Thursday, March 29, 2012

Project: New Life for an Old Dining Room Table

When we bought this house, I was probably just as excited by the prospect of having a garage as I was about having a house.  And boy did we get a garage! The footprint of our garage is actually only one foot less wide than the house footprint - yet it's only a one-car garage, meaning a LOT of extra space available for hobbies!

Back story: A few years ago my dad and I saved an end table from a certain future in a landfill by plucking it out of our neighbors scraps after a garage sale.  It was in sorry shape. The veneer had peeled off part of the top and it was terribly water-stained due to sitting outside for who knows how long... but with some sanding and some wood glue and a lot of elbow grease and patience, we saved it - and now it sits prominently in our living room.

She's much to pretty for a landfill.
Ever since then I've had a nagging urge to refinish wood furniture - but I've never had the space to give it a shot (that's a partial lie - I've had the space, just not the ventilation or the 'ok' from roomies!), so when we bought the house and all of the sudden I had all this space in the garage, I decided that it was time for me to give it a shot on my own.  So, what did I start with? Something simple like another little end table or possibly a cute little jewelry box from the thrift store? NO WAY - I went big and bought a pretty sad looking table and chairs off of Craigslist.  :)

I was being pretty picky about the type of table I was looking for, so I took my time searching Craigslist for a few months after we moved in (thankfully there wasn't much of a hurry since the owners had left their old, retro 70s table for us to use).  Really I was on the hunt for an awesome old farm table, but I wanted it to be a pretty petite table for the space that also had a leaf or two for me to add when we host Thanksgiving (which we did last year - 14 people!).

It's impossible to get everyone to look at the camera at the same time. And without blinking.
Anyway - I kept coming up empty - or my eyes were filled with dollar signs when I saw how much some people were asking for them... until I clicked on my table.  It wasn't a farm table, but I was in love immediately anyway.  The Queen Anne style has always been attractive to me - the table my dad and I saved has the curved legs as does our coffee table, so I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that I fell in love.  The best part was that it was the same size as the dining room table that the previous owners left in the house - which fits the space perfectly, BUT it came with two leaves AND 8 chairs!  For the price, I should have only been able to buy 3 maybe 4 chairs and no table - but here it was - a table, two leaves, and 8 chairs - waiting for me all together!

After some wrangling and ending up having to have the seller help me transport it to the house (I batted my eyes and smiled a lot!), I set it up in the garage and J gave me the look.  You know the look - the one that says, "Um you spent how much cash on this thing? It's ugly as hell and in awful shape and you're expecting to put this in the dining room?"   He doubts me sometimes - but is quickly learning not to! :)

He did have a point though - the thing was UGG-ly.  There was scrapes and scratches and water marks and glass rings all over it - plus it was stained a dark, poopy brown and finished with a high gloss - so it was super, duper, shade-your-eyes shiny. And that's just talking about the table! The fabric on the chairs had worn down to threadbare and there were scuffs and scratches all over them from years of abuse love. And two of them used to be captain's chairs with the arms, but those had fell off a long time ago and no one ever filled in the holes... But I could see though it to the bones underneath. 

No fear! I plunged in with gusto - first trying Minwax's Antique Furniture Refinisher because from what I read it was better for the wood and meant I wouldn't necessarily have to strip the entire thing.  But after I used an entire can and way too much steel wool to barely reveal a piece of the top, I admitted defeat on that approach.

This is as close as I have to a 'before' shot too - I was just too excited to get in there and start refinishing to stop for a picture!
Thankfully I still had some paint stripper that we had picked up in a failed attempt to get the rest of the paint off the dining room walls a while back.  So I grabbed that, dressed up like a lab technician with goggles and elbow high (or are they elbow length?) rubber gloves and dove in to strip that baby down to the bare wood. I happily said bye bye to the shininess and water stains (whoot!), then  sanded the crap out of it to get as many of the scratches out as I could. There were a few left, but I figured that just gave it some character.

Once I got to this point I was completely in love with the table - and completely terrified to go any further and screw it up!!  While I had already decided on the stain to use (Minwax Red Mahogany) since I wanted it to match the antique corner cabinet that was passed down from my grandparents, it took me a few days to work up the nerve to actually apply the first coat of stain.  Since I was so nervous, I decided to only stain the table leaves at the beginning so that I could still potentially bail  on the rest of it!  And OH MAN was I excited when I wiped that layer of stain off!! Check these out!

Ooo la la!!  Look at how it makes the grain pop!

I enthusiastically stained the rest of the table as soon as I wiped the stain off the leaves.  I ended up doing it in four phases overall so that I could keep the time the stain was on the wood pretty uniform (I ended up leaving it on for 15 minutes).  So the leaves were first, then I did the halves of the table separately, followed by the legs and the edge under the tabletop.

Voila! A pretty spectacular difference wouldn't you say?!
Once again I let it set a few days - not only to let the stain finish drying, but because the next step was the one I was the most nervous about - polyurethane. This is the culminating step - the big shabang - the end of the road - the... {{sigh}}.

Since this was going in the dining room to (hopefully!) withstand years of abuse love, I wanted to make sure I got enough polyurethane layers on there to protect it well. A little research online told me that I should do at least 3 coats - and possibly 4.  So 3 or 4 opportunities for me to totally screw it up. Yay.

Coats 1 and 2 actually went on really well.  The only problem is that even with a few days of drying/curing time, the polyurethane still pulled up some of the stain! So there were these little blackish brown spots on top of the polyurethane that once it was kind of tacky, I was able to wipe up - no harm.

Then I made a big mistake. In my over-enthusiasm to finish the table up and get it in the dining room, I put the 3rd layer on when it was raining and humid outside.  The polyurethane apparently isn't a big fan of humidity (which, I may add, is NOT on the can - because if it was, I definitely would not have even TRIED it because I am a goody-two-shoes strict rule-follower!) and went on streaky and bubbly.  I was horrified, but it was too late.  The next day I tried to sand it down and was able to correct the worst of it... but it's not perfect.  I had to have J help me bring it inside so I could put on another couple of layers since I had to sand it down - and those went on fine.  BUT - they went on over top of the mistake that I had made with the 3rd layer.  ERGH.

I suppose I shouldn't have expected it to be perfect since it was my first attempt by myself - but I'm a perfectionist sometimes.

SO - that being said, and my mistakes having been aired - I'm VERY happy with the result overall.  And, for the most part, only I see the imperfections. Plus, when we have company the table is covered in dishes and food anyway - so I suppose I shouldn't be obsessing!

As for the chairs - all I've done with those so far is recover the seats with some great, striped fabric from Joann's.  It's on my summer to-do list (along with getting married!) to refinish the chairs since they're pretty beat up too.  Thankfully I have 8 of them, so while I'm working on one or two at a time, we won't miss them too much!

And now for the big reveal! Here is the dining room table before we switched out the tables.  This is the lovely retro 70s table that the previous owners left.  We got rid of it soon after via FreeCycle - I'm sure it's found a new life, but we weren't sorry to see it go.

The lovely retro table that the previous owners left behind.
And ta da!

The view now!

MAJOR improvement!  And really - if I hadn't admitted my mistake, you probably wouldn't even notice if you walked in and sat down at it... so I'll just have to get over it and look at it from this view. And smile! :)


  1. I only wish that I could be as ambitious as you with this table, and your house in general. You have done an amazing job so far.And I hope that your wedding is even more amazing!

  2. Aw thanks! I think the ambition is partly due to the first-time homeowner thing... who knows how long it will last! :)

    And we're doing a lot of DIY stuff for the wedding too! I'm hoping to share some of it soon!