Balloon, rain, and cute offspring

I love this picture of my son Virginia kindly posted on her fabulous blog, Great Moments in Parenting. On a rainy summer morning after his dental appointment, we stopped into the local grocery store where he insisted on bringing his balloon and looking at the colored water display in the store’s cafe.

Please forgive the long silence. I took a break from furniture for awhile and got to play my violin a lot more this year. I’m almost finished with a chair I found in someone’s driveway trash and will find the time and energy to post about that. After that, a new bed for my boy and some personal things behind that.

Til then readers, *mwah*.


How many clowns – I mean computers – can you fit on a desk? A lot, if it’s this one.

I know it’s been for-ev-ah since I posted last – various health problems, freelance gigs, and just ordinary life wouldn’t stop happening. But we all got healthy and summer slowed down, and the constant mess around my “work area” had been under my skin long enough.

"Work area", before

Lord, help me.

There were a few factors contributing to the mess. One was that as long as we’ve had this house, we’ve been denying that we are nerds. We don’t have a TV and are obsessed with our computers. My son watches his shows on whichever computer is not being used, though obviously we limit how much and what he watches. It is a crisis when a computer breaks and we have to share computers around here. We had been fighting this room ever since moving in 5 years ago and not structuring it to fit our needs. We’d simply been in denial that this room has functioned as a work area, as obviously there are 2 computers in here and a desk, and sort of passive-aggressively struggling to make it into another living area separate from work. Why, we don’t really know; we have 2 living areas in our home, so it’s not like we really needed this to be a living area.

The majority of our time at home is spent in this room, on our computers. We carry on deep conversations here in this room, on our computers; before we had our son and started eating at the dining table like normal people, we did what you’re not supposed to do and ate on the couch in front of a computer. Our other living area has become my son’s play room and general relax area, and I prefer that room over the pictured room; for one thing, it’s not a hot mess. Another, it has windows and faces our street, so it has a lot of natural lighting.

The room in this post has very little natural light. It has a sliding back door that leads to the patio and it opens to the “breakfast area” (I put that in quotes because I think it’s a stupid concept, at least for our house. It’s not like we eat our other meals in another room. That was before Mr. Kid came along). Anyway, the eating area does have a window. But our patio has a beautiful, ginormous oak tree right next to it that blocks a lot of light. Unless you’re sitting at a computer, in which case the sun sends death rays right into your eyes. Even then, that room is still very dark, and in either case, you’re blind, whether from the sun burning your eyes out or you’re at the other end of the room where there’s no light.

Another factor was that desk. That particle board, teeny tiny desk I bought in 2002 from Target. I think it was the first piece of real furniture I bought with my own money. As I had graduated from college the year before and had been working as a freelance classical musician for less than a year, cash was a precious commodity, and I didn’t have a lot to spend on furniture. It was part of some crappy modular fake wood system that Target hasn’t carried in years, and for whatever reason, I had to have that desk. Seriously, my list of adjectives describes all the reasons not to buy this desk. But whatever. On top of it being small, I had nowhere to put stuff, so it all just went into an abyss on top.

Work area before - CUTU

Once again, shame motivates me like nothing else.

Then on top of all that, my husband didn’t have a workspace out here because there was no room for one. He had a sort-of office in the back of the house, but didn’t really like being isolated. His laptop was on the coffee table with wires leaking from every orifice (on the laptop) in seemingly every direction. I really felt like I was drowning in cables every time I walked through this room. It was like the Blob had taken on a new incarnation as technology in this room and was eating up space.

If I sound like I’m complaining, I guess I kind of am, but also acknowledge that this was a FWP. After all, we have multiple computers in this room alone and more elsewhere in the house (I wish we did not have a computer cemetery because we pay a lot in electricity, but that’s not up to me). But it is hard to be efficient when I can’t find anything and feel stressed just walking through this room.

Again, time to stop complaining and time to start doing. Ana White to the rescue again.

I had long had my eyes set on Ana White’s Eco Office plan. It was just a matter of convincing Husband that he did, too. This particular room is about average, maybe 10′ x 12′, with a hearth/fireplace cutting a little into the dimensions. In discussing a plan for this room, we agreed that the current configuration was not working because we were fighting its true function, which had become a work space. So why not just make it a nice work space. He requested I create, on paper, a reduced scale outline of our room, complete with the proposed work area and current furniture. I think he did that to see how motivated I was, because I am famously lazy.

