Monthly Archives: August 2011

Lettuce Pray

Hers.

You know what’s been missing from this blog lately?  Another plumbing disaster story.  This time, I turn the attention towards the first visit from Chris’ parents.  We thought we’d survived the worst of it from the fiasco that ensured my family’s first visit (let me remind you here).  We were wrong.  Very, very wrong.

First mistake: I decided to make dinner that night. For those of you who haven’t experienced my many cooking/baking disasters, let me break it down for you.

Example 1: For a how-to school project my freshman year of high school, I decided to demonstrate how to bake beignets (for those Northerners reading this blog, that’s New Orleans speak for fried donuts with powdered sugar… yes, it’s essentially a funnel cake).  To help boost the morale of the class and, in turn, my grade, I baked some ahead of time to give everyone a sample.  As the class took their first few bites, I began seeing looks of horror then grabs for napkins then a horrifying site of 33 people spitting their bites out.  Well, it turns out the beignets weren’t fully cooked.  Oops.

Example 2: A few years later with uncooked beignets far from my mind, I made a batch of cookies for a friend’s birthday.  They looked a little… chunky but I chalked it up to being homemade and didn’t think anything of it.  I proudly gave them to my friend who passed them around to the group to try all the while calling them “muscular cookies” because of their bizarre shape.  I began seeing the same looks of horror as I had seen in class a few years earlier.  Not again!  At least they didn’t spit them out this time.  They just remarked how… bread-like… they tasted.  Well, apparently I forgot to add eggs.  Oops.

I think you get the idea.  I’m a little wary about cooking and baking as my success rate isn’t that high.  Don’t get me wrong.  I can usually get through a recipe just fine but when I mess something up, I really mess it up.

So anyway, Chris’ mom thankfully agrees to help and we take to making the salad while Chris and his dad tackle the more complicated items.  We’re hacking our way through various vegetables creating the ultimate mixed salad and being quite proud of ourselves.  We’re also proud of how eco-friendly we’re being- disposing of all the unwanted pieces of vegetable through the sink disposal instead of the trash can.  Suddenly, the whir of the disposal comes to a sudden halt and the sink is suddenly filled with a veggie soup of sorts.  We look at the sink, look at each other, then back to the sink before yelling, “Chrisssss.  Bernieeeee.  Something’s wroooonggg.”

It turns out by doing our good deed to the environment, we did a not-so-good deed to the kitchen plumbing.  Clogged was an understatement.  But after a few hours, several trips to Home Depot, and a whole mess of diced up veggies fished out, it was fixed!  No biggie…

Oops.

His.

The first time my parents visited us here, we proudly touted our new home and discussed our grandiose plans for renovations. We also pointed out a few minor issues that were annoying us and they offered to help us fix a few things. We spent about half a day buttoning up a few minor things before Julie and my mom decided to start making dinner. After my dad and I fixed the crooked dishwasher, my dad asked “are there any more projects I can help you with?” Little did we know that, yes, there would very soon be a project I’d need his help with.

OK, let me clarify something: Julie doesn’t cook, and neither does my mom. Don’t get me wrong, they both have a few recipes up their sleeve that are absolutely delicious, but I’m pretty much the cook at my house. So when Julie and my mom offered to make dinner, we thought that would be a great opportunity to relax and enjoy a conversation over a cold beer… We were wrong.

Julie and my mom talked in the kitchen and cut up stuff for a salad while my dad and I enjoyed our St. Arnolds (the best beer in the world, I might add) in the living room. A disconcerting sudden silence filled the house, and somehow we knew what was coming next: “Chriiiiiiiis! Bernieeeeeee! Something’s wroooooong!”

And something was wrong, indeed. The sink was completely full of what looked like vegetable soup, but was actually scraps of salad. I had remedied a similar situation in Julie’s college apartment with a plunger, so I decided to start there. Huzzah! Progress was being made- I managed to drain the right side of the sink but… wait, what? The left side was filling up! Inconceivable!

