It would be unkind to say I am a total failure in the world of domestic home-improvement projects. Not inaccurate, just unkind. Because I really try. And luckily for the retailers who sell dreams of being successful next time, I never completely give up.
Which is why I should stay out of stores with painted furniture. Only I didn’t (I blame my daughter for this, because she took me to one). I loved it. And how hard could painting furniture be? If I wanted to know that, I could wander down to the basement to behold the small chest with paint drips down the side, and veneer that should have been repaired before I painted, but I didn’t want to be discouraged. I wanted to shed my reputation as someone who could mess up “foolproof” directions and who really should stick with finding other people’s mistakes (editing) instead of making them myself (painting).
Besides, I rationalized, this was weekend entertainment. And also, if I turned out to be really good at this, then it was potentially a side job. Right… most people pick side jobs they are good at. One thing I was serious about: I was not going to spend a fortune on something that might turn out to be a disaster. And given my history, that was possible. Likely, even.
I checked Pinterest, normally the downfall of people like me, but looked specifically for painting mistakes and for tips for first-timers. I came away with some basic information that a) I needed an angled brush (still not sure why), b) the angled brush should not be the cheapest I could find (the bristles can shed and mess up your paint job), c) I should use a primer, not a paint with primer in it (bad — I wanted to make this as quick and efficient as possible), and d) I wanted THIN coats of paint, even though in my heart of hearts I did not want to see the flowery design on the old dresser peek through after I had primed and painted. Also, I wanted instant, or at least quick, results.
Armed with this advice, I went to my local home-improvement store, with a couple of drawer pulls rattling around in the bottom of my purse. (If you are truly uninitiated, you need a screwdriver to remove these. The “plus” kind is called a Phillips screwdriver and the “minus” is a standard. A further hint to help you remember which way to twist it: “righty-tighty, lefty-loosey.” That I find these useful should help you ascertain my level of expertise and skill.)
Job One was to pick a color. I already knew I wanted something with an enamel finish, and something that would clean up with soap and water. I looked in the bargain bin to see what was available. There wasn’t any water-based enamel, but there was pink-tinted primer in a small (31.5 ounce) can. Non-returnable and $1.99. Sold. Who cared about primer color? You cover that, right? No such luck with the enamel, so I looked at the colors. I selected something called “Rock Lagoon,” and the paint-mixer person mixed it up for me, wiping her paint-covered thumb on her apron, announcing, “I love this — it’s a happy color!” (It also looked like what I saw at the painted furniture store.) And I liked the saleswoman, because she did not look like she was trying hard not to sigh or roll her eyes when I explained what I was doing (I wasn’t sure) and asked about paintbrushes. I picked up a brush and a dropcloth (sort of — it was brown paper) and wandered over to drawer pulls. The ones I really loved were really expensive. I decided to wait to see how the paint job was going to go.
The furniture victim was a little-girl dresser with a Formica top that looks like wood. The furniture was made of pressed board, exposed when the “paint” finish peeled off. I couldn’t get all of it to peel off and didn’t worry about that. Then I cleaned the piece with Windex (another Pinterest tip). Pressed board is supposedly harder to work with than actual wood, but it was easier for me, because it involved no guilt that I might be destroying something of value. So I painted the furniture tinted-primer-pink. Then rinsed the brush and started in on the enamel (the label said primer dried in 30 minutes, and it took at least that long for me to paint). You have to wait at least two hours to do a second coat of enamel. I probably waited an hour and 50 minutes because I’m impatient.
The next morning I put the dresser back together and retouched the paint (the retouching was necessary after I tried to force the wrong drawer in — if the drawers are different depths, this would be a good thing to note ahead of time). I was astonished that it kind of resembled some of the Pinterest pictures of projects that were successful. And then I stood back and thought of more ways I could spend money on this.
The people who know what they are doing often choose to use chalk paint, and then they “distress” furniture, sanding it and using stain to make it look older. My cheap furniture wasn’t going to be sanded; it had no grain to follow. After that, I think you wax the furniture (more money!) or else use a water-based varnish (who knew those existed?). So I was exempt from any desire to further distress any furniture that had already spent years in a child’s room and then been at the mercy of my “talent.” It had already been traumatized plenty. (But on the being-thrifty side, cheap furniture that would not withstand further refinishing saved me money twice.)
I had a moment of wondering what it would look like if I bought new hardware or painted the top a contrasting color. But then I remembered one crucial thing: If I “invested” any more in this piece of furniture, I couldn’t brag that I transformed it for less than $30. (And then there was the fact that I hadn’t yet ruined the furniture.) I decided to stop while I was ahead; I moved the dresser back into its place and left it alone.
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Images courtesy Bev O’Shea