Because I am married to an engineer who would otherwise never agree to anything without a hard-coded plan, and I was highly motivated to stop wanting to grit my teeth every time I entered this room, I actually did it. I took a large sheet of construction paper out of my son’s giant drawing pad, measured the room and all the existing furniture, and actually cut out reduced-scale drawings of my furniture. They were more like rectangular blobs because I have the crafting skills of a turnip, but they were accurate. Unfortunately, I tossed them out in glee once I completed the work space (“Pics or it didn’t happen”, I know). He was uniformly impressed that I actually did that during my kid’s nap. So like a 2-dimensional, all-white doll house, we moved furniture around and discussed where to put our work area, came to a plan, and moved forward.

Several months ago, I had the good fortune of reading a post from a friend on Facebook who just happened to have a garage filled with lumber that he wanted to get rid of. I jumped on it, and he happened to have a full sheet of 3/4″ plywood in red oak.¬†Red oak!! So he gave it to me and it sat in my garage ever since then and I had been wondering what to do with it. I mean, I felt like it would be a waste to paint over a sheet of red oak ply. So when we decided to build the Ana White desk, this seemed perfect for it.

Ok, so why this desk – it’s 8′ long. It’s huge. It’s meant for 2 people. It had plenty of storage. I could build it with drawers or without, and with adjustable shelves. This plan just called to me when I first saw it. And the sheet of oak I already had would cut down on my expenses since this plan in its entirety called for 3 sheets of plywood. I even had the finish I wanted in my head – white bases with a dark stained top – and my husband more or less gave me carte blanche to do what I wanted with it as long as his requests for his half was worked in.

Pictures of the journey:

Clamping the base to the open shelf base via Coffee Under The Umbrella

Clamping the base to the file base with oops paint.

Open shelf base and large bookshelf via Coffee Under The Umbrella

Post-production, pre-finished open shelf base and large bookshelf

The Open-Shelf Base plan, pictured above on the left, is meant to stand without drawers, and I had originally planned to use that one for my side because I hate building drawers. Husband had asked me to build him the Office File Base (pictured below)so he could have a file drawer, so I did using these drawer slides from Woodcraft, which were actually pretty easy to install.

Completed drawers on the Ana White desk before finishing, Coffee Under the Umbrella

We have drawers!

The problem arose when I looked at these smoothly-running drawers and became madly envious. But I already built the open shelf base and I couldn’t use the Woodcraft slides because the shelves were in the way, so I constructed what were more or less boxes with a drawer front for the top 2 compartments. As this post is already a verbal vomit, I’ll spare you the details of how I tried multiple times to install a wood slide for those boxes and failed because I suck at installing drawers. So they just sit inside the open shelf base and work fine.

Spacers for the tabletop via Coffee Under The Umbrella

Spacers and chalklines

(So yes, I realize one side is kind of wavy. I don’t have a table saw, so I had to have my husband help hold this sheet steady while I ripped it down with a circular saw. i am really not that bad with a circular saw, I promise. I use the Kreg Rip-Cut tool and again, I won’t bore you/embarrass myself with details, but suffice to say that my advice is to always make sure it is securely attached to the saw before using. Otherwise the above happens.)

Red oak-colored Famowood putty via Coffee Under The Umbrella

Red oak-colored Famowood putty

The red oak ply was in pretty good shape with a few dings, so I went off to Woodcraft to find something appropriate to fill them with. I was planning on staining it espresso, so I needed something that would match the original wood. One of the guys there recommended Famowood putty in red oak and I was initially sceptical, but it was $5 and I needed putty anyway. It looked like chocolate when first put on, but when dried and sanded, actually blended in really well.

I didn’t want to use edge banding for the table top trim, so I bought some 1x2s in red oak, mitered the corners, and nailed it on. It’s also stronger that way.

Almost finished desk via Coffee Under The Umbrella

Pre-papered and pre-stained

I used General Finishes water-based stain in espresso, which I had on-hand already, and GF water-based polycrylic to finish. Paint was Valspar’s paint+primer line in Antique White from the oops bin. Drawer handles are from Lowes. I bought them a couple of years ago when they were having a blow-out clearance sale on drawer and cabinet hardware. I bought over $100 worth of hardware for about $30. These were originally in a garish The-80s-Called brassy finish and I spray painted them with a Rustoleum iron color. I covered the insides with contact paper. I also used Band-It iron-on edge banding.

Finished open shelf base with after-thought-of drawers via Coffee Under The Umbrella

Finished open shelf base with after-thought-of drawers

For the Large Bookshelf middle unit (below), I used the Kreg Shelf Pin jig to install 2 adjustable shelves. Then when we actually moved it in the room, husband saw it and requested a slide-out tray for one of his old monitors instead and a grommet hole for the cable. So I somewhat grudgingly dragged out the drill and appropriate bit, and later on, the vacuum. But I admit we’re not good enough planners to anticipate every single one of our needs.

Grommet hole via Coffee Under The Umbrella

When you can’t plan ahead of time.

