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!


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.

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.

The Tiffany desk, a broken foot, and a nomination

Image has kindly nominated me for the One Lovely Blog award! Thanks to Larkin for the nomination. Now go show her some blog love.

I snatched up this desk when my BFF Craigslist told me about it.

wood vanity old desk before

She had potential

I sped over to the house, stopping at an ATM on the way, and pulled up where a man had placed it outside on the front walk. I suppose there’s always the temptation to pick it up and run, but I wouldn’t have been able to anyway because this. was. Heavy.

The man called a teenage boy in the house to help me load it in the back of my car. I drove off with it nervously shifting side to side in my trunk, and I shuddered at every thud I heard when I turned. Husband had to help me load it in the garage.

Later that week. I went to the garage to work on it, thinking it would be a fairly quick project since it was structurally sound and just had cosmetic damage, and that I would definitely be able to finish before leaving for our midwest vacation and the symphony started for me.

It was not to be.

broken foot leg


The foot had broken off completely. I didn’t know how I missed that. There was no way I was willing to sell this thing with a missing foot.

I initially dealt with this by ignoring it completely and addressing all the other cosmetic issues. Like the fact that it needed to be bathed in wood putty.

desk cosmetic fix wood putty

Desk and wood putty: head-on collision.

Then I sanded, sanded some more, puttied some more, sanded again, primed and painted several coats. Went on vacation, got my symphony music. And it sat in the garage, lamenting the fact that it was a fabulous color of blue but had no leg or drawers.

To condense a lot of boring details, I eventually decided to deal with the foot after talking to several “real” woodworkers by getting a rasp, a coping saw, and making the foot myself.  I did consider just prying off all the legs and replacing them with new ones, but after realizing how heavy this desk is and seeing how all 8 legs are heavily braced, this is the route I decided to take.

Here’s what I started with.

broken desk foot

The canvas I had to work with.

Here’s my arsenal:

Coping saw

coping saw

Arsenal of Insanity 1


rasp 2x4 leg

Arsenal of Insanity 2

I took a piece of scrap 2×4, cut it to the correct height, placed it against the other leg, and traced the shape. Then I took the biggest drill bit I had and started drilling holes into the end grain around the border of the leg, if that makes sense. I cut away the excess with the coping saw, then rounded the concave part with the rasp. I lost a significant amount of sanity while whittling shavings away. I assume most woodworkers who had no access to power tools are legally insane.

attached wood desk foot

I whittled away my sanity, but at least I had a leg.

Finally, I had this.

wood desk foot

The left half is the foot I repaired. The right is one I was trying to match.

I pondered for awhile what to paint the drawers. I wanted white but as I mentioned in my previous post, I was afraid of it being too 8-year-old girl. I considered keeping the blue and also silver, but the majority liked the idea of white. A commenter on my FB page opined that the white against blue looked very “Tiffany’s” and I was sold.

Here’s the final product from a few angles.

Refinished Tiffany blue wood desk, via Coffee Under The Umbrella

I have to say, I LOVE this color combination.

Refinished Tiffany blue wood desk, via Coffee Under The Umbrella

Refinished Tiffany blue wood desk, via Coffee Under The Umbrella

Look at these details!

Here’s the breakdown of steps and materials used.

1. Wood putty and spackle to fill in dents, gaps, other imperfections. Overfilled each one.

2. With my Bosch RO sander and 150-220 grit sandpaper, sanded off the excess putty after it dried. By hand in spaces too small for my sander.

3. Puttied again because inevitably there are always spots you miss, the putty shrinks more than you anticipated, etc.

4. This time, sanded by hand.

5. Vacuumed off dust, then wiped with a damp cloth or tack cloth, whichever was handy at the time.

6. Primed with Kilz latex. I am meh about this primer – it was on sale awhile back, but once this is gone, I don’t think I’ll be going back. It doesn’t wow me at all in terms of adhesion. It’s not horrible, but I think there are other primers that are better.

