Domestic Warrior: I Painted Furniture

Attitude Adjustment

I am not really handy around the house. I’ll clean, maybe hand-stitch a hole in a cardigan, assemble IKEA furniture…but that’s about it. If an appliance breaks, I call someone to fix it. If the sofa button falls off, I take the cushion to an upholsterer. Why would I attempt to do any of these things when it’s very likely I’d just mess up and make the problem worse?

My very comfortable “get the professional to do it” attitude began to change about two years ago when my mother brought me a cabinet that had been built my my great grandfather. It was beautifully detailed, but the paint on it was faded and chipped. I really wanted to bring it back to life by having either re-finished or re-painted, but something just felt wrong about having someone else do it. This little cabinet had been hand built by my great grandfather. My grandmother and my mother and my aunt and uncle grew up with this cabinet in their childhood homes. I needed to repaint it myself!

Don’t panic – I didn’t start with the cabinet!

That would have been disastrous as I HAVE NEVER PAINTED ANYTHING OTHER THAN A WALL.

Instead, I tested my skill on a cute little end table my mother-in-law gave me for practice.  Check it out:

I did this on a Friday evening (because apparently that’s how I party).  It took almost 8 hours! Before I tackled this project I spent a couple hours researching online how to sand, prime, and paint.  For the most part, it went pretty well, but I did learn a couple valuable lessons.

  1. Be patient about letting a coat of paint dry before painting over it. I mean, REALLY patient. Not just sorta dry or mostly dry. Like bone freaking dry.
  2. Don’t put your vignette back on the table the day after you finish painting it. Wait three or four days. Also maybe include some kind of lacquer on top for hardening.
  3. Don’t do the whole damn project on the floor…because OUCH! My knees and back were angry the rest of the weekend.

For Realsies.

Check out the charm of this cabinet! It seems that my great grandfather was a badass.

I really love everything about it: the construction, the ornate hardware, the detailing on the mirror…all of it. As you can see, it was wonderful even before I painted it. It lived like this in our house for about two years before I finally worked up the courage to paint it.

Painting this cabinet was one of the most cathartic experiences I’ve known.  I felt nervous, laser-focused, and surreally connected to family all at the same time.

As I was carefully removing the hardware, I kept worrying, “What if I break the hinge? What if I can’t find anything similar in the stores? What if the wood is so stripped I can’t get the screws back in?” etcetera. But those thoughts would get replaced with, “I wish my great grandfather knew that someone in his family would love and work on his cabinet a hundred years after he built it. I wish I could show my grandmother – she’d love this shade of green.”

Here’s the final product:

I’m pretty proud of the way it turned out – festive and bright! I think I’ll leave it like this for a few years, and then who knows? Perhaps I’ll strip the layers of paint away and give it an entirely different look. I really love this cabinet: it will remain a constant in my home, but like me, the aesthetics may change on occasion.

And for those of you wondering what Min was doing while I was so engrossed…

Min "Helping"
Min “Helping”

She was watching skeptically from a basket of towels. I’m pretty sure she was just waiting for me to blunder. Roxie was upstairs sleeping.

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