Slide-out monitor tray via Coffee Under The Umbrella

Slide-out monitor tray

Pop-up monitor pull-out tray, via Coffee Under The Umbrella


But I have to admit, I think it’s pretty creative and out of the way.

Ana White's completed Eco Office desk via Coffee Under the Umbrella

The new work space corner

Tabletop stained with General Finishes' water-based stain in Espresso via Coffee Under The Umbrella.

Tabletop stained with General Finishes’ water-based stain in Espresso.

The inside of drawer now, organized with Ikea's Kvissle line via Coffee Under the Umbrella

The inside of my drawer/box now, organized with Ikea’s Kvissle line.

Instead of having a bunch of crap on top, I got these boxes from Ikea for the inside of the drawer.

Ana White's completed Eco Office desk via Coffee Under the Umbrella

How many computers can possibly fit on one desk?

Some things to keep in mind if you take this on:

It’s a bit of a tight squeeze between each base unit and the large middle unit. My desk chair (not on their website any more but from Ikea) won’t fit under the tabletop. The sliding keyboard tray on the left has a mouse platform you can attach, but there wasn’t enough room for it. Given that Ana’s plans are structured to give you the most bang for your buck, I don’t think there’s much you can do about that. Maybe if you used 10′ planks for the top, but if you’re a hack carpenter like me, that may not be practical if you need to use this as a writing surface.

I’m not a fan of edge banding, but I have neither the tools nor skills to make my own frames. Wish I did. I think it looks kind of chintzy and is annoying to work with, but I guess it doesn’t look that bad once you paint it. Making your own out of solid wood pieces is, as I understand, more permanent and adds a lot of strength. It was easy to add solid wood to the table top with a nail gun. I used Band-It from Lowes and it was fine, but I didn’t like the trimmer that they sell with it. I had better luck with a box cutter (and super-sharp blade).

Plan grommet holes accordingly.

That’s all I can think of. I used pine for the bases and beech for the drawer faces on the right, red oak ply for the table top. Now that Hub’s laptop is on top and the wires are hidden, I no longer want to cringe when I enter this room. I just think, “How many clowns will fit in a car…” when I see all the monitors. We also had 3 track lights installed in here at the same time that we redid the space, so it’s a little hotter in here than it used to be. But it’s a lot lighter and I can find stuff. We both love this space now. There is much truth to the belief that a cluttered space is far more stressful than necessary.

Next up – shoe cabinet. Til then, hug your kids and drink coffee.

Linked at The DIY Showoff’s That DIY Party, The Shabby Creek Cottage, Creations by Kara, and at All Things Pretty!

Almond milk chocolate PUDDING!!!

Who doesn’t love chocolate pudding. Especially when it’s fresh off the stove and takes minimally more effort than instant with 5 ingredients you can actually pronounce? I have a weakness for sugar. I am completely unable to relate to people who dislike chocolate. I am also inherently lazy, which is why I’ll never be a food blogger.

But I also like real food and have very few cans outside of tomatoes in my pantry (there is that laziness thing again). And while I am recovering from a minor medical procedure this week, I’m not going to be hauling any lumber around for awhile. Standing in front of the stove to satisfy a critical 9:30pm chocolate craving will do. This can easily be vegan depending on the brand of chocolate you choose, though not paleo because of the corn starch, and takes about 20 minutes to make if you don’t mind hot-off-the-stove pudding.

Stovetop Non-dairy Chocolate Pudding

Adapted from Mark Bittman’s Stovetop Pudding recipe

4 to 6 servings

2 1/2 c almond milk

1/2 – 2/3 c sugar, depending on how sweet you like your desserts. I used 1/2 c of organic evaporated cane juice.

Pinch salt

3 T cornstarch

1t vanilla extract. Or if it’s not too weird to you, try a few drops of peppermint extract, which I did.

1. Combine 2 c of the milk, sugar, and salt in a saucepan and stir. Put over medium-low heat until the mixture just begins to steam. This took me about 5 minutes.

2. Combine the cornstarch and remaining 1/2 c of milk in a bowl or measuring cup and whisk until there are no lumps. Add the cornstarch-milk mix to the pan and raise the heat a little. Cook and stir occasionally until the pudding thickens and just begins to boil, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to very low and stir constantly. The pudding should “plop” but certainly not burn. It should thicken noticeably and stick to the pan. This will take 3-5 minutes. Stir in whatever extract you are using. If you want vanilla pudding, stop and continue to Step 3. If you want chocolate, continue to Step 4.

3. Pour it into a large bowl or 4-6 small ramekins or glasses. Cover with plastic if you don’t like skin or leave uncovered if you do. Refrigerate.