I looked under the sink and immediately found the culprit: the left side of the sink is deeper than the right side, and the right side flows into the left drain, but… the disposal is on the right side. In other words, anything that goes down the left drain can’t get ground up in the disposal.

At this point, I’d like to mention that the disposal in my parents’ house is more like a small wood chipper; you could probably shove a Mack truck down the sink and with the flip of a switch you’d have it whittled down to a pile of shavings that go smoothly down the drain. The disposal at my house is not quite that effective, so even overcooked green beans basically just bounce around for a few seconds before going on their merry way, fully intact. Long story short, I knew exactly what happened: they let everything go down the drain, and my pipes now resembled an elaborate sandwich.

The first order of business was to locate the clog. We popped the exterior drain clean-out closest to the kitchen sink and got lucky (sort of)- we barely made out the edge of a lettuce wad, so we knew where the problem was. We then removed the sink trap and drained the sink into buckets, and ran off to Home Depot to get a plumbing snake. If you don’t know what a plumbing snake is, it’s basically a wire you feed through a pipe and wiggle around to try to knock a clog loose. It’s a little like trying to flip a light switch with a dart.

We seriously must have fed that stupid snake in and out of the pipe about 50 times. First I’d try while my dad watched the clog, and then he’d try while I watched the clog. Oddly enough we could see a little water dripping through the lettuce ball, so we could monitor the effectiveness of our efforts based on whether or not the flow increased. Oh, we also stabbed at it with coat hangers from the clean-out end, but that was mostly out of frustration.

After a few hours we were ready to give up, until we finally started to get somewhere. We had a pretty good flow through the lettuce, but it wasn’t clear yet. I ran the snake through and cranked away at it like there was no tomorrow, and finally… FOOM! A huge wad of lettuce shot out of the clean-out at my dad, a phenomenon for which we still have no explanation. We closed the pipes back up, ran the water to check our work, and celebrated our victory over plumbing and lettuce with a well-deserved beer. Oh, and my mom isn’t allowed to make salads here anymore.

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Pillow Fight

Hers.

There’s nothing sadder than a barren couch.  What’s a barren couch you may ask?  A barren couch is one without throw pillows.  And not just any throw pillows, fun coordinating pillows but NOT in the same fabric as the couch.  I can hear Chris scoffing in the background as he reads this over my shoulder.  But it’s true and it’s quite the challenging task.

Our couch is just the right length for 4 throw pillows- 2 large and 2 small, meaning we need two types of fabric, one for the larger pillow and one for the smaller pillow which will be placed in front.  Enough with the scoffing, Chris!

I know you want in on the fun so I’ve listed eight choices below.  Let me know which coordinating fabrics you think would work best.  Keep in mind the following:

Wall Color: light blue

Accent Chair Color: tan and dark blue

Couch Color: Tan

Furniture Color: Black

Rug Color: Tans, Blues, Reds

His.

All I know is I’m tired of moving pillows every time I want to sit down.

Ready, set, vote!  And please comment below if you want to suggest a different combo or even a different fabric.  We’d love to hear it!

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Filed under Living Room

Rack Em Up

Hers.

Everything’s bigger in Texas: the weather (from snow storms to hurricanes and tornadoes to triple digit heat), the geography (it takes 12 hours to cross from one side to the other), the food (ever heard of the Big Texan’s infamous 72 oz steak?) and, most especially, people’s affinities towards their guns.  (If that doesn’t make you want to come visit our state, I’m not sure what will.) Chris and I aren’t exactly the guns a-blazing type so imagine our surprise when the house we fell in love with came equipt with a custom-built gun rack.  Oh goody!

What was most frightening about this little gem was the fact that there wasn’t a lock or even a place for a lock on the entire thing, even the cabinet for the ammo.  Nice.

So, you may be wondering what we decided to do with this monument to the ultimate Texan hobby.  Well, conveniently it had a sink attached so, in the beginning, we mostly used it for cleaning our paint brushes since we didn’t really care for keeping it in fine form.  Then the plumbing sprung a leak so we had to move our paintbrush cleaning elsewhere.  For the next year, it became junk limbo.  Anything we didn’t have a place for was stored in the gun rack.

