Furniture Upgrades & Building Stuff

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?


Changing Tables (And Our Minds)

The changing table was the last functional piece of furniture we still needed for the nursery. And although we quickly agreed we didn’t want to spend a ton of money on that particular function – since diaper changing feels like such a short phase in a bedroom’s life – that was pretty much all we were sure of. I remember before Clara was born a co-worker told me that changing tables were unnecessary since you usually end up changing the kid wherever is most convenient – like on the floor or the nearest piece of furniture – rather than going through the formality of walking all the way to the nursery. This was after we had already bought & refinished Clara’s changing table/dresser so the comment stuck with me, thinking I’d fallen into some first-time parent booby trap.

Surprisingly enough, we used Clara’s changing table religiously. Maybe because our house was small or because it was all one level. If we were at home she got changed on that table. And that routine stuck with us even when we moved to our second house, which was twice as big (but still a one level ranch).

Stairs might be a diaper changing game changer, though. So in this house we plan to keep some changing supplies downstairs for convenience. Anything to make your I-have-a-newborn routine easier, right?

We offhandedly mentioned when we started the nursery that we were considering using my dad’s old dresser that’s currently in our closet, which could double as a changing table. It’s not a permanent closet solution for us (we’ll eventually add a built-in closet system), and we kinda liked the story of our son having his grandfather’s 50-year-old dresser. But after completing the built-ins we realized that the eight drawers of storage they afforded us were awesome, and it was probably overkill to add four more on the other side of the room – especially when some sort of open, easy-access toy & game storage would be more useful for us over there.

So we scratched our heads for a little bit, and then we broke down our criteria:

It was literally looking at that photo above (we were checking to see how closely we had hung the prints together) that we had our A-HA! Why not the Expedit? It met all of our criteria and wasn’t serving a permanent function in its current home in our office (where we someday dream of adding an L-shaped file-storage area along with a floating desk/meeting table). And yes, this all happened right right as the news of the Expedit’s demise (or reincarnation?) hit the web – so it was sort of an all-signs-point-to-Expedit moment.

We unloaded everything (contributing more to the disaster that is our office) and I dragged it upstairs to see if the nursery should be its new home. And I say “drag” literally because I didn’t feel comfortable asking Miss Preggers to lift it. It was heavier than I remembered!

We put it in place on the wall opposite the built-ins and well, it was a bit underwhelming. Granted, it was very very empty and even the changing pad would eventually get a colorful cover. But it wasn’t a compelling case for the Expedit.

We leaned the bike art up to see if that helped, which it did, but we still felt like something needed to be done to make the Expedit a little more upgraded and not as blendy with the wall, rug, and doors.

So we had an idea. A hack, if you will. To add some contrast, and sort of nod to Clara’s white-and-wood changing table, we decided to wrap the outside of the Expedit with stained wood. This would also tie it into my homemade bike art frames, as well as the wood-topped built-ins across the room. You know, kinda like this…

That’s not Photoshop above (I wish I was that good!) – it’s the real after. I thought it would help for you to see that before I dove into the How-To part of the post. So let’s rewind to that, which started with me dragging the Expedit back out to the garage.

Our measurements revealed that three 1 x 6″ boards would be wide enough to cover the Expedit, leaving about a 1/2″ of an overhang on each side. This was nice because it would give the changing pad a bit more surface to sit on (it was the exact width of the original Expedit). We bought basic whitewood because it’s the same stuff we used to make our living room console table, which has held up great for the past few years, and the price was right ($5 for a 6 foot piece). We also wanted a slightly rustic wood look, like we achieved with the console table.

Here are all of the pieces once they were cut to size at home on our miter saw.

To attach the boards into big panels, I used my Kreg Jig to create pocket holes and then I could join each set of 3 side-by-side. It’s the same technique I used for the console top, so you can read more about it here. Note: I often make two holes if they’re going to be hidden when using the Kreg, just so if my first attempt at joining doesn’t line up perfectly, I can try again without having to break out the drill again.

Here are the finished boards all joined together. It’s also after I gave them a quick sanding to soften the edges and any ridges between the boards. I only bought two pieces for the bottom since no one will ever see the missing middle piece – so that explains why those are hanging out by themselves at the bottom of this shot.

Before staining, we decided to take wood conditioner for a spin. Its job is to “prepare” the wood for staining, reduce unevenness/blotchiness, and enhance the color. This small can was $6, so it’s not much of a “risk” – and richer and more even results sounded good to us. It goes on much like stain – you brush or wipe it on, let it penetrate for a few minutes (I gave it 15), and then wipe off the excess. You just have to be sure to stain within 2 hours of the application.

We used the same Minwax Dark Walnut stain that we’ve used elsewhere in the room for consistency (like on the counters of the built-ins and the bike art frames) and only needed one coat. For demonstration purposes, I stained a piece of unconditioned scrap wood (it’s the same exact type of wood, just a leftover piece) to see if there was a difference in using the conditioner. Both Sherry and I were pretty surprised by the comparison. I definitely felt the stain soak in more on the conditioned wood during application, and the color is noticeably richer/warmer on the conditioned wood.