4. For chocolate, stir 4 ounces of chopped semisweet chocolate into the pudding until it melts (though I am too lazy to wait that long – I left mine slightly chunky, which I like). I used 8T of semisweet chocolate chips because that was what I had. Follow Step 3.

For some reason, this tastes infinitely better cold to me than hot, so if you don’t like it when it’s hot, then wait until it’s cold.

Coffee Under the Umbrella non-dairy chocolate pudding

Mmm, 9:30p chocolate craving!

Trainwreck to cute DIY spice storage tutorial.

Coffee Under the Umbrella DIY spice rack, after

After. I want to leave the door open just so I can stare at it.

Coffee Under the Umbrella DIY spice rack, disaster before

Before. Nothing motivates like a little public shaming.

That’s right, world. You get to see what my spice cabinet looked like in its train wrecked glory!

Oh, the 1970s. How did residents organize their stuff in their small number of cavernous storage spaces. Oh, they probably didn’t have as much stuff as we do today. Ah, materialism.

So, as I was waiting for that $5k to fall out of the sky for our kitchen remodel, I continued to be on the lookout for storage gadgets that would fit in our cabinets and budget. And of course, if one criteria was satisfied, the other was not. I began to seriously consider building this one and just modifying it. Then noticed it was for a pantry rather than a small cabinet, and a one piece in-the-door rack wouldn’t be practical for this cabinet because the shelves would prevent the door from closing.

I was lackadaisically intending to just design one myself to build, then I saw this. Problem solved. Here’s what I did. The measurements I include are for my cabinet, so you’ll have to adjust. I’m really sorry that I neglected to take pictures of the process, but it’s not complicated and I think it will make more sense if you look at the picture of the rack. If you want to try this and have trouble visualizing, get in touch with me.

Supplies for 3 little 12″ racks:

1 8′ 1×4

1 4′ 3/8″ dowel

12 1 1/4″ pocket hole screws/12 2″ wood screws

12 1 1/4″ wood screws

2 wood screws to hang the rack (I used 1″ screws)

Enough 1/4″ plywood for 3 3 3/4″x12″ pieces

3/8″ drill bit

Miter saw, carpenters square, tape measure, wood glue, carpenters level

Cut list:

3 12″ 1x4s (bottoms)

6 3″ 1x4s (sides)

3 12″ dowels

3 3 3/4″x12″ plywood pieces (back)


1. Cut your pieces.

2. Drill 2 pocket holes, set for 3/4″ stock, in each of the 6 3″ 1x4s. Drill them in the side that is 3 1/2″ (a 1×4 is actually 3/4″ x 3 1/2″). If you don’t have a Kreg jig, I would drill 2 pilot holes through the bottom of the 12″ pieces where the sides will attach.

3. Drill the holes for the dowel. You will need to figure how high from the floor of the rack you want the dowel and how far in front. This will largely depend on the size of your spice jars. I designed mine so that the top of the dowel hit exactly 2 1/8″ from the bottom (pocket holes are at the bottom) because of the way the clamps on my jars were positioned and the front of the dowel was at about 3″ from the back, maybe a little more. I found this point, traced the hole, and drilled. I drove the bit up and down after the hole was drilled to make actually driving the dowel through the hole easier.

4. Fasten the sides to the ends of the bottom 12″ piece with glue and screws.

5. Fasten the 1/4″ plywood backs. I drilled 4 pilot holes – 1 through each of the side pieces and 2 to fasten to the bottom piece (through the side grain). Use glue. Use screws, not nails, for strength.

6. Bang or twist the dowel through the holes.

7. Get out the level, mark on the inside of the cabinet door where you want your rack to hang, drill your pilot holes, then fasten to the inside of the door. My cabinet door was 3/4″ thick.

DIY spice rack after measurements

Here are the measurements corresponding with steps.

DIY spice rack

I love my spice rack.

I found these cute little jars at World Market for $1 a piece. If anyone has ideas for cute, non-permanent labels, I’ll take them.

Refinishing An Antique Schooldesk

2 months ago, a symphony colleague of mine got in touch with me to ask if I would be able to help her out with an antique, real-deal school chair that had been in her family for awhile. “I have a desk from the one-room school house that my great great grandmother taught in out in Nebraska. The legs are rusted and the wood needs to be stained perhaps and refinished. My grandmother stored this piece of furniture out in a shed and did not take care of it. I want to put it in my new house, but it needs a little bit of work.”

antique schooldesk tabletop

A neglected antique schooldesk top

Antique school desk, before refinishing

Why is her garage so much cleaner than mine?

Complete with metal legs, seat that swung open and closed, and inkwell, this desk is the real deal!

I know there are ways to restore some finishes with products like Restor-A-Finish and Rub and Buff…but this really didn’t look all that salvageable to me. Plus I really didn’t feel like taking a product on its maiden voyage with someone else’s furniture.

