Furniture Upgrades & Building Stuff

Basket Case

Remember how we had a trash compactor in our kitchen? Remember how we removed it waaaaay back in March? Well, we have officially filled the void with some slide out baskets.

Only took us three months.

Not that the hole it left wasn’t super attractive and crazy functional. I mean, if incorporating a “great Clara hiding spot” into our kitchen was the goal (and I put that in quotes because Clara’s hiding spots are frequently preceded by “I’m going to go hide in the [insert one of four usual locations here]“). So yeah, it’s time this hole worked a little harder.

We debated a few options – like putting a trash or recycling bin there (but this cabinet hack is already working nicely for us) or adding some open shelves (like we did in our master bath). Ultimately we decided to attempt some sliding basket storage, kind of like what we’ve admired here and here. It would help us get our dishcloths, cloth napkins, and paper napkins out of the various spots they’re housed throughout the kitchen and into one distinct spot, and it would satisfy our curiosity as to whether it’s a feature we’d appreciate in our eventual kitchen remodel (you know we love to use Phase 1 projects as a do-we-even-like-this test before committing long-term).

So with a few key measurements in hand, Sherry hit up HomeGoods and found these two perfectly-sized and nicely-colored winners. And she almost left our tape measure there. Close call, guys.

Before we could put those baskets to use, there was work to be done. I started by filling in two basic areas to make the hole look more cabinet-y thanks to a board across the top and the toe-kick. I attached both by screwing a brace piece into the back of the existing cabinet lip, then nailing the face pieces in.

Next I had to build out the sides of the cabinet to make them flush with the outer lip, that way the drawer slides could attach inside without being obstructed when we tried to slide them out. I did this by screwing in a few pieces of scrap wood that I cut to fit. Actually, up to this point in the project I was able to pull everything from my scrap pile. Am I the only one who feels a special kind of victory when this happens?

With the cabinet hole built out, it was time to create my drawers. Simply put, I used my Kreg Jig to create a frame that the tapered basket could then slide into. I built them out of 1.5″ square dowels from Lowe’s. That was a pretty precise thickness that I needed, so my scrap pile couldn’t help me here. Sad face emoji.

This was probably the most complicated part of the project to figure out. There was lots to take into account to make sure that the frame:

There was lots of triple-checking myself. Since my exact measurements would only work if you have exactly the same opening and exactly the same baskets, just use the descriptors below to create your own frame that should fit whatever specifications you’re working with.

The drawer slides we selected were these ball-bearing ones from Home Depot. They’re a little pricier than your basic wheeled slide ($15 vs. $5), but I thought the full-extension would come in handy – and who doesn’t love a soft close?

Per the instructions, I detached the drawer rail part and screwed it into each side of my two frames. I found it helpful to mark the holes with pen, drill pilot holes, and then come back with the screw to ensure careful placement.

I attached them along the bottom edge of my drawer frame. It not only made keeping them straight/level easier, but also meant when we reattached the rest of the slide (which was thicker) it didn’t stick up above the frame. #thinkingahead

Back inside, I held up my frame in the cabinet hole to mark its placement. Then I detached the cabinet rail part of the slide, held it in place, marked my hole, drilled pilot holes, and screwed the first one in place. This was possible with two hands, but easier with four, so I recommend recruiting your lovely burp cloth sporting spouse (or a friend, neighbor, relative, but probably not your dog) if you can. You can see below that we already had the bottom drawer done and in place.

Before screwing the second one in, I temporary reassembled everything so we could check that it was level first. Not only would this ensure that it looked straight, but it helps the drawers slide more smoothly.

With the second side screwed in, I reattached the drawer, held my breath and checked that everything worked. Insert sigh of relief here.

The next step was to place the basket into the frame. They sat in there nicely, but I shoved them down a bit to keep things snug.

Here are the two basket drawers installed (after we decided after the fact to shift the top one down a couple of inches). We contemplated doing a third, but HomeGoods only had two baskets, and we thought we’d take advantage of the fact that there’s already a working outlet back there (the trash compactor was plugged in, not hard-wired).

Taking advantage actually just meant adding a simple shelf (built from scrap wood!). Sherry suggested that we use it as a phone charging spot, but I saw it as an excuse to buy the Bluetooth speaker that I’ve been trying to justify buying for a while now. Our kitchen radio reception is really spotty at this house, and having my phone tethered to an auxiliary cable has meant that it has gone largely unused since we moved in.

One last finishing piece was to add a few thin boards to the front of each drawer (and the shelf) to give the fronts a clean and consistent look. Plus, it hid the drawer slides even more.

Here’s everything built. Now it was just a matter of staining everything to match. Well, match-ish.