The rack is in the back room which connects the garage and the kitchen so Chris and I pass through it everyday.  Finally, we decided we had had enough of being greeted with a messy pile of junk everytime we came home.  We were determined to make use of the gun rack, without actually having to fill it with guns.

Having the attached sink on the rack gave us the idea of turning it into a…. *drum roll please* butler’s pantry.  After several weeks of sketching, pondering, and resketching we determined that we could turn the two sides into a lattice for wine bottles and the middle section could have shelves for storing wine glasses, martini glasses, margarita glasses, and beer steins (yay for finally showing off our wedding presents!).  And with that, we had a plan!

The lattice turned out to be a little more complicated than we anticipated.  I originally hoped we could build a diamond shaped lattice for the sides… (much like this)

…but the space was too narrow to do this affectively.  So, onto plan two.  After a long week of persuasion, Chris talked me into replacing the diamond shape with triangles.  In the end, it worked but I was pretty nervous.  I like to see examples before I commit to a new idea but I couldn’t for the life of me find examples of wine triangles anywhere on the wide world of Google.  But, not having any other option, I decided to trust him.

We knew we also wanted to change the lovely burnt red and green cheap-y countertop but couldn’t decide what material to replace it with.  While shopping for our master bathroom tile (a story for another day), we stumbled upon the clearance section of the store.  We love finding a good deal so we sprinted towards the section like there was no tomorrow.  We were in luck!  4″ travertine tiles were on clearance for $1.50 a square foot (comparable travertine is usually $5 per square foot).  $8.25 later we had plans for a new countertop!

We decided to tie the cabinets into our kitchen cabinets so we painted them the same color.  Good ole Behr China Cup.  We also installed new brushed nickel cabinet hardware to replace the bronze hardware that reminded us too much of the 70s.

We were able to reuse the sink, faucet, and lighting.  There were some nicely placed can lights that cast flattering light on both sides of the cabinet and we loove saving money and time when possible.

There was also an interesting niche cut in the wall that looked like a medicine cabinet.  We still haven’t figured out what it was originally used for but it had holes in the sides that were fit for pegs.  We inserted pegs and cut down a piece of wood to create a shelf.  It’s the perfect place to store our liquor.

And voilah!  We now have a full fledged butler’s pantry.  Being a combination of German, Irish, and Italian blood, we get a lot more use out of our butler’s pantry than the gun cabinet.  We still have a ways to go in filling it in, but, by all means, feel free to send us a bottle. 🙂

His.

“I don’t even own a gun, much less many guns that would necessitate an entire rack. What am I gonna do with a gun rack?”- Wayne’s World

It’s no secret that we Texans love our guns. I’m not a “gun person” by any means, but even I can’t help but get a little excited at the thought of firing off a few rounds from a Colt .45. Almost every Texas Tall Tale involves a gun in some way, shape, or form, and almost every Texan is packing some sort of heat. So I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised to find a gun rack in our new home, located in the Great State of Texas.

I seriously have no use for a gun rack. I don’t think it’s particularly wise to display your guns in the middle of the room, and it looks a little trashy. Oddly enough, this gun rack had a sink in front of it, which made me wonder if this had been some sort of gun rack/mini-bar combination. According to a neighbor, liquor and firearms were not an unusual combination for the gentleman that originally built this house, so I guess I was right.

Texas runs pretty deep in my soul, but nothing can outdo my German-Irish heritage. That said, I decided I needed a place to store my booze. Being the connoisseur that I am, I also have a different glass for every type of beer, wine, and mixed drink there is, and I needed a place to store those, too. I measured the bottles and glasses, measured the gun rack/cabinet thing, and an idea was born.