So…I decided to start from scratch. Strip it naked and put some new clothes on it. My colleague wanted it to look as close to the original finish as possible, so no paint would be involved, outside of repainting the metal.

Staining scares me. It has always intimidated me because there is far less room for slop than there is with paint. Plus with antiques, you just don’t know what will be lurking beneath the surface, especially if it has been thrown in a shed for a few generations.

So I set out on the alien task of taking this thing apart. I spotted some screws underneath where the metal contacts the wood and removed them.

antique school desk underneath

What lies beneath?

antique school desk underneath, screws holding in place

I thought this would be easy after removing that screw at the top that you can’t see. If you look closely, you will see that there are metal knobs inserted into grooves.

I didn’t really know what to expect. I guess I was sort of looking at this with a modern furniture perspective and was half expecting the metal bar to just slide out. So of course, nothing happened. The seat didn’t budge.

I googled around and found that the metal pieces had a line of knobs that were inserted into grooves into the wood. The grooves are long and contain holes spaced apart every few inches. In order to keep the desk together, the knobs insert into the holes and then have to slide in between the holes. The screws keep the wood parts from sliding once they’re in. In order to take it apart, the wood parts need to slide back over to where the metal knobs are aligned with the holes, then they just slip off. I realize that probably makes no sense, but it does once you see it.

I sort of half-heartedly wiggled the metal pieces; I hemmed and hawed. I am not an engineer, so I was terrified of breaking something. I knew I had to pull the metal out of the wood, I just didn’t know how to do it. So I broke down. I asked my husband, the handy engineering, problem-solving-with-a-vengeance computer nerd, to help me.

So you know that antiquated saying that says women need a man to do things? Forget that. Just get an engineer. Hubs flipped the thing over, eyed it from several angles, and figured it out. We got out a rubber mallet and a piece of scrap 2×4 and went to town banging away on the edge of the seat (well, he initially went to town, then after I saw that nothing broke, I finished the job) to move it over so that the knobs would line up with the holes. The 2×4 acted as a shield between the mallet and the seat. I initially started with some 3/4″ plywood as the shield, but I was too afraid to bang away. Once I banged the seat about an inch over, the metal knobs were aligned with the holes and I was able to wiggle the wood parts off.

These people knew how to make furniture to last. Even after successfully getting the seat off, I could probably have danced on the tabletop. This thing didn’t even wiggle, even without a seat.

Here’s a gallery of all the parts involved in just that little seat!

antique school desk underneath, swivel seat

A cute guy figuring out the swivel hardware

antique school desk underneath, swivel seat hinge

Closeup of the metal swivel hinge joint

antique school desk underneath, swivel seat hinge hardware

Hinge hardware

antique school desk underneath, swivel seat without hardware

After hinge hardware was removed

antique school desk underneath, swivel seat


antique school desk underneath, swivel seat hinge hardware

We got you, sucka! And the mallet that hit my fingers a few times.

So I finished taking the whole thing apart after about 2 nights.

antique school desk taken apart

The desk! And my toe.

So because You Are Not Supposed To Strip An Antique With A Power Sander And You MUST Strip It By Hand…I initially planned to – insert spotlights and microphone – sand it by hand. I really, really dislike chemicals – I have mineral spirits, thinner, and even bleach only for the rarest of cases. I really didn’t want to go the Klean Strip route, plus I really didn’t know how I felt about applying something so highly toxic to an antique. I have had good experiences with Citri-Strip on paint, but stain typically doesn’t even budge.

So I started scrubbing away on the underside of the tabletop with 60-grit sandpaper. After half an hour, uncovering about 1/4th of the surface area, and feeling like I had just lifted some serious weights, I decided to pay my favorite nearby mom-and-pop hardware store a visit.

Talking to Tracy, the owner, is always enlightening. Big box store employees typically answer any questions I have by reading the label of the product in question out loud to me. I especially love it when the lumber employees tell me either that a 1x piece of lumber is actually less than 1″ in depth. Or that yes, a 1x is supposed to be 5/8″ in depth. It’s just awesome. Anyway, Tracy is a “real” carpenter and about 99% of the time has the right answers and/or products, fresh popcorn for my kid, and fresh vegetables from his garden in the summers.

I showed him the desk and explained the project and that sanding by hand was getting pretty old and giving me biceps. I told him I knew that You Are Not Supposed To Use A Power Sander and asked what he would do. He sort of sniffed and muttered something about extremists. “I always used Klean-Strip. I never had luck with Citri-Strip, so I don’t sell it,” he told me. “Cover the ground with cardboard, get ventilation, wear goggles, gloves, and a mask, and don’t get any of it on your skin or clothes.” He showed me a nasty red mark on his arm. “Because this is what happens.”