We stained our existing cabinets with PolyShades in their Tudor color, so I wish it was as simple as just repeating that process. But obviously the raw wood finish here is pretty different from the medium brown-red stain that the other cabinets already had going on. So first Sherry darkened the new pieces with a coat of Dark Walnut stain that we had on hand.

After that dried she started in with the PolyShades coats. It ended up taking three coats of it to get a similar tone to the surrounding cabinets. It’s not a perfect match (the cabinets are a little redder) but its close enough for us.

Oh, and you can see that Sherry found a $12 HomeGoods runner to help cover the fact that the laminate floor under there wasn’t looking so hot. Not that the scratched up faux brick is looking very hot anywhere in here.

As planned, the baskets got filled with dishtowels & paper napkins (top basket) and cloth napkins (bottom basket).

Oh, and the bluetooth speaker that we ended up buying is this one from Target. It’s plugged in/charging below and can be has been easily removed for use around the house (so far mostly out back on the deck).

Sherry suggested I include a video of a drawer in action, specifically to demonstrate the soft-close function. Sure I could have uploaded a three second video and called it good, but I just couldn’t resist some music and some slow-mo action.

It’s almost as titillating as our console video from back in the day.

Not sure there’s much to say after those. I’m sorry? You’re welcome? But so far we’re digging the sliding baskets.

What projects have you guys been tackling lately? Kitchen stuff? Building? Painting? Outdoor updates? With these done we simultaneously want to deal with the kitchen floors rightthissecond and ignore them for a few more months.

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Inlay It On Me

This kind of spoils the whole “wait for it… here it comes…” build-up, but I had to lead with an after picture for you guys.

It’s a super affordable, deceivingly simple thrift store table upgrade. Seriously, don’t tell me you can’t do this. You can.

And I’ll give you one of these if you say you can’t.

Do you remember the $25 thrift store Moroccan table that I brought home nearly two years ago?

Even after cleaning it up, the top still had a few issues, but I didn’t want to rush into altering it right away (like attempting to putty, sand, prime, and stain/paint it) so I just tossed a few things on the top to hide those cracked and water-stained areas. John and I really liked the wood tone and the cool interlocking shapes on the top anyway, so we thought living with it as-is for a while was the way to go.

Fast forward nearly two years, and well, we’ve definitely lived with it for a while. No sir, there was no rushing into anything with this guy. But the years haven’t been very kind to the top of the table. And by “the years” I mostly mean Clara, who figured out that she could pull little wood shapes out of it like a puzzle.

Some areas were a lot looser than we thought, and a few pieces even started to pop out and get lost in the shuffle.

The temptation to paint our bedragged little table definitely came back full-force as it continued to fall deeper into despair. Especially when we started noticing sweet little versions like this and this popping up. Meanwhile, our old thrift store find was giving off that “uh, you don’t really have much to lose at this point” vibe. So we thought “let’s just try refinishing it, and if that backfires we can always paint it as a backup.” The first step was sanding it and adding some wood filler to those cracked, broken, or uneven areas.

We had luck using this same type (and tone) of wood putty with our dark-stained kitchen cabinets (more on that here), so although we debated running out to buy some darker wood putty for this project, we figured we’d have the same luck with being able to even things out with a little more stain on those puttied areas. That last sentence is foreshadowing. Feel free to read into it.

After everything was dry, we sanded those areas, and then it was stain time.

We wanted the same rich reddish-brown tone that it had always had, so we went with Red Mahogany stain by Minwax (we’ve had the same can since using it on Clara’s two-tone dresser four years ago). After two coats – applied with a brush and wiped off, per the instructions – it was clear that those wood puttied areas were being a lot more stubborn than they had been when it came to our kitchen cabinets. Bummerz.

So I did what I usually do whenever a project goes wrong. I stepped away from it for a while and John and I started working on something else and ran to Home Depot for some other materials. In other words I just tried to forget about it for a little while – hoping some solution would come to me. Honestly I expected the solution to be “well, we said painting was a backup plan and it sounds like that’s the best option.”

Then as we pulled into our garage after returning from Home Depot, stain markers popped into my head. I knew we had one in a dark color since I occasionally use it to touch up the dark wood furniture items that we have (like our foyer console table, Clara’s dresser, our sofa table, etc), so I figured I could just give that a go on the wood puttied areas to see if it might darken them up so they blended better.

Miracle of all miracles, it worked. I just scribbled it on and gently wiped it with a paper towel to blend it all in.

It didn’t completely hide the putty (you still can see those spots when you stare at the top in this picture) but it definitely was a nice leap closer to the not-as-obvious effect that we were going for.