When the stain and my two coats of Safecoat Acrylaq were dry (that’s our favorite poly alternative because it’s non-toxic and locks in any potential fumes or offgasing) I could finally begin attaching these wooden panels to the Expedit. I decided to go with a simple wood-glue-and-nails system, so that I wouldn’t have screw heads to hide after the fact. I prepped the Expedit surface by roughing it up a bit with sandpaper and then applying a bunch of wood glue.

Then I used my nail gun to secure them in place with some 1.75″ brad nails (thank goodness for the thick frame on the Expedit).

Then I did the same with the sides for sort of a waterfall-edge effect.

I let those dry overnight before attempting to flip the piece over and attach the bottom pieces. You can see how I just put them on either end in this shot, since that middle slice will never be seen.

After letting everything dry for a couple of days, I dragged it back upstairs and started on the next step – adding legs and casters. Sherry and I thought two of these chunky $5 casters from Home Depot would be a nice touch, while some stationery legs (made from 2 x 2″ pine and Kregged to the back and middle) would keep it from rolling around mid-diaper-change.

If you’re scratching your head about where the casters were on the after picture, well, they weren’t there. Because we decided they weren’t right for this application. The height they added made the changing pad uncomfortably high (we thought we’d like that added height, but it was a good deal higher than the changing pad height that we were used to in Clara’s room) plus it would’ve meant the art above it would have to hang even higher than the doorway tops, which we thought would look off.

But we really liked the look of it, so we wanted to share the idea in case it worked better for someone else’s application…

It was just a matter of unscrewing a few things to get back to the sitting-straight-on-the-floor look (which also has the benefit of not creating a spot for dust and toys to collect). Then Sherry helped me hang the art and fill the shelves.

Update: There have been a few questions about the height of the changing station. The Expedit itself is 31″ and the wood frame added a few more inches, and the pad itself sits on top of the dresser, so the baby is around 34″ from the ground on the Expedit with the pad on it. Clara’s dresser with the pad on it was around 33″ from the ground – so that range seems to be what we prefer.

The stuff on the shelves is mostly placeholder items (another bin or basket for diapering supplies will definitely end up in the mix). In fact they’ve already been tweaked a little in the rest of the photos in this post. But you hopefully get the idea of how this’ll function for us.

It’s nice to have some concealed storage, plus some open toys and books that he can easily access. The 3 Sprouts dragon box was a gift from Sherry’s friend Cat during Clara’s dragon-loving days that Clara brought in and said was for her brother because he likes green (yes, Sherry melted into a puddle). Who knew those bins were perfectly sized for an Expedit? Apparently Clara did.

We might need to get a few more large baskets to house diapers and wipes more easily, but other than that, this changing area has shaped up quite nicely. Well, except for the fact that the changing pad cover is just leftover fabric that Sherry tucked around it – so we have to buy/make a real cover soon.

The funniest part of this entire endeavor was when Clara brought in a baby onesie from a to-be-washed pile in the guest bedroom and said Barnacle wanted to wear it while we took his picture. Apparently we have an accidental tradition of dressing up not-real-babies in the nursery before the real baby arrives, since this happened in Clara’s crib after we set it up.

Oh and for anyone wondering how the changing pad is secured in place, it’s the same one we used for Clara, and it has two over-sized snaps on the back that attach to snaps that get screwed into the furniture or wall from the back. These are pics from making Clara’s dresser (which you read more about here) but we were easily able to remove them and screw them into the back edge of the Expedit.

We’ve also used heavy duty 3M command velcro to adhere the bike art firmly to the wall beyond the screws-into-studs/anchors hanging method that we used. So the little guy shouldn’t able to knock it off the wall or even pull it off (not that he’ll ever be unsupervised up there anyway). We did joke that it could get peed on, but the slick poster board material will hopefully work in our favor. We also have a hilarious tiny tent-like item that was a gift for keeping the spray at bay, if you will.

We’re really happy with how this little upgrade turned out, and we’re hoping it has some lasting value as toy and book storage when Barnacle gets older. I’m already picturing it stuffed with bins of legos. And the cost of our update was around $45 – the wood was $39 and the wood conditioner was $6 – since we already owned the stain and returned the casters (you can add $15 to cover those if you don’t have ‘em).

The nursery is feeling much more complete now that we’ve dealt with that formerly empty wall. And Sherry’s putting the finishing touches on her mobile project for over the crib (this is just a photoshopped version of what she’s going for), so she’ll be back with those details in the next few days. It’s amazing how much more homey a room feels without two big blank walls staring back at you.

Aaaaaand I just realized the fun part of diaper changing is pretty much over. It only gets uglier from here. Speaking of which, we haven’t forgotten that we need to add a place for dirty diapers (we’ve had luck with this method for Clara, so we might go that route again). How’s that for a note to leave off on?

Do you guys use changing tables, or are you bed/floor/random-other-spot folks? Have you done anything fun to an Expedit lately? It’s amazing how many hacks there are. Can you believe Ikea’s retiring them (or at least tweaking and renaming them)? Will the new name stick, or will we all still call them Expedits?