Thrift Find Turned 21st Century Functional
When our family moved cross-country this summer, we had to make some serious decisions about what to keep, what we could live without, and what we should buy once we got to our new home.
I’ve always had an adrenaline rush when purging clothes, toys, household goods, and just generally unnecessary items. (Something my mother would become exasperated with when I was first learning the value of money, as I’d spend a bunch of money thinking I was being bargain savvy and then inevitably end up putting clothing – with tags still attached – into garbage bags for donation a few weeks/months later … to this day, she loves to remind me how “impulsive” I can be. Ugh!)
So I relished in the idea of finally getting a chance to test out the KonMari method of decluttering once and for all. (Or so I hoped!)
“The Purge” actually happened twice for us – once when we sold our house in Bucks County to live with my parents briefly, and again when we were making executive decisions on what to take when we moved to California. I must say, having a finite amount of space available to you helps with the process and refocuses you on what’s truly needed in your life and what keepsakes you can live with or without.
We knew that buying things in SoCal would be a lot more expensive, so we talked openly and honestly about what we absolutely needed when we got settled in – our list was short and simple: a second car (pre-owned if possible), a King size bed, a couch, a desk or table for our office equipment, and nightstands for the master bedroom and our daughter’s bedroom.
I lucked out with the last item on the list when I decided to check out the As-Is section in IKEA … you know the one – the weird room off to the side of the checkout area where people seem to be aimlessly milling about. We’d searched the store and I found some things I liked but didn’t love (especially not for the price) and was about to give up. Lo and behold, I found a small pretty greenish nightstand with a few dents and dings for an amazing price – and where those imperfections were, I knew no one would see thanks to carpeting and placement against a wall.
For our bedroom, however, I was presented with a challenge. My husband and I had agreed that we couldn’t spend a fortune, but also didn’t want to go with the usual particle board prefab stuff that you can find just about anywhere.
I got it in my head that I would just do a little DIY project if I ever found something that was “doable” and started to visit thrift stores in the area in search of just the right items. One super hot day, I took my cranky preschooler into the Salvation Army store and was about to abandon my mission to haul her out kicking and screaming (because all she wanted to do was run around and play with the toys, which were on the opposite side of the very large store).
Just as I was lunging to grab her hand and tell her that we were leaving, I saw a huge bedroom set that was far too ominous (and frankly hideous) to imagine ever working with any boudoir. I almost wrote it off, but then my eyes fell upon the nightstands and I went in for a closer look. After some inspection and negotiation with the store manager (as I stressed to her that I only wanted the nightstands and not the entire set), she sold them to me for $40 and had an employee re-write the tag for the rest of the set. I still can’t imagine who would buy the other three pieces!
Though well constructed and made of honest to goodness wood, they were very dated and far from anything that could be described as my style. My husband was so happy to have a real nightstand that he actually suggested keeping them as they were … I know I must’ve given him the worst glare ever after recovering from vomiting in my mouth. So we chatted about the existing condition of this furniture and what we could do to make them less ugly.
I had already been investigating ways to fill in large spaces and cracks to modernize furniture and stumbled upon a blog post that became my main source of inspiration. I had never heard of Bondo before (surprisingly, my husband hadn’t either – and he practically lives at Home Depot!), but was excited to see if I could transform my horrid nightstands with it.
I followed all of the instructions, but on a larger scale. Whereas she only had one drawer that had been made to look like it had several sections, I was dealing with 4 drawers with deep grooves to create that effect, as well as a deep trench carved into the top of each nightstand as a “decorative” marking. As you can see from the picture, the hardware was pretty intense too. Having done DIY once before, I knew this would be an undertaking. But if it turned out even half decent, it would be a marked improvement.
I let my 4 year old daughter pick out a color of semi-gloss paint from Target, which I later realized matched these tiny little leaves on the bedspread we have (bonus!). I only bought one bucket and still have paint left over should I ever need it later on. And then we went to Lowe’s to pick up some supplies.
Here’s what I got:
Pretty new drawer pulls in a chrome finish
A small foam roller and a few roller refills (eliminates the appearance of brush strokes!)
An angled brush
A tiny paint tray
A 3-pack of disposable safety masks with built-in respirator
A box of non-latex gloves
A small putty knife
Wood putty (this was not only great for filling in the holes of the old hardware, but also helped blend some of the spots that needed more sanding to create a somewhat seamless look after Bondo had been applied and sanded down).
