels!
I suspect what happened is a company left in the night without paying their landlords, so the landlords, having no idea of the chairs’ value, just gave them to their employees. The office manager told me some people took a couple home, but nobody wanted the last 10. I hope they had a nice lunch for my $100. Me? I was thrilled with my chairs.
A few days later, I found a high-quality black and white striped curtain at a thrift store. It was priced at $8, but I had a $10-off coupon, so…
In preparation for recovering (how hard could that be?), I struggled with a screwdriver to remove 1 of the seats. The red fabric had been stapled right onto the heavy-duty plastic. Neither of my crafting staple guns could penetrate the plastic.
Fast forward 9 months. I’m now a brave new upcycler, and, having given tons of thought to how I was going to affix these, I started again. I removed a seat, now with an electric screwdriver. Zttt. Zttt. Times 8 and the screws practically jumped into my hands. Huh.
I tried sewing the new fabric over the old, having dug out an upholstery needle from among my mother’s sewing stuff. But alas, it wasn’t to be.
But wait… there’s a Rent-All place nearby. I popped in with one of the seats and the nice chap did have a professional level staple gun. We tried it and bang the staple was firmly seated. It would be $20 to rent the pneumatic stapler and $30 to rent a compressor. For. One. Day. Hmmm.
I go home and look up “staplers” on Canadian Tire. You’ll recall that as I retired from Canadian Tire’s head office, I have the staff discount of about 20% for life.
Sure enough, they had electric staplers. Staplers that plug in. No compressor needed. For $49.00. (Spoiler: Today, I saw they were on sale for $39.00, so I got my $10+tax refunded.)
Sure enough, it worked a treat. I cut up 10 squares of fabric (7 from the polished cotton and 3 from the stretch T-shirt material). Between the electric screwdriver and the electric stapler, I finished all 10 chairs in a matter of hours. (Spread over 2 days, TBH.) Some of the stripes go across, and some back-to-front. I love it!
Finished product looks much less office-y. Don’t you agree?
Remember my first upcycling post a few weeks ago, “Girls Don’t Need Tools.” Yeah, well. No wonder women often slook incompetent and give up. We don’t even know these tools exist, let alone how to use them. So if you need anything recovered, I’m your girl. And I won’t do it for you, I’ll teach you how.
I tend to think of upcycling as saving things from becoming landfill, upgrading their worth, making them whole and beautiful again, but it’s also upgrading things not destined for landfill.
Hence this post in which I show you how to upgrade your builder-grade mirrors.
Here’s the before picture. As you can see, I’ve already added an over-the-john cabinet purchased on sale at Canadian Tire, and a clock I snagged on Facebook Marketplace for $5. The walls are the lovely mist grey that I’ve used throughout the house, and the light fixtures are from Lowes–on sale of course.
At some point, when I get braver, I’ll probably paint the countertop (the vanity is already painted–so long golden oak), then replace the sink and the faucet. But it’s not a priority, so…
I googled “framing mirrors” and the internet did not disappoint. I decided to follow a particular instructional post I found most helpful. I couldn’t find locally the exact contractor adhesive they’d used, so I ordered it from Amazon. According to the manufacturer’s website, the great thing about it is that it’s “insta-grab” but you can move your piece around for an hour… Or at least that what it claimed.
I visited several stores, including the ReStore and Home Depot, but Lowes had the best trim for framing. I found a sales associate who had done her own mirrors, so we carefully chose 7 pieces that were as straight as possible… mostly. I’d need 4 for the upstairs mirror and 2 for the power room, with an extra just in case. The wood was pre-primed, which was handy–no sanding, prepping or priming required.
I procrastinated on starting because I hadn’t used my miter saw for angled cuts before, but family-friend Hugh had shown me how to make straight cuts and I had an owner’s manual so… I began.
Turned out the dimensions of the mirrors were exactly that of the wood: the mirror was 4 feet by 3 feet and the board was 7 feet. Perfect… except it wasn’t.
Here’s a picture of the wood after I’d carefully measured, cut to size, and painted.
If there were newbie mistakes to be made, I made ’em. Turns out one of the boards wasn’t quite straight, that the insta-grab adhesive didn’t instantly grab, that the mitre saw shifted a bit when the release tab was re-set and that the boards weren’t exactly 7 feet.