7. Sanded with 220 grit on the RO sander.

8. Vacuum, wipe, etc.

9. With roller, rolled on some Valspar oops paint I got awhile back that I’d been dying to use but hadn’t had a chance to. Added Floetrol and rolled on thin coats – thin as in, barely enough to cover the surface.

10. Brushed on where it’s too small for the roller.

11. Sanded with 220/320.

12. Lathered, rinsed, repeated steps 9-11 3 times.

13. Sprayed Minwax’s spray-on water based polycrylic in the blue can in semi-gloss. I’d had problems in the past with this product looking splotchy on darker colors (as in, anything darker than white), but I made sure to keep at least 10 in. of distance and went really light. It looked better after sanding with 320 grit by hand. I have mixed feelings about Minwax products at this time.

14. Scrap 2×4 for the foot – cut to size, traced the shape, drilled off the excess wood with a drill, cut off extra with a coping saw, then used the rasp to smooth out the curves.

15. Glued and clamped to the foot after filing the broken edge down, filled the crack between the two with putty, and sanded. Attached a block to the inside like the others with glue and wood screws.

16. New hardware from Hobby Lobby. Fixed the one drawer bottom with water damage by breaking it, then sliding in a replacement piece of plywood. Painted and top coated drawers.

This sits patiently (for now) awaiting a buyer. If you are local (Austin) and are interested, drop me a line through my contact page.

So the end of summer is finally upon us in central Texas, and while my output was slow last month, I have a garage full of furniture, a head full of ideas, and a house full of crap with nowhere to go, so the projects will again be forthcoming!

Update: I applied General Finishes’ water-based polycrylic to just the top in gloss. Hard as nails.

Linking up at Liz Marie’s linky party!

I am finally going to talk about furniture

I started this vanity nearly two months ago. It normally doesn’t take me 2 months to paint a piece of furniture, but with vacation in the midwest, symphony rehearsals + hands that are a little flabbier than when I was 18, and a 3-year-old birthday party to plan, well, I guess that’s not too rotten…

I’ll do a complete write-up complete with background, the broken foot, how to whittle away your sanity, more broken drawers, etc this week as soon as I decide what color to paint these drawers:

blue wood vanity painted drawers

You like? You hate?

Some have stated they don’t like the white drawers, that it detracts from the aqua/oops bin color. Someone else suggested silver, which is intriguing. Others have cheered on the white. My only fear is that white will make this look more 8-year-old girl than glam.

So I turn to readers for their (constructive) opinions. White, silver, blue, or something completely different? Here they are in context. The drawers have only 1 coat of paint on them, accounting for their blotchy appearance.

blue refinished wood vanity white drawers

Here are the drawers in context.

Vanity Refinish the III/I do not make these things up

I love the lines of this vanity. It reminds me of something you’d see in the office of a private detective in the 1940s.

Slick lines

It was another CL find. $20 and painted peach. I deposited my son at my neighbor’s house and hightailed it over to the address I was given.

“I didn’t think anyone would want this old thing,” the seller told me. “But I got 10 emails for it the first hour.” Score.

Vanity before refinishing

Vanity in its peach incarnation.

She had replaced the hardware as well with these card catalog handles, which I liked well enough. It looked kind of industrial, which I guess is all the rage in design right now. Which means they will be this moment’s avocado green next month. It was really light and I was able to unload it by myself. So no legs were broken in the unloading of this piece.

She had done a decent paint job, but hadn’t really puttied any dents. I was curious to see how many layers of paint there were, so out came the Citristrip.

Turned out it wasn’t covered in layers upon layers of gunk. I managed to scrape off most of the paint/primer on the desktop. Then sanded. And sanded more. Then puttied. Then sanded again. Then puttied again. And sanded again. Then sanded some more.

