When first we met
As some of you may recall, we moved to Phoenix with a 6′ by 7′ by 8′ cube. It required us to jettison most of our furniture, including our coffee and end tables.
We went thrift store hunting the second day we were in town. A few stores in, I found a great end table.
It was $15 and a nice cherry color. There were maybe two scratches, and they were hard to see unless you really looked for them. It was perfect for our needs — and our budget.
Alas, eight years with us will wear anything down. Now it looks like this:
As you can see, we somehow managed to chip/gouge the top in a few places. Fun fact: Even a nail polish pad that feels dry will eat up wood veneer. Hence that semi-circle on the left side.
And if all that weren’t bad enough, there were scuzzy marks that were never going to come off thanks to our lax cleaning habits.
My kingdom (but not my budget) for an end table!
The easiest thing to do would be to find a cheap replacement, which is exactly what I tried to do.
That’s how I found out that people on Craigslist are out of their minds. I scoured the site for a couple of weeks. The only end tables under $40 were ugly, outdated or had cosmetic issues of their own. In which case… What’s the point?
Look, I understand that furniture is expensive. But it’s not my problem that people overpaid for their now-unwanted items. I don’t why my bank account should suffer other people’s poor judgement.
I tried thrift stores, but with my energy issues their hit-or-miss nature takes its toll. The end tables I saw were once again either outdated or scratched up.
It became increasingly obvious that I was going to have to DIY it. (DIM it?)
How do we fix it?
Normally, my solution to ugly furniture is to slap a coat o’ paint on it and be done. After all, it worked for our bathroom cabinet.
But the gouges presented a problem. Just painting over them would still leave noticeable dents. Luckily, I had recently fallen down the Pinterest rabbit hole trying to find a solution to our ugly sinks — more on that some other day — and had seen a bunch of pins on using faux stone spray paint.
The uneven texture of the stone would nicely mask the divots, and spray paint is much cheaper than the regular stuff. Well… Technically you get more coverage with a quart of paint than a can of spray paint. But if you only have one project, then it’s not a great value.
After (far too much) comparison, I chose Krylon Granite. With a Michael’s 40% off coupon, of course.
First things first
I covered up everything but the top using trash bags and painters tape.
I made sure to get the tape as close to the seam as possible to avoid spray paint dripping onto the main part of the table.
Then came sanding. Which took a few passes because, with laminate (and a kinda well-used sanding block) it’s had to tell if you’ve scuffed it up enough to start painting.
Eventually, I decided that I’d done as much as I could. I took it into the garage — away from curious dogs — and started spraying.
This is when I learned an important (and in retrospect) pretty obvious rule: When using faux stone, paint the piece of furniture first.
My life would have been infinitely easier if I had gotten a $3 sample bottle of black paint. Instead, I tried to cover up cherry-colored wood with something that spreads out thinly.
Which is why, after the first coat, the table looked like someone with a slightly worrisome illness had sneezed on it.
The second coat was slightly better. Slightly.
By the time I got to the fourth coat, there was actual coverage. Even so, you could still see the red-brown in spots.
Unfortunately, that fourth coat emptied the can.
The next day I printed out another 40% off coupon and went back to Michael’s for a second can of spray paint. While I was working on the… Sixth? Seventh? Well, it was a very late-stage coat. And I was on automatic. Which is how I learned another important lesson: Keep an eye on your tape’s integrity.
Otherwise, this happens:
Luckily, I noticed it after a minute or two. That left me time to wipe it off before the texture dried on. But “enough time” consisted of a brief, expletive-laden freakout while sprinting inside for a rag.
My point is that maybe you should reinforce your tape day to day, especially if you’re working Phoenix summer temps.
On the bright side, this episode made me look a little closer at the table top. And that’s how I noticed that I’d completely missed its bottom slope (right before it turned into unfinished wood on the underside). You can click on the picture above for a closer look.
More expletives ensued as I picked the can back up and started layering that spot all the way around the table.
Eventually, I had to accept that it was as good was it was going to get, unless I wanted to buy a third can and extend the project an extra day.
I did not. So it was time to move on to the sealing stage. And that’s when I learned my final lesson:
DON’T GET SPRAY-ON SEALANT!
Min-Wax has a perfectly good sealant that you paint on with a brush. It’s only a couple bucks more, and it’s utterly worth it.
Should you fail to heed my advice, then I urge you to take the can’s directions very, very seriously. Those very explicitly state that the can should remain 10″ to 16″ away from the surface you’re spraying.