But I persevered. I’ll know all this for the next time, although I later decided I preferred my great-grandmother’s gilded mirror for the downstairs powder room and returned 5 pieces of unused wood. Lowes is great about returns. But my niece wants me to do her bathroom mirror too, so I’ll keep you posted.
Here’s a shot of the work-in-progress. The couple in the instructional article said they just used painter’s tape to hold the pieces in place while they dried. Well, painter’s tape is not my friend. It didn’t hold (and this is the expensive Frog Tape everyone raves about on Upcyclers Anonymous). So I ended up putting up first the bottom piece. The bottom of the mirror stuck out about a 1/2 inch from the wall so I used office fold-back clips to hold it in place. Once it had dried overnight, it would support the 2 side pieces, then they’d support the top piece. Hmmm. Turns out one of the side pieces wasn’t straight. If I pushed the top against the wall, the bottom popped out. If I pushed the bottom… I ended up piling 2 heavy file boxes on the counter and using a lip balm to wedge between the wall and the top of the frame to hold it in place. Guess I bought clamps for nothing. o.0
Here’s the finished product. It looks much better than before. You can barely notice that a little bit of the mirror peeking out the top left corner. And hey, for once I used another color than black.
Thanks for reading. Next up… solar lighting. Or possibly, my new patio doors. Stay tuned to find out.
Never before in my life have I ever waffled on something at a thrift store, then come back for it a week later only to find… it was still there. Huh. I should have figured that the other local upcyclers (with whom I’m hoping to connect at some point), had bypassed it because it was just too much work.
But I tossed it in my shopping cart, presented my discount-with-donation card and left the Salvation Army with my proud find. For $8.00.
I posted this picture to Facebook, where my 200 closest friends could admire it. The consensus was it hailed from the 1950s. Some previous upcycler had glued maps on it. I liked the maps, but they were ruined–torn, spilled nail polish… So I began to strip it off. Well… now I know why it was hadn’t been snatched up before I got there the second time.
I tried various chemicals, starting with the least harsh and working up to serious stuff that required goggles, a mask (they said respirator), and thick work gloves. (See my new profile picture.) In between, I tried ironing it with parchment paper between the iron and the glue, as someone on Upcyclers Anonymous suggested. Now that was an interesting learning about parchment paper and glue. So much more than just baking. More on that another day.
So I stripped and I scraped, a long, slow process taking weeks.
Under the maps, I found more paint. Under that layer, I found someone had handpainted bright orange aster blooms on it. Under that was the white paint you can see in the shots, which was probably lead-based and now I’m going to die. But not before I finish this blog post. I stopped stripping when I reached the white paint and just painted over it.
The legs were wobbly and there was no way to get at any nails or screws, so I built up little supports where the legs met the lower drawer using very old wood filler that I’d gotten custody of in the divorce. It worked, but it’s less than lovely. Afterward, I bought new wood filler that wasn’t 10 years past its expiry date.
The inside of the drawers still had the original flocking which I wanted to keep, so I washed it with dish soap, let it dry and discovered in doing so, I’d caused one of the drawers to bow outwards, meaning it would no longer fit in its slot. So I re-wet it, affixed a large clamp in the middle, tightened and let dry. Voila! A little bar soap (will rub the sides with an unscented candle next time), and the drawers slid seamlessly home.
Next, I painted the drawer fronts white and the body black. Sadly, I had accidentally damaged some of the veneer when scraping, making noticeable dings and dents.
The great thing about paint is that you can repaint! So the top became black and the drawer fronts gold. I used a cheap gold paint from the dollar store, so it looks a little orangey, but still.
Then I tried a stencil. I liked it, although it ran a bit.
I wanted to save the antique drawer pulls for another project, so dove into my for-donation bin and retrieved the knobs from my re-painted kitchen cabinets. (Goodbye, golden oak). I got my friend Hugh to show me how to use my new drill*. (*See my first upcycler post “Girls Don’t Need Tools.”) And it worked! First I used red nail polish over the golden oak “button,” didn’t like it so repainted them with black nail polish.
Everything got a coat of polyacrylic to protect the paint.
And the finished product now sits in by my front door where the light is dim enough to mask the imperfections. And I love it!