I don’t know if it is just me, but I find that I spend most of my time sanding and applying wood putty when I do refinishes. I know, “the prep work is the important part.” Anyway, there were several hairline cracks, probably from age, maybe from the wood not being dried long enough, and my garage temperature in the middle of the summer in Texas doesn’t help. The top consisted of planks that appeared to be edge glued and probably joined with biscuits. One of the planks had shifted slightly to be millimeters higher than the adjacent plank.

Then there was the issue of one of the drawers. The drawers had dovetailed joints. They’re old but still solid. This particular drawer’s bottom was in poor shape – it looked like it had gotten wet at some point and had some deep cracks that ran nearly the length of the board, never mind the raised grain. A groove was routed in all 4 sides of the drawer so that the bottom just floated in it. And because of that, I didn’t know how to get it out.

You can see in this picture that the bottom of the back had a clean break right behind the groove. It looked like I could feasibly just break it off without any trouble and pull out the bottom. But this is my life and those kinds of things don’t happen to me.

Drawer back

Drawer back. Notice I refrained from using the word “crack” in the same sentence as “drawer” and “back”.

My woodworker neighbor had been out of town, so I was happy to see their car in their driveway (because I like them, not just because I could harass him about furniture). He pointed out a dot in the back that was apparently a nail and suggested I carefully pull out the nail, pull off the back, then the bottom.

So I got out a crowbar and started pulling very gently. It came out, but it wasn’t a nail. I ended up breaking that little piece off the back after all. And it was a clean cut! I didn’t break the drawer this time!

Drawer back after I broke it

Drawer back after I broke it.

The problem was that the bottom wouldn’t come out. One side was loose, but the other wouldn’t budge. I was sick of dealing with it, so I did what any sensible person would do. I got out a pair of pliers and just ripped the bottom into little pieces until it came out.

Broken drawer bottom, pliers.

This is where I really broke it.

Some 1/8” scrap wood, probably from another old vanity, done. Prime. Sand. Putty because priming showed more imperfections that I couldn’t see before. Sand more. Paint. Not done.

After 3 thin coats, I just needed one more light coat before applying poly. I went back to the garage and picked up my paint can to shake it. And discovered that I had forgotten to seal the lid back on.

What ensued looked like something out of a Wheaties commercial from the 80s where the camera zooms in on some liquid that’s supposed to resemble milk splashing over all the flakes. But instead of pouring out of a pitcher, picture it placed in a blender without the lid and hitting the On button. About half a gallon of Antique White Valspar paint flew everywhere. Like, on me, and on (and in) my Bosch sander. I yelled a few words, then yelled for my husband. No answer. I ran to the door leading into the house, poked my head in, and yelled again. No answer. I grabbed a few rags and sort of soaked up part of the mess.

When I got my head back on, I realized that paint was soaking into the innards of my sander, so I’d better wipe that up. I yelled for my husband again and this time he answered. I yelled that I really, really needed his help.

He grabbed towels and started mopping up the spreading puddle. He handed me some wire to clear the paint out of the holes of my sander. The scene was actually quite boring.

Sander covered in paint

My poor sander after the first clean off

Husband calmly asked me to get some garbage bags and more towels. Having splashed paint on one foot, I hopped across the living room on the other foot to the kitchen. “At least you’re ok,” he said as I handed him the materials. “It’s just stuff.”

Husband cleaning wife's mess

My patient hero.

I sadly picked up my sander, covered in paint, with a heavy heart. “I’m afraid it’s gone,” he said. “But maybe, just maybe, if we turn it on, the centrifugal force will keep the paint from congealing.” This is how nerds think.

I turned it on, fully expecting it to sputter and die a dramatic, expensive death. And it came on. And sounded and looked completely normal!

As of this writing, my sander is bravely soldering on. Oh, and I finished the vanity.

Vanity after refinishing

Vanity after

The evolving duck house

I used to say, “I have an ugly house.” Now I just say that I have an ugly-duckling house.

