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My Surreal Summer or “What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Part 2”

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So, as I was saying . . .

With a summer full of stress, both good and bad, I felt a funny emptiness inside. Simultaneously revved up and tired, and really “blah.” I was frustrated that all this worry and praying were tiring, but I had nothing to show for my days. As much as I was thinking about my brother, I couldn’t do a darn thing to make him better.

So I threw myself into a project. A big ol’ project to occupy my mind and busy my hands. Something engaging and challenging and rewarding and tangible.

While wandering the internet a little while back, I had stumbled on a blog called The Painted Hive. It’s one of those gorgeous DIY blogs by a woman who must live a gorgeous a life (I mean, look at the pictures!). Inspiration and good taste. Great blog. Anyway, this blog featured a redone chest of drawers project that I just loved: it had a modern chalkboard black painted finish, industrial castors for feet, and (most importantly) a trompe l’oeil facade that made regular sized drawers look like skinny printers’ cabinet drawers. (Find it here.) So genius!

Totally filed the idea away in my brain. Then while garage saling this summer, I found the perfect dresser for this project. It was an ugly (but solid!) mid-century maple dresser with ugly mod feet. But it was just $5 and already had the paneling that would rock the faux skinny drawer look. I told my daughter to flip down the back seats in my minivan and I bought_that_dresser.

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I didn’t take any time to plan the project because my long-suffering husband does NOT like when my big ideas junk up his immaculate garage. So I got out the power tools and “who cares about perfection” – I was doing this!

The first thing I did was remove those fugly feet and drawer pulls. I felt a little guilty about this because I knew furniture purists would appreciate the mid-century stylings of the piece as a whole, but I got over it. Then I sanded the piece and wood-filled the holes left from the drawer pulls. Boring steps, must be done.

For her chest of drawers project The Painted Hive used industrial castors from a hardware store. I sure considered doing it that way because her finished piece looked so great, but I decided to go in a different direction. In our town we have a building salvage warehouse called PACA that sells everything from tin ceiling tiles to oak mantel surrounds to limestone pillars, all preserved from old buildings. They also have castors and hardware from old furniture, so I decided to buy some seriously old castors from PACA. (When I showed my friend Leah the “before” dresser and told her about my PACA castor idea, she said, “Why don’t you just buy new ones online?! It’s worth it and you’d be done!” And I said, “Do you even know me at all?”) PACA castors price: $2 for four.

After much swearing and pouting, the castors were installed and they look great. Moving on.

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Next step: painting. To really exploit the paneled front and give the look of the skinny printers’ drawers, I rubbed an old candle on every edge and groove on the whole piece before painting. I did this so that after the piece was painted, I could easily sand the grooves and edges to reveal the pretty maple wood underneath and give a subtly distressed look. I decided not to go with the chalkboard look of The Painted Hive’s project, but instead went with a warm black finish. (As hot as chalkboard finish is these days, I think it will look outdated in about two years and I wanted my piece to have a longer-lasting look.) I used some paint that I’ve used for lots of other projects: a semi-gloss black latex called “Coalmine.” Then, for warmth, I rubbed on a mahogany wood stain that I had on hand. Lastly, I sanded all the edges and grooves to full faux effect. Price for leftover paint: $0.

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The last step was the most important: adding the little label drawer pulls. These babies knock the project out of the park, so I hunted down the perfect ones (for me). I really loved some authentic vintage drawer pulls that I saw, but with 18 faux drawers, I didn’t want to drop $6. So I got some reproduction pulls for the right price. (I liked them so much I carry them in my supply shop even. Find ’em here.)

The finished piece is just perfect, just what I wanted. It’s funny, but all my failed projects make the successful projects that much more rewarding. And it was the therapy I needed, too.

As I look at the Before and After pictures, I need to point out one other fixer-upper: that lamp.

Reading West Elm and Crate & Barrel catalogs is seriously dangerous, so don’t even start if you’re not into it already. It’s like meth and I think it forges new neural pathways in your brain. Each page showcasing pristine and hip showrooms so beautiful that find yourself disgusted by your own digs. But anyway, thanks to those terrible catalogs I decided I NEEDED a large metal lamp and that I couldn’t be truly happy until I had one. So, I bought I tacky lamp at a garage sale for $1 so I could make my own.

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The original lamp was brass and outdated, but the shape had the squat form I was looking for. (And dear reader, please note the stained shade in the Before picture. “Eww” and “gross.”) I kept the shade just long enough to measure the dimensions for my NEW lamp shade search, and threw that bad boy away. Then with a can of Krylon Looking Glass Spray Paint, I spray painted the base. (This very small can of spray paint is not cheap – about $13 – but with a Michael’s coupon, the price is better. And the paint color is pretty wonderful and worth it, I think.) Finally I hunted down a lamp shade on Craigslist for $5 and voila.

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Now I’ll never want for anything again. (Snort. Yeah, right.)