After hauling the bulky nightstands up three flights of stairs to our apartment, I found our box of painting gear and pulled out tarps, paint stir sticks, and my old painting t-shirts and pants. Next, I cut up a cardboard box to create a place on which I’d mix the Bondo (like an artist’s palette but disposable after every application – just used a new square each time).
We’re lucky enough to have a sizeable balcony, so I set up shop out there and made that my workspace for two months – had I not been busy settling into our new home and getting acclimated with a small child in tow 24/7, I’d have finished the project much sooner. But the balcony was great because it was well ventilated and everything could sit and dry in the sunlight and fresh air without worry of excessive humidity or precipitation ruining anything.
The first few days, I got down and dirty with my husband’s hand sanders. I wish I’d noted what the grit was on the sand paper pads he had, but sadly I do not know. They were certainly very coarse and helped strip off the layers of wood stain (and later Bondo) to create a nice smooth surface to paint. Pro Tip: Be sure the little bag on the back of the sander is reattached correctly after emptying! (I ended up looking like a ghost when dust spewed out the back and all over me. D’oh!)
I followed the instructions from the Maple Nightstand Makeover post very closely, though I had to
do several more applications of Bondo to fill in the grooves of my drawers. I will caution that, if anyone attempts this type of project, they not spread the Bondo too far beyond the space it’s filling, as it becomes super challenging to blend in with the wood upon sanding and creates “shiny” spots when painting (similar to spackling before repainting a wall). And gloves and a face mask are absolute musts! This stuff has a lot of chemicals in it to make it work (which can affect your breathing and skin if it makes contact), dries quickly, and does not come off once hardened, so it’s vital to protect yourself.
I won’t lie. This process was pretty intensive, as I had to wipe down all of the nooks and crannies and flat surfaces after each sanding (I just used warm water and rags, then let everything air dry for a few hours in between each round) … and I ended up doing a LOT of sanding manually at points because it was just easier to apply pressure and get the desired smoothness.
We had decided to keep the curved beveled trim around the base as well as the edging around the table top of each nightstand intact, but I wish I had planned out HOW I would address the newly filled gaps around the edging of each drawer (to match that same detailing as the base) a bit more. In hindsight, I likely would’ve used a Dremel and spent some time doing more fine, detailed work. I found that using the edge of my sander wasn’t working at all, so I ended up using a ghetto fabulous, McGyver-like tool (sandpaper that was folded in half several times to create a sturdy, grippable tool that I used the edge of) to “create” indentations similar to the beveling that had been done elsewhere around the drawer fronts. That method didn’t create a perfect edging (you can definitely tell it’s a DIY if you’re up close), but it did the trick.
Once everything had been sanded for a final time and I was fairly satisfied with the results, it was time for paint and finish. The foam roller is definitely the way to go for the flat, smooth surfaces, but I used the angled brush for the base trim and other smaller areas.
I used a shop-vac to vacuum up the plethora of sanding dust and did my best to gently shake out the tarps into trash bags (so that our neighbors below wouldn’t be rained down on with nastiness at any given time), and then gave everything one final wipe down and drying. Then, in my typical paranoid fashion, I checked the Internet to be sure I would be painting just right before we drilled for the new hardware and commenced to put paint to wood.
Speaking of which, kudos to my hubby for drilling the holes for our new hardware! Similar to the post I was using as my guide, we found that the places that had been filled in with Bondo were quite easy to drill through. And it was his brilliant idea to create a template for the drawer fronts so that the holes and eventual drawer pulls were exactly in the same spots for each of the four drawers. (I just used some of my daughter’s construction paper and tape to create something the same length/width of each drawer front and then measured and marked where the holes should go.)
From a distance, or even in our dimly lit bedroom, you can’t see all of my “oops” spots (where the Minwax pooled a bit and yellowed at the base of one of the nightstands because I hadn’t carefully brushed it out one more time, or where it’s apparent that the paint didn’t go on seamlessly over the sanded Bondo on the table tops or drawer fronts, despite my attempts to use fortified paint in between Minwax layers at the end). But for my third-ever DIY furniture project, I think these turned out great and we’re both very happy to have functional nightstands that look pretty darned good in our new bedroom.