I clearly recall thinking when we first looked at the house, “I’ll grow to like it.” I think that’s very different from thinking, “I see what I can do with this house,” or something similar. It should’ve been a red flag, but it wasn’t.

We jumped on the house for a variety of reasons. It’s in a neighborhood we really, really wanted to be in, it was in better shape than other homes in the area we looked at, and homes here at the time were going fast because the market was hot back then.

So we got it. And I hated it. We moved from a cute condo to an ugly house with foundation problems. And I sulked for 3 years. The ad for the home when we first read about it said, “Brand new carpet!!” It was one of maybe 2 houses we looked at with carpet. I just didn’t get why someone was advertising that with such aplomb.

The house was built in the early 70s when popcorn ceilings riddled with asbestos and dark wood paneling were the bomb. The previous owner had made some updates, and for sure, I’m not complaining. But I have to say that many of them were done very poorly. Like, she repainted the whole interior of the home. She painted the whole thing, except for the two bathrooms, cream. I don’t mind splashes of cream here and there, but when your entire house is bathed in it, it just looks filthy.

It wouldn’t have bothered me quite as much if it was done well. Which it wasn’t.

I regret not taking more pictures, but I didn’t see the point back then because it was just so ugly. The front entry way actually has some really nice wainscoting. But the moulding had drips dried on it and the character of the moulding was so marred because it was caked in paint. I don’t know how else to describe it aside from picture someone with a 5-gallon bucket of paint they just threw against the wall with the lid open, then kind of spread it out with their hands.

great room before

Before: Ugly shot 1. Entry/front room. The week we moved in, adding to the ugly.

Great room before 2.

Before: Ugly shot 2. Front room/”formal dining area”.

great room/dining area before

Before: Ugly shot 3. Front room/”formal dining”.

The inside of the front door, which has stood half stripped since November, was also painted in a similar manner with hair and dirt visibly stuck in the layers. The window trim wasn’t sanded before repainting, so there are visible missing chips of a layer of paint, and a lot of the newer paint is now chipping. The painting was obviously done in a hurry and on the cheap. I often think that she must’ve paid some kids in the neighborhood to paint it for pizza and beer.

We have two living areas, the “front room” and the smaller “middle room”. The smaller living area has sloped ceilings, which is nice, and a ceiling fan. We’re not getting rid of it because we live in Texas and it’s beastly hot in the summer, even with the AC on, so sorry decor police. It had a brown fan with the biggest light fixture I had ever seen in the shape of a large white ball. If it sounds remotely cool, it was not. It was the biggest eyesore in the house and the ceiling looked like it had a malignant tumor growing out of it. I really wish I had taken a picture so I could share the offensive nature of this light fixture.

The guest bathroom was painted in a shade of blue that was love at first sight for me, Restoration Hardware’s Silver Sage. It was in the garage and the outside of the can had more paint on it than the inside. There was a significant amount left, so I painted the breakfast nook with it.

I loved it so much that I wanted to paint part of the great room with it. After doing some research on paint, I settled on using Benjamin Moore’s Gray Wisp.

I know every home blogger, contractor, and their mom loves BM. I hated it. I cursed every moment that I spent painting with it and swore never to use BM ever again. The first coat looked like I put water tinted with a little paint on the wall. No matter how quickly I went, there were lap marks all over the wall. You can call me inexperienced, but I had gotten better results on the first coat using Valspar and Behr. I probably should’ve just taken it back and asked for my money back, but I didn’t know any better then.

I’ll admit that it did look great with a second coat, but I haven’t changed my mind yet.

So it stayed like that for 3 years and I hated it. I hated my kitchen with its laminate counters, dirty-white cabinets, and lack of storage. Especially when I saw a lot of friends remodel their kitchens with their beautiful, shiny granite counters. I hated it so much that I neglected to really notice the several neighbors who brought us dinner and baby gear when my son was born, would often watch my son at a moment’s notice, have dinner with us, stop to chat when we were all outside…all because I was so obsessed with how my house looked.