And that’s when I had another idea to completely obscure them. What if I didn’t paint 80% of the table, but I added some interest in a few areas with an inlay inspired detail? I figured that might draw the eye away from those patched spots while adding some fun detailing without completely robbing the table of the wood look like a full-on paint job would. I even found this example in an binder full of magazine tear sheets since I vaguely remembered thinking about that as a “down the line” idea a year or two ago. Turns out I had even written myself a little note so I wouldn’t forget.

It’s definitely not a tame idea (ok, maybe it falls into the “kinda crazy” category) but I figured we didn’t have much to lose, and John was down with the idea too. So with his blessing it just came down to the “how” of the project. I considered everything from stencils and stamps to attempting to freehand the whole thing, and landed on a combo move: freehanding the leafy vines that connect everything but creating a cardboard template for the star-like shapes that seem to be on a lot of Moroccan designs.

I thought a paint pen would give me more control than a paint brush, so I decided to try that first. Thankfully this Sharpie paint pen worked well, so I’d recommend it – but be sure to use their oil-based version (they also have a water-based one that I love) if you’re using it on a stained piece of furniture to avoid any bleed-through. To avoid fumes, I just opened a bunch of windows and Bane-d things up with my respirator so I wasn’t breathing anything in that I shouldn’t be.

To make my cardboard stencil I found a seven pointed star online, printed it out onto card stock in a bunch of different sizes, picked the size I liked best, and cut that one out. As for how I landed on seven sides for my shape, I noticed some Moroccan designs that had five, six, seven, or eight pointed stars – so because seven is our favorite number I went for that.

I traced that onto a piece of cardboard and cut it out. Then it was as simple as tracing around that like a template right onto the table, and filling it in (it took a few coats of “filling in” for things to look nice and solid, so pardon the sketchy look of these progress pics). Note: in hindsight I wish my stars were a smidge smaller, so choosing a star printout that’s a little smaller than the one you want will probably yield the perfect size since the traced outline makes it slightly bigger.

I drew one of them in the middle of the top and one on each of the corners, and then I just made random sort of wavy lines to connect them all.

Those were the simplest part, and adding little leaves on alternating sides turned those squiggles into vines. If you tell me you can’t do this I’ll challenge you to a duel with a paint pen, because you can. Anyone can. Just practice with a marker on a piece of paper, and make some wavy lines and add some leaves. It’s crazy easy, I promise.

Then I just added more vines to connect the outside edges. This is before I did one more “coat” for the stars, so it’s still a bit sketchy looking in a few places. The cool thing about adding the faux inlay detailing was that it made the puttied parts virtually invisible, thanks to adding a lot more contrast with that white detailing. Can you even tell where the putty is anymore? It’s amazing what a little “look over here” diversion can do for a cute-but-flawed patch-job on an old secondhand table.

To do each of the six sides of the table, I laid it down on its side and worked on each one at a time – adding a star to the top, middle, and bottom of each leg, and connecting those with a hand-drawn leafy vine.

As I mentioned, the paint pen filled those stars in sort of sketchily, so I went back over all of them with another “coat” to make them look more solid. The vines were fine with one coat though, so it didn’t take too long. I actually might do one more star coloring session to make sure they’re solid looking before I use Safecoat Acrylacq to seal it all in (that’s our favorite non-toxic poly alternative).

Overall this entire refinishing process took a few hours and the inlay inspired stenciling/freehanding probably took two more, so it wasn’t as fast as painting it a solid color, but it was really fun to try something new – especially since this design is so common on Moroccan tables, and we still get to enjoy that pretty wood tone coming through.

Considering that some of the real-deal mother of pearl inlay tables sell for over $1000 (!!!) I’m cool with this $25 “look for less” result with some paint on our sweet little thrift store find. We had everything that we used in our arsenal already, but even if you had to buy wood putty, stain, a stain pen, and a paint pen, you’d only spend around $25 on materials.

It’s definitely one of those bolder furniture moves, so it’s probably not for everyone, but it was fun to try something different. And the nice thing is that it’s not too much of a commitment, so if we tire of it down the line we can always sand it down and re-stain it, or even paint it a solid color someday.

Right now it looks pretty sweet in the nursery since there are other wood elements in there (the built-in dresser tops, the crib drawer, the wood wrapped toy cabinet, the wooden bike frames) but we’re not sure if it’ll stay there for the long haul. You know we’ll keep you posted!

Were any of you making over any furniture this week? Have you ever tried one of those stain pens on wood putty? Or a Sharpie paint pen? I was so relieved that the stain pen helped and the paint pen actually worked (I think my lines would have been a little harder to control with a craft brush). When a project stalls out, how do you deal with it. Do you walk away and work on something else? Google around for ideas? Consult your all-knowing chihuahua?

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