Rehabbing Old Furniture Always Takes Longer Than I Expect


Rehabbing old furniture is something I love to do and never have time for anymore. But I had a chipped, old library table lying around, for which I had paid $14, and Thursday seemed as good a time as any to give it a second chance at a useful life.

I always think these little projects are simpler than they are.

The first thing I did was sand the top in an effort to soften the edges and blend the chipped veneer into the real wood before painting. I got out my circular sander and went to work. However, after a bit, there were pieces of red paper blowing across the tabletop. What was that stuff? I turned off the sander.

Oh. The “paper” was the sandpaper disc itself, chewing itself into little bits whenever it hit the edge of the veneer. Also, once the sander had stopped spinning, I noticed that long strips of this veneer had wedged themselves into the tool. Sigh. I pulled them out and got a new sanding disc.

Ten minutes later, I gave that up. The rapidly disintegrating sander was doing nothing but chewing up the veneer and spitting it out. Back to basics. I got my favorite hand tool — a scraper — and hacked and chiseled off all the veneer. Better.

I finished sanding the entire piece, then looked for my light, white paint. I was sadly “out of stock.” But there was some white primer lying around, so I coated the table with that. Humph. The primer looked thin — exactly as the directions said it would, but who reads the directions before starting out? I knew I’d have to find real paint to cover it. I bought a light gray wall paint ($32/gallon), which covered nicely. But now there was another problem — the table was too light.

Yes, yes, I know. Light was what I was going for. But now all the delightful little carvings, cracks and crevices had faded out of view, and I needed something to bring them back. Painter’s wax! Yes, for a mere $15 more, I could buy a tiny little tin of brown wax and work that into the piece.

Three days and $61 later (not counting the primer, tools or time), I am now the proud owner of a whitish-gray table tinged with brown. It matches nothing in my living room and is really too short to put between the sofa and the wall, but it looks fabulous.

Emboldened by this success, I dragged “The Chair” out of storage.

The Chair was purchased at the same time, and also for $14. (The table and the chair were each marked $20, but I used my 30 percent off coupon, because paying $40 for two pieces of living room furniture is just crazy.)

The Chair is French, upholstered in stripes and stuffed with down. Its Queen Anne legs and chippy wood trim endear it to me. But, like I said, stripes. No.

So, I grabbed that same gallon of wall paint and slathered it on. It took some doing, working it down into the piping around the cushions, but I did it. I even used a teeny little watercolor brush to dab paint around the hundreds of nailheads that give The Chair so much charm. Voila!

The second it dried, I sat down in it. That’s when I learned that wall paint + upholstery fabric = scratchy.

No worries! I bought a second can of $15 painter’s wax, this time in clear, and slathered it on.

The Chair is perfect. I love it, even though it ended up costing me 29 whole dollars.

So, I have invested 60 man-hours in two pieces of furniture worth maybe 10, but I have a brand-new look in my living room, and all for $90. I’m happy. I also see why I never have time for this.