My husband brought up several times the idea of us moving if I hated it that much, and every time I’d say, “Well…but I really like the neighbors…”. I’m not sure what changed my mind, but one day I just woke up and realized how good we have it here. I was being petty and ungrateful and I really just needed to shut it. You can always change the interior of your house and organize your kitchen more efficiently, but you can’t really change your neighbors that easily.

This is already way too long. So my husband out of the kindness of his heart, after looking at our budget, decided to get me wood floors for my birthday in 2011, and it is my birthday present for the next 5 years.

We went with a fellow named Tom Manion, and if you’re in the Austin area looking to redo your floors, he is fabulous. We briefly considered doing them ourselves for about half an hour, then came to our senses and realized we just didn’t have the bandwidth. Which was fortunate because it took about 17 bags of concrete to level our floors. We went with laminate floors from Shaw. So that removed about 75% of the ugliness factor. Well, in my opinion, because I hate carpet that much.

I painted the wainscoting (here is a picture at the bottom) and installed the chair rail myself. I decided not to repeat the picture boxes on the other walls because I’m lazy and those walls are covered by couches anyway. I had some more oops paint which I used to paint the far walls. It is ‘Seascape’ from Valspar. I will one day paint the remaining wall, the long one with the windows, white, and perhaps install more moulding. That, along with dealing with the popcorn and replacing the octopus light on the ceiling, is for another day. Until then, I will continue to choose to be happy in this home and neighborhood.

Install chair rail

Chair rail in progress

living room after paint moulding

The ugly duckling room today in real time with sleeping cat and kid gear

A patio slab deuglified and some lessons learned

Patio set plans by The Design Confidential, built by Coffee Under the Umbrella

My DIY patio set with some cute guy

As I mentioned in a previous post, I decided to build a set of benches and tables for the sad, unused little concrete slab of a patio outside our sliding glass door to the backyard. So here’s some background.

The previous owner of our home, we were told, had a dog. The backyard, when we moved in, was kind of in shambles. And the two are apparently directly related.

I’ve never had a dog, but I guess they can wreak havoc on backyards if left to their devices in that they can dig up your entire yard, which is what happened in our case. It was a large plot of bare patches of dirt, invasive trees and ivies, and a few nice trees. A sizable oak right next to the slab and a tall pecan in another location. And that’s it for the nice trees. There was a huge, huge chinaberry tree right in the back corner of our fence that was pushing the fence over into both our next-door neighbor’s yard and that of the neighbor behind us. And several hackberry and mulberry trees along the back of the fence.

About half the yard has no shade at all. An automatic sprinkler system came with the house, which we’re really grateful for, but in the furnace of the central Texas summers, not much survives in that patch.

Some previous owner seemed to have liked flowering plants, but also seemed to have not known much about those plants. There are several really beautiful bulbs planted around the backyard…all in areas that receive little to no direct sun. There was a little patch of canna lilies that never bloomed (and also which I killed this past spring, which I realize takes some talent to do…but we won’t talk about that. I never claimed to have green thumbs!). And there are several bulbs planted right at the base of the big oak, and of course, most of them are in total shade most of the year. There are some purple irises and paper whites, which weakly bloom in the spring, and several others that have never bloomed, so I don’t know what they are. My plan was originally to dig them up last winter and relocate them to the corner that the chinaberry was at (we had it cut down shortly after moving in), then install a rock patio around the oak. But I couldn’t because the bulbs started growing in NOVEMBER last winter when we started getting more rain after the long hard drought. So there they languish another summer.

Anyway. I was unhappy about that patio, as I was about the rest of the house, for over 3 years. I’ll detail more about the lessons I learned regarding that in a later post. The red chairs were my first attempts at deuglifying the slab…after which I stopped for whatever reason and decided complaining was a lot funner. Yeah, I’m sure my husband will tell you what a party I was.