I was not thrilled about using a product requiring a DIY hazmat suit. I asked if something so toxic would pose any harm to antique wood. “Not any more than sanding would,” he said. “But if it were me, this desk probably isn’t worth THAT much, and she’s not planning on selling it to a collector. I’d just use a power sander and sand out any swirl marks by hand,” he told me. I nearly fainted. Would an angry mob of woodworkers come after me? Would they swarm into my garage the second the power sander turned on with pitchforks and torches?

Tracy just shrugged. “There will always be extremists,” he said.

I went home, feeling considerably lighter now that I had permission from someone who really knew what he was doing to use a sander. I got out my beloved Bosch RO sander, still covered in white paint from when I dumped half a gallon in it. I seriously peeked over my shoulder, placed it on the surface, and turned it on. And sanded the finish off. And laughed at my neuroses as I imagined a mob of angry middle-aged men yelling at me on the internet.

The next day my next door neighbor, who built his way through college, came over to see me when he heard my sander running. I asked what he would do in my situation. “What you’re doing,” he replied. Well, knock me over, but that was 2 people who gave me permission to use my sander over my lack of sanding muscle. Because really – ain’t nobody got time for that.

So I stripped the finish off. And that is really all I have to say about that because the rest of the process was really rather uneventful.

sanding antique school desk pencil groove

Getting the pencil groove

antique school desk seat sanded

Here’s the seat once it was stripped. Isn’t it pretty?

antique desk table top pieces

Perfectly fitted desk pieces, which I glued and clamped back together. Look at the wood grain up close! It looked like someone at some point had maybe sanded up and down rather than with the grain?

antique school desk seat

Paint? Gum?

If you are a real carpenter with some constructive feedback, I’m all ears. If you are a real carpenter outraged at this crime against woodkind, think of me as a troglodyte, and convinced I ruined this desk, I have all the respect in the world for what you guys do, but, well, you’ll get over it . I used clear printing labels for my wedding invitations and printed out most of my guests’ addresses on them. The wedding police will get over it.

And the next dilemma:

antique desk dark splotch

Probably water stains?

Once I stripped the finish off the tabletop, I saw the dark splotches. Big, black, and an eyesore. I mean, I saw them when my friend dropped the desk off, I had just assumed they’d come off once I sanded. My other friend Google told me basically that it was stains from water that had seeped through the wood. My neighbor told me to try mineral spirits, but that it would still be difficult to remove. I saw solutions from household bleach to wood bleach to hydrogen peroxide to vinegar to mineral spirits. So I decided on the path of least resistance and got out the bleach since I had some in the garage. I took the cheapest no-name paint brush I had, a tiny little 1″ or so, dipped it in, and dabbed a very tiny amount full strength on the splotches. I did 3 treatments, allowing several hours to dry, then wiped it off with vinegar to neutralize the bleach (so Google told me), which did lighten the splotches.

Here’s a list of what I did next:

1) Scrubbed the loose dirt off the metal with a metal brush and then washed with soap and water from a high pressure spray gun. Air dried outside.

antique school desk metal date

I’m guessing the date it was built? 1907? How cool is that?

antique school desk metal detailing

Before cleaning. Gorgeous detailing

2) Primed with Rustoleum’s Rusty Metal primer. Let dry.

3) Spray painted with Rustoleum’s 2x Coat in black with several thin coats. I lay them down on a tarp to cover one side, then when that was dry, leaned them against a work table with a tarp behind them so I could flip and paint the other side.

4) Applied Minwax’s oil-based wood conditioner to the wood. Wiped off after 10-15 minutes.

5) With a clean rag, applied 2 coats of Minwax’s gel stain in Aged Oak. Wiped off excess.

6) Applied 2 coats of Minwax’s polyurethane in semi-gloss (from the can). Initially tried a sponge brush, but didn’t like that it gave me little control over the amount. I tried a clean cloth on the second layer and that felt a lot better.

antique school desk after


antique school desk splotches

Sadly, I could not get the splotch out and the stain just accentuated it, but fortunately the owner was all right with its “character marks”.

Side view of the antique desk

Side view of the antique desk

Close up of the school desk legs

Close up of the legs

My friend later told me that her father, upon seeing the restored desk, said his mother would be very happy to see her desk today, which, to me, was the highest compliment I could’ve hoped for.

And because I don’t have a picture of the finished desk in a setting other than my garage, here is a picture of it in my friend’s home in its own little nook in progress, complete with her grandmother’s other belongings.

antique school desk refinished

The antique school desk, restored in its new home

Beethoven, shelf fails, new DIY shelf and picture frame.

bathroom floating shelf fail

Shelf last week. Floating shelf massive fail.

