Category Archives: #Upcycling
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 two 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 seven 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 nine 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. At that time, I had decided 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.
My nearby nephew helped 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 transfererd it from the dolly to the two four-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 three coats of Polyacrylic 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 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 had the painter 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. Plus 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 to upcycle 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 located in 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. But hindsight, like this year, is 2020. So I recruited my nephews, rented a truck. and off we went amid ice and snow in March to pick up this badboy.
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, would look terribly cluttered, so I removed the mirrors. The wood underneath wasn’t great quality, but two coats of primer plus three coats of Fusion Champlain, and it was acceptable.
At this point, I bought a spray gun, and the painting sped up. It took two more trips to install it–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 one 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 assorted Fusion paint and accessories from Facebook Marketplace 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!
My First Success!
Allow me to say first off, that success is relative. I still need to learn a lot about paint and painting, but I’m delighted with my first “real” project: my little footstool.
I love thrifting—more than painting. It’s like really cheap shopping. When I needed to outfit my new kitchen from scratch last fall, between loyalty points, sales, discounts, gifts and thrifting, I probably did it for a couple of hundred bucks. The new stainless steel appliances came later, but even they were Black Friday deals.
But I digress. I arrived at the Newmarket Salvation Army one day in early January just as someone was donating a little stool. You know the one from the 80s that we all had. Came from Regal and fit the Toronto Star TV Magazineperfectly. It looked like this one, which is available today from Amazon for $77.29 Cdn dollars. The legs are slightly different, but it’s actually the identical faux tapestry.
The one I snagged had already been recovered once, but when I peeled back the fading cotton, there was the original faux tapestry, just as I remembered.
I took the whole thing apart, carefully saving the screws and hinges. I didn’t want to use the grey chalk paint I already had, so, after sanding and cleaning and priming (in white), I grabbed the can of Rustoleum outdoor paint. The instructions on the can said you could paint wood, so I did. Two or three coats. Note to readers: Rustoleum outdoor paint does not clean up with soap and water.
First I tried to paint the tapestry white using fabric spray paint purchased from Michaels. Two spray cans later, it looked as if I’d left it outside in a mild snow fall. Hmmf.
So I got out my trusty staple gun and recovered it in black and white striped fabric that I’d also grabbed at Salvation Army a while back. It’s not the same polished cotton curtain I’d be using later on the bench (spoiler alert), and indeed, I may take this little guy apart again and redo it with the better quality fabric—they’re both black and white stripes after all. But I thought the stretchy, T-shirt-y material would be easier to work with. Here’s s shot of the exciting new stripes draped with the thin cotton that had covered it when I bought it.
I struggled to get the screws back in, having covered the predrilled holes with fabric. But, after first doing it backwards, I finally got them in. They were tiny and the wood cheap and old—that’s what’s holding me back from re-doing it with the better fabric. I’m afraid the wood might not withstand yet another change.
But, I now own wood filler and a drill. So…
I love how it looks—glossy black (pay no attention to the drips and brush strokes), with the black and white fabric. I sprayed it repeatedly with Scotchguard, and later with anti-static spray, but the other thing that’s not great about the stretchy cotton is that dog hair sticks to it like Velcro.
Now… it sits by Command Central (that’s the chair where I can see both the TV and the bird feeder), proudly holding the now-too-big Toronto Star TV guide and the remote. (I wonder if remotes had even been invented when this wee footstool came off the assembly line.) And I couldn’t be more pleased.
Stay tuned for my next success—the front-door bench…
Post #2 in my new Upcycling Life
The first thing I did when I bought my new home in Aurora, Ontario and began to rebuild my life, was buy smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and a fire extinguisher. The second thing was shelves. Tons and tons of shelves. Despite having gone all KonMarie on my belongings, half of which went to my ex, I still filled a moving truck. One of the big suckers.
I’m so lucky to have a “discount for life” at Canadian Tire (although in some cases, Home Depot was better priced). I bought heavy-duty black plastic shelves, lots of chrome shelves on wheels, and was given some wooden Ikea shelves. And so, before I started to upcycle, I organized.
Give a gal a label maker and…
I had some stuff from my husband, a lot of dollar-store stuff, and some other stuff I’d bought from Canadian Tire and Home Depot.
And thus I began my upcycler life. I finished my first trial and error (mostly error) piece on January 13, a month ago today.
More about that in my next post…
It was 1968, I was in Grade 8 when an announcement came over Hodgson Junior High’s PA system: “There will be a special Industrial Arts after-school class for girls. Maximum 15 girls. Sign-up sheet on the door. First come, first served.”
Back then, girls were required to take Home Ec, while boys were shunted to Industrial Arts. No exceptions. Always the rebel, I was dying to learn how to fix stuff. My dad didn’t know how to change a light bulb and my mom used a hammer for everything. Needless to say my signature was the first on the list.
Imagine my shock when I wasn’t one of the 15 girls chosen. I headed for the VP’s office, demanding to know why not.
In a low voice, despite the door being closed, the VP informed me that there were… girls… who would need to know this kind of thing. They’d be… on their own. Probably raising families… on their own.” Our school sat squarely between a middle class neighbourhood and a rather dumpy “wrong side of the tracks” neighbourhood. (Which would later gentrify right out of my price range.)
“What about me?” I asked. “I need to know these things.”
“Oh, no.” He chuckled. “You’re from a good home. You’ll marry well.”
I’ll marry well. Huh. What do you even say to that?
And I did. I married a man who knew how to do it all–hang drywall, fix plumbing, rewire a lamp, and refinish furniture. But he wasn’t interested in teaching me any of it. He preferred to work alone and I knew better than to touch his tools. When we split up last year, he was scrupulously fair in dividing up the tools (but not the power tools), making sure I got my equal share… of things I didn’t know how to use.
So here I am. Five months later, totally enamoured of upcycling furniture–saving pieces from landfill and turning them into beauties. It’s all trial and error… more error than trial sometimes. I now own a drill and a power screwdriver. They were sold as a set–I don’t know which is which. No kidding. The instruction manuals? All assume that much basic knowledge. Me? I don’t know how to affix a drill bit. Or is it a screwdriver bit? But I’ll figure it out.
I’m perservering. I’m pleased with my results so far. Because with paint, if you screw up, you just do it over. Here’s a sampling of my work so far:
From this… to that. It’s all from gargage sales and thrift stores, even the lovely striped fabric was a $3.00 curtain from Salvation Army.
Stick with me for some entertaining adventures in upcycling. Because you know what? Girls do need tools!