Porch slab before


As I mentioned before, planning my son’s birthday party was the main motive behind getting off my bum and deciding to actually do something about it. I needed more seating, I needed a place to put stuff on, and I needed shade. I started there.

I dislike metal patio furniture, for whatever reason. It feels cold and unwelcoming to me (even though it is often too hot to sit on during the summer). I love the warmth of wood and dislike the prices of most wood patio furniture, so lumber and power tools to the rescue again. I looked through both Ana White’s site and Rayan Turner’s, and eventually settled on these benches and this table (and if you visit the links, you will see my build showcased).

I got the table frame built and square. I felt like a rock star when I saw how perfectly in alignment the aprons were with my carpenter’s square. I had built it while it was lying upside down on the patio, and was too excited to wait for my husband to come home to help me flip it, and it wasn’t heavy, so I figured there would be no harm in flipping it over myself. I thought I was pretty resourceful until 2 of the legs broke off as I was turning it.

I think my husband came home that day to me crying (again), but by then I had cried over so many projects that he was pretty nonchalant about it. I had considerably more problems accepting my imperfections back then than I do now. He gave me a pep talk and a hug as he stepped over the drill and the bits lying on the living room floor. He was, and continues to be, so awesome. I continued to sulk that evening.

The next day, I wrote to Rayan for the first time to let her know what happened and if she could offer any suggestions. I wasn’t really expecting an answer, but I actually got one within half an hour! “Don’t panic!” was the first thing she told me. She went on assure me that I didn’t completely break the table and that it was salvageable.

So I just flipped the legs over and reattached them. I think I recall having to take some things apart and redo them, which sucked, and was stressful since I had a deadline of my son’s party, but I sucked it up and did it. And made sure my husband was able to help me flip it over. (Note: If you take these on, I’d suggest you add some support brackets underneath where the aprons attach to the legs.)

That was done. I started on the table top. And here is where I learned a very difficult lesson.

I was very aware than a 1 x 4 board does not measure 1” by 4”. Really, I was. But I was unaware that a lot of them also don’t measure 3/4” by 3.5” either. I found this out when I was drilling the pocket holes for the table top. I had attached the outside frame together beautifully, then flipped it over and let out a primal scream when I saw that every. Single. Screw. Was poking out the other side.

I had already applied 3 coats of very not cheap sealer to these boards. I measured their exact width. 5/8”. Every single one. I wanted blood. I didn’t know whose, but I wanted someone’s.

I visited a few forums and submitted my questions. Was this common? Is there any way I could make this work? Some suggested I set my Kreg jig for 1/2” stock and to just use the 1.25” screws. Most told me to demand a refund and go find a real lumberyard.

I did, then called around. The first lumberyard I called didn’t carry western red cedar and explained that finding a 1x piece of cedar that’s actually 3/4” is actually difficult these days because of the nature of how they are cut. I don’t know how true that is (perhaps someone really familiar with the industry who is reading this can enlighten me), but I had to move on since they didn’t carry it anyway.

I found this place, and the fact that it’s women-owned and managed was a bonus. I got my lumber, they were all 3/4”, and I was happy. I finished the table top and was happier. Getting the little pieces in took the longest to do because the openings weren’t equal width across the length of the table top. I thanked God when I was finished with that.

I needed benches. And I needed to cut the angled back legs with something. I borrowed a jigsaw and tried at first to cut out the rounded legs on some scrap 2x4s. I decided to scrap that plan and go with angled legs.

I borrowed my neighbor’s Porter Cable circular saw. And it scared the daylights out of me with all its testosterone. So much that I had to buy my own (I bought a little Skil saw).

I had a week to build two benches. My husband lifted his eyebrows and nodded when I told him. He patted my shoulder. “No matter what happens, I’ll still be proud of you,” he said. Ok, whatever.