A slew of last minute freelance work and a sick toddler has kept projects from happening as quickly as I’d like. But I get to use my college degree and play my violin for money! I thank God I’m able to freelance and do projects while staying home with my child. I realize I’ve been blessed beyond measure and remember that whenever I’m tempted to complain about being short one screw, yet another load of laundry that has been calling me for 2 weeks by now, waiting impatiently for paint to dry, or a project is an utter fail.

So about 2 years ago, with storage remaining an ever-present (actually, not present at all at my house) problem, I decided to try my hand at some floating shelves, these in particular. At that point in time, I was much less experienced, I didn’t have a stud sensor, and we still couldn’t hang things on the walls without it being the drama of the week.

So I built the shelves and stained them. I built 3 for the master bathroom, one of the lesser touched up rooms of our house. I constructed the frames, then got a rare earth magnet and started stud hunting.

What I found was that the studs in the bathroom are…bizarrely spaced. Not like I know much about framing, but I’m guessing to allow for plumbing and/or electrical? Whatever. So some studs were 12″ apart, some 6″ apart, it all seems kind of random. So that was challenge 1.

Challenge 2. Our walls, for whatever reason, are not straight. I don’t know if this was a hallmark of 1970s era homes and if contractors at the time were all wacked out on hallucinogens, just had cruel senses of humor, or if it’s even just a factor of time, but if you get at the right angle and look at our walls, they “wave”, kind of like a funhouse mirror.

Challenge 3. I just don’t remember what I was thinking at the time. I tried 1 drywall anchor + 1 stud for the short shelf under the mirror, completely missing the fact that there are 2 studs. So, while it hung ok for a couple of years, it ultimately ended as a fail.

The other 2 were massive fails as well. They had at least 2 studs, but this is my life, and these things happen to me.They do not happen to Ana White, who built her own home with her bare hands, but they happen to me. The picture at the top was what the most successful shelf looked like after 2 years. That is what the other 2 shelves looked like immediately.

Last week, I was practicing for a concert when I just got sick of visualizing my shelf fail, as it mocks me every morning. So I took a break and decided to build this shelf. I found some scraps in the lumber bin and went to work, and I had it built in an hour.

ana white ten dollar ledge

A necessary work distraction. This is the bottom of the shelf.

I sanded, puttied, finished, caulked the edges, drilled pilot holes, and I hung it myself under the mirror, using the 2 studs. And I didn’t screw up. Then I went back to practicing.

ana white ten dollar ledge bathroom storage

Scraps + oops paint = thrifty win. I can’t decorate worth the salt in your turkey, but I can build you a shelf.

I still have to replace the other 2 floating shelves. And my hub’s substantial essential oil collection needs a home, so more will likely come.

The second little project I undertook around the same time involved the photography of this guy, whose work I discovered a few months ago. I fell in love with this particular print of his and decided to gift it to myself for my anniversary. <Snicker>. I showed it to hubs and asked nicely, and he replied, “If you build a frame for it.” Deal.

I used a plan from Ana White’s new book, The Handbuilt Home (p. 70), which is also very similar to this one.

Ana white wall frame clothespin frame

Picture frame – first step.

I used pine and my Kreg jig for pocket holes. Titebond glue is drying  and various clamps are squeezing the joint together. This was my first time to use the Kreg face clamp. I don’t know how I survived before it. Here I’m using my miter saw cart leaves as a work table.

ana white wall frame

Frame, step 2 – constructed

Here’s the front of the frame after the inner part was constructed.

ana white wall frame

Wall frame step 3 – glue and clamps

I don’t have a nail gun, and I know by experience that using a hammer and nails would’ve probably destroyed the inner frame (don’t ask me how), so this step went a little slower.

ana white wall frame clothespin frame

Finished. Middle print by Patrick Latter.

And here it is. Finished with Valspar spray primer and spray paint in black semi-gloss that I had sitting in the garage. I bought a square of glass from Lowes, which came in a 16″ x 20″ size, for between $5-$6 USD. The cardboard backing the print came with provided just enough thickness for 1″ screws and mirror clips, which cost about $1.50. The lumber cost about $5. Not bad for a 16″ x 20″ fully equipped frame for under $15.

The print on the left I bought years ago. It’s an unusual size, 11″ x 11″, so I was never able to find a frame for it. I used this plan and glazing points to keep the print in place.

Up next – a real-deal antique school chair from a one-room school and a toy chest I’m building for someone. So, I guess if you want me to refinish or build you something, I’m available.

And may your turkey not be dry and your crazy family members as entertaining as ever, especially if you’re the crazy one. Happy Thanksgiving Eve 2012.