I kept accidentally moving the can closer, usually if I was trying to cover up a small gap between the rows I’d sprayed. This left some spots a little shiny, despite the spray being matte.
More importantly, the force of the spray (or the concentrated nature of the spray or whatever damned force was at play) pushed some of the texture off. I could suddenly see brown in several places that I swore had been covered before.
There was nothing to do but to use my dwindling supply of Granite to try to cover those spots as best I could. I emptied the can and was much more careful with the next coat of sealant.
In the end, I think things evened out well, though I still didn’t quite cover everything up again. So if anyone asks, I definitely meant to retain some brown undertones in the piece.
Not done yet
I gave the sealant a full day to dry then went into the garage to see how it looked. Despite all of the problems, it turned out pretty snazzy.
I eagerly took down the garbage bags, excited to see the finished product. Unfortunately, the piece wasn’t actually finished. See, I’d been so preoccupied with the imperfections on the top, I’d failed to notice how bad of shape the rest of it was in.
To the orphan paint bin!
If you’re not familiar with the term, “orphan paint” is the stuff in home improvement stores that got mixed but not purchased. It might not have turned out the right shade, or the customer may just never have shown up to get it. Other times, a customer returns the paint because it didn’t quite look right in the house.
Stores stack all those lonesome colors in a small area and slap deeply discounted prices on the lids. That’s the place you want to go when you’re in need of affordable paint.
In my case, I got this (2/3 full) can:
Incidentally, other good places to find cheap paint:
- The Habitat ReStore: Also a great source for stains, hardware and any other leftovers contractors/businesses have leftovers of
- Freecycle/Craiglist: Pretty self-explanatory.
- Landfills: Some set aside household chemicals from the rest of the trash, and they’re free to anyone who wants them. Mom and her DF recently used two cans from the landfill, which nicely covered their new deck. (Some landfills also set aside furniture, which is another reason to check them out.)
- Friends, family, neighbors, etc: Projects almost always finish with a bit of paint to spare. They may offer it to you, but only if they know you’re looking.
Well, that’s different
I learned an interesting piece of information that day. It turns out that a steely blue color applied to cherry(-colored) wood will look practically teal.
Given how bright the paint looked, I decided to do something more akin to a dry brush technique. Kind of like what I used on our cabinets.
If you’re not familiar with drybrushing, here’s how I do it:
- Dip my brush lightly into the paint
- Wipe the brush against the inside of the can lid to get as much off as possible
- Make a couple of lines with the brush (not too close together)
- Begin moving the brush over those lines, spreading the paint out horizontally and diagonally.
- Keep doing this until my brush isn’t moving paint anymore. Dip the brush again.
The point of this process isn’t to leave any spots bare. You want to make sure there’s some paint all over the visible surface. The trick is to make sure that the paint stays relatively thin in some spots, allowing the base color to peek through and mellow out the color.
How thin is up to you. Some people prefer to barely brush it on. Others will prefer to leave only a few spots of the base showing. It’s entirely a matter of taste (and the color involved).
Play around with it. If you decide your first try was too thin, you can add another layer. If you go too thick, a little bit of sanding will thin it out.
Red-brown and teal aren’t the most ideal color combination, so I didn’t want to go too thin. But I tried to leave plenty of hints of the base color to mellow the top coat out as much as I could.
Of course “mellow” is a relative term here. But think how eye-searing a full coat of this stuff would’ve been! The distressed look kept the tone down a little bit, at least.
So… Not what I was planning. But at our house we like vivid colors. Maybe not teal necessarily, but it’s at least color rich.
Besides, the distressed look works well with the uneven, pebbly surface of the “stone” top. Which brings us to the big reveal…
After taking this picture, I actually decided I’d gone too thin on the drawer. Alas, I ended up going a little overboard the second time around. Which I didn’t notice until I’d sealed the ever-lovin’ crap out of it.
Such is life. The beautiful thing about going for an imperfect finish is that you can pretend any actual mistakes are part of the motif.
As I told Mom in one of my copious emails during the process, “It’s far from perfect but it still looks pretty good. Hey, that should be our family motto!”
One last look
Here’s a look at the final version in situ:
- 2 faux stone spray paint cans: ($16.92 with coupon)
- 1 can of spray-on sealant (never again!!!): $4.17
- 1 can orphan paint: $3.26
Total cost: $24.35
Had I been smart enough to buy a black paint sample for a base coat, I wouldn’t have needed the second can, dropping the price to around $20. Still, this ended up being significantly cheaper than any halfway decent end table — and a helluva lot more unique.
Have you ever attempted something like this? How much went wrong for you?