And I did it. I later ended up reinforcing the joints with some diagonal bracing, stretchers, and dowels, which my neighbor kindly showed me how to do. But I finished them before the party. I bought the cushions at Garden Ridge Pottery – they are actually meant for a lounge chair, but were the perfect length. I drilled an umbrella hole for the table, then looked for the umbrella. The one we chose is from Costco, made with Sunbrella fabric. The base is a very heavy granite square with wheels. The best part is that we got both from craigslist.

Bench bracing by Coffee Under the Umbrella

How I reinforced the bench

I got some charming little hanging candle holders from Pier 1 and Ikea and eventually some potted plants. The small white table I threw together with scraps from this plan. Another neighbor kindly gave me the baby spider plant that you can’t really see, and the stupid-heavy concrete planter it’s in was in the backyard when we moved in. And yet another neighbor gave me the bougainvillea in the white planter. You might be able to suspect why I decided to stop griping over the ugly factor of my house – because I have the most amazing and generous neighbors.

So that is the story of my patio, and the picture is where it stands today.

Patio after by Coffee Under the Umbrella


My garage sale dining table

I bought my first real piece of furniture, new, when I was single and in my mid 20s. I agonized over the decision because it was my first real big purchase. As a freelance musician, I didn’t have a lot of cash to burn, and while I won’t divulge how long ago that was, I didn’t know anything then about refinishing furniture.

It was a dining table with 4 chairs and solidly built. I have no idea what sort of wood it was, but it was solid wood with a tile inset in the table top. And it was freakin heavy because of that tile top. My friends hated me when it was time to move.

My 1st real piece of furniture

My 1st real piece of furniture! With dirty grout!

I asked my husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, what he thought, because I really thought that it was going to be ours. He muttered that it was ok, but that the grout would be difficult to clean. And that I should just get it if I really wanted it. I was not as practical of a person then as I am now, so I just thought I’d learn to deal with it. I loved it, so I bought it.

And I owned it for 9 years. It saw cats being shooed off and a baby smearing stuff all over the top and into the grout. By now, the grout always had gunk in it. And I grudgingly admitted that my husband had been right. And he graciously didn’t respond at all when I told him that.

My tastes had changed considerably over the years. I no longer liked the swirly pink tile look. I wanted something clean that would fit in our little breakfast nook. I didn’t want to go through all the effort to build a table that wouldn’t accommodate more than 4-5 comfortably. More on that in a later post.

One Saturday morning we spied a garage sale on the street behind us. We wandered over and I spied a dining table. It was wood and a very common farmhouse sort of style with an atrocious honey sort of shellac-y finish on it. And it was $25 because the owner just wanted it gone. Sold! She loaded it into her SUV and was nice enough to drive it over to our house.

And like a lot of projects at my house, it sat in my garage for A Really Long Time. Here it is in its original finish with, as every other surface in my house, a bunch of crap on it. Including the second Skil sander I owned that lived a very short life.

My $25 garage sale table

My $25 garage sale table in its honey shellac-y glory

I finally got around to sanding it down. And I used my Minwax Mahogany Gel Stain again. And it looked horrendous.

What I should’ve done is apply wood conditioner. It had a “fishy eye” appearance in which most of the surface looked fine, but there were these odd little blotches here and there about the size of a fish eye, which apparently is rather common, as Google told me.

So I stripped it again after it sat in my garage and served as a work table for a while. And I applied wood conditioner this time. And decided to try a water based stain. I tried Minwax’s Express stain that comes in a tube. And here was the result.

Table refinish 1.

Take 2. Ugh.

Yeah, I wasn’t a fan, either.

By now I was crying at the thought of stripping it again. My husband told me to just “spend the money! Stop being a tightwad! We’re going to use this for 20 years and it was $25!” I was told to spend money?! Wahoo.