I heart deuglified blue dressers

Refinished blue wood dresser, Coffee Under The Umbrella

Look, Chinese Food! Shiny dresser top!

I love blue. Blue ceilings, blue walls, blue vases, blueberries. My favorite house that I’ve lived in was bright blue. My favorite room in my house is blue. My kid loves Blue’s Clues.

Whenever I see blue oops paint, I snatch it up. I’ll paint anything blue. I’d paint my cat blue if she’d sit still long enough.

I went out on a limb and took a risk by painting this dresser blue, as well as the desk I posted a few weeks ago. And, erm, well, I don’t have much to say because I had the good fortune of not having to do much to this dresser as it was actually in pretty good shape. I wheeled and dealed a little when I bought it as the owner was moving and just needed it out, so I got a good deal on it.
Solid wood, structurally in good shape. Just needed some (well, a lot of) putty and new knobs to replace the old ugly wood ones. I used Valspar’s oops paint for the blue and Antique White for the drawers with some glass knobs.
I also tried General Finishes’ water-based polycrylic for the first time, and I’ll say that I don’t know that I can go back to Minwax. GF is more expensive, but the ease of working with the product surpasses Minwax by far. I tried the first coat with a Purdy brush, and I’ll say that I’ve always had trouble brushing on poly – I think it just takes practice – but this was actually ok in that there were far fewer brush marks than with Minwax’s product (whether that was because of the product itself or the brush I’m not sure of). I had trouble getting it on really evenly though, til I read this little tip from Mouse in Your House and used a small foam roller the next pass. I had never read of any blogger who did that, but I have to say that rolling it on worked like a charm.

ugly wood dresser, before


Refinished blue wood dresser, Coffee Under The Umbrella

Refinished blue wood dresser, Coffee Under The Umbrella

Pretty pretty

A bathroom storage shelf is the perfect excuse to avoid working

oak refinished bathroom shelf towel storage

I have towel and TP storage! And I don’t have to go outside in the cold now!

I am a cold weather wuss.

It’s about 50 degrees and windy out, and I’m afraid to go in my uninsulated garage to poly a dresser I’m almost finished working on. I know, more FWP…I’m not complaining because I’m also not in the middle of a “Frankenstorm” or a hurricane. I can’t stand being cold. Give me 105 degrees in August, and I will putz all day in the garage.

So today is a perfect day to find other things to do, like scrape caulk off the bathtub, which my husband has just tasked me with if I want to avoid spending $450 on labor to install a new one. Does he know how much lumber that could buy? Or what kind of router or how many shoes and purses at Marshalls?

Before I scrape away, I realized I forgot to post one of my first projects. My house, as I have said several times, was built in the 70s. Homes from the 70s are known, aside from their glorious popcorn ceilings, for their lack of storage and sensible layouts and awesome ugliness.

I’m afraid I don’t have a before picture, but I saw on Craigslist an oak bathroom cabinet for $25, and I needed wall storage in the bathroom since the floor was completely taken up by a toilet, a vanity, and a bathtub. I suppose I could have put something on the floor, but I decided to indulge my family by not creating an obstacle course to any of these three. It had 2 mirrored doors on it – just let your imagination feed on the 80s honey oak-stained awesomeness.

So I knew nothing about joints, filling in holes, sanding, etc at the time. Looking at it now, it’s actually built really nicely. I don’t know if it’s handmade, but the box, I would guess, seems to be put together with dowels or pins, and it attached to the wall with the horizontal bar, sort of like a French cleat but inside the box rather than behind it, that runs under each shelf – if you look closely you can see it.

I removed the mirrored doors, primed, and painted. Distressed lightly with a medium grit sand block, glued the applique to the top, and with spray adhesive, attached some countertop sticky paper that I liked to the back.

So this was a productive use of time that kept me from going into the garage. Now I will have to finish my dresser tonight after it gets even colder.

Bath shelf applique

Added some girly-girl

A picture in which I am awkwardly standing and holding a book

ana white

Ana White and me, with me standing awkwardly to the side holding a book

Ana White, the woman who started it all (“it” being my furniture obsession), came to Houston to promote her new book, The Handbuilt Home. My 5th wedding anniversary gift to myself was to get myself in the car at 7am this morning and drive from Austin to a Home Depot in Houston. My gift to my husband was to leave him with the toddler for most of today.

Ana first complimented my necklace. She’s just as beautiful, down to earth, and positive as she is on her website and Facebook page. I handed her my book to sign and she asked if I build. I told her that yes, I had posted my builds on her site and Facebook page. I introduced myself by my first name. She responded, “Oh, you’re June Solomon (not actually my real name).”

This was a pretty awesome day. Now off to celebrate my anniversary for real.

ana white handbuilt home book signing

I think I can die happy now