I went to my local Woodcraft. I heart those guys. It’s 5 minutes from my house and staffed mostly by old-timers who never look at me funny when I show them pictures of my projects that I just broke and ask what I need to fix it (with the understanding that I’m going to actually buy something from them, of course). I showed the guy there a picture of the horrible stain job. He refrained from laughing hysterically at me and politely asked what I used, and he never batted an eye when I told him. “Not good?” he asked. “Not good,” I replied. I threw a barrage of questions at him, including whether I’d have to strip the table again completely. “Not necessarily,” he replied. Which made him my hero.

I told him I wanted to use water-based stain. Mostly because I can’t throw away oil-based stains or staining rags in the garbage. I’d have to take them to our city’s hazardous waste facility and it’s a 25 minute drive from my house (laugh all you want, big-city dwellers. We complain about commutes longer than 15 minutes in these parts). He showed me General Finishes water-based stain in Espresso. “I use this for clients all the time,” he told me. I asked him if water-based stains were all that much worse than oil-based. “Ten years ago, they were,” he said. “They’ve come a long way since then.” I asked what he would use for his own house. “Oil. I’m old school,” he replied.

Since this is already way too much detail, I bought the GF water-based Espresso stain. I gave the table top a light sanding and applied the stain right over the existing mahogany with a rag. And it looked amazing. 4 coats, then 4 coats of poly, a fresh coat of white paint on the legs, sold the tile top dining table, and done.

dining table refinished espresso

Isn’t she slick?

dining table after refinish espresso

Because you have to see it in context.


One can never have too much vanity

A lot of people on craigslist, I have found, oftentimes do not know the value of what they have.

I acquired two vanities around the same time. The first I bought from the original owner’s granddaughter for $25. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a before shot, but it was overall in good condition. It has a long crack on the inside and the two halves of the crack shifted, if that makes sense, so I couldn’t just stuff a glob of wood putty and call it done. In the end, I decided not to do anything since the vanity was still quite solid, and I also wasn’t planning on selling it. I had wanted a “writer’s desk” in the guest room of my house for awhile, inspired by Centsational Girl’s writer’s desk here, and it was not going to see much use anyway.

Sand, prime, paint the body, and done. I used Zinsser’s water-based primer in the blue can and probably some Valspar basic white. I stripped the top down with my sander, 80-100-150-220, and for the rounded edges I used a folded up piece of 60 grit sandpaper and went up from there. I stained the top with 2 layers of Minwax Gel Stain in Mahogany and 3 coats of polyurethane.

Vanity #1 After

Vanity #1 After with Pretty Little Chair.

Here’s the other vanity I bought in process because I again forgot to get a ‘Before’ shot. I don’t remember what I paid, but as I don’t buy things for more than a few bucks on CL, it wasn’t much.

Vanity #2 in process

Vanity #2 in process

The seller bought it from someone who bought it from an antique show or dealer, though I don’t think this would qualify as an “antique”. It was covered by a heinous paint job. Whomever spray painted it didn’t bother to sand, fill in any gaps, or anything. The drawer hardware was also wood and painted on. Eesh.

Sanding a section revealed, again, layers upon layers of paint, so Citristrip to the rescue again. I unscrewed all of the hardware from the inside of the drawers, got out a hammer and chisel, and pried them off. Here are some very fuzzy pictures from before I learned how to take a decent picture.

Drawer with painted-on hardware

Drawer with painted-on hardware

Hardware from above

Hardware from above

Around this time, I stopped into Lowes for something and behold, they were having a massive clearance on drawer and cabinet hardware. I went completely insane for half an hour since it was a weekend and I was kid-free, picking up knobs, handles, and even Euro hinges to my heart’s delight. I picked up over $100 worth of hardware for about $30.

All that is to say that these drawer knobs are from this stash, which I still have. My woodworker neighbor poked his head in one day as I was working in my garage and took a closer look at the vanity, realizing that it was constructed from a hard wood, not pine, though he couldn’t tell what species. Kewl.

So after stripping came sanding, then putty, more sanding, then finally priming, painting, and poly. Done.

Vanity #2 After

There she is.