We initially wanted to do a traditional lattice with a single hole for each bottle. We went to Home Depot and the guy in the lumber department directed us towards garden lattices… uh, not quite. Julie then had the idea of building larger “boxes” that would hold several bottles each, like you find at a lot of restaurants. I really didn’t like this idea as it required a LOT of work, so I took it one step simpler: triangles. The idea sounds a little odd at first and Julie wasn’t quite on board with it, but if there’s one thing she’s learned it’s that if it works in my head, it will work in reality… I just can’t explain things to save my life. She reluctantly jumped on board and trusted that I knew what I was talking about.

Demolition was easy. It turns out that pretty much everything was barely nailed together, so it came down easily. Next, I cut up some 1×2 boards with opposing 45* ends and built two identical “zig-zag” patterns on each side, one against the back wall and one on the face of the cabinet. The two sides are composed of angles opposing each other, so the overall effect is that we cut a box in half and shoved some shelves between them:

This all sounds really complicated, but it was actually very easy and only took an hour or so. I sank all the screws into the wood and covered them with wood filler, so once everything was sanded and painted it had a really professional look.

Next up was the countertop. It was some sort of marble-look veneer, and it had to go. We had gotten lucky with the bathroom sinks in that they were standard sizes and pre-cut options were readily available, but this was something else. It  was custom made, so I had to get creative. While perusing the clearance section of the tile store, we found real travertine tiles for something like $1.50/sq. ft… jackpot. Julie had just been telling me about a secret love affair with travertine a few days before, so I took this as a sign.

I must confess at this point that I had never really tiled anything before. I helped my dad a little bit with a few tiling projects here and there, but he had always handled the major stuff like adhesive and grout. Furthermore, I was on a budget and didn’t own a tile saw, so I had to settle for this goofy little contraption that basically just breaks the tiles and if you’re lucky, it’s a straight line.

I cheated and bought pre-mixed adhesive, so I proceeded with my “learn-by-doing” experiment and basically just started sticking the whole tiles where I thought they should go. I then measured out the pieces I’d need to fill the gaps and went about using that stupid cutter, which was a really painstaking process. In the end I’d say I used at least a square foot more than I actually needed just because I had to scrap so many pieces.To be honest, the end result looked pretty amateur. Fortunately, though, I had some grout left over from a bathroom project, and a wise man once told me, “putty and paint makes a boat what it ain’t!”

Ultimately, I’m really proud of how everything turned out in the end. All my uneven cuts were hidden by grout, and the wine rack looks like it was built with the house. The only problem is that it’s a little empty… so send us some booze!

And now for the pictures.

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Filed under Before & After, Renovation

One Bookshelf + One Cut = Two Bookshelves… right?

Hers.

Dear Pottery Barn,

How I love you and, yet, hate you.  You lure me in with your pretty catalogue pictures and daily deal e-mails promising a land of free delivery and $100 off.  I eagerly browse the store like a kid in the candy store finding perfect piece after perfect piece.  My eyes then wander over to the price tag and my dreams are shattered.  I will have to walk away from your perfectly rustic traditional home accessories once again.  I have some bad news for you today.  I have been forced to find another love.  Yes, it’s true.  You have been replaced.  His name is Chris and he is slowly breaking me away from your talons of exuberant prices.  I am taking it one day at a time but I think, soon, I will be over you.  Don’t get me wrong.  My eyes will still light up every time you deliver a new catalogue to my doorstep and I will still bookmark design ideas from your website.  I know you won’t miss me- you have hundreds of thousands of other hearts to steal away from their wallets.

Take care,

Julie

Yes, it’s true.  Chris has become my Pottery Barn.  It all started when I was heading down to Dallas to move into my first place.  As I hugged my college roommates goodbye, I was suddenly left with a lot less furniture.  I was already moving to a new city with no job and no family.  I certainly didn’t need an empty apartment as well.  I didn’t want to commit to anything too substantial since Chris and I would be getting married soon and we had fun times of combining stuff in our future.  As I browsed online, I stumbled upon a pair of bookshelves.  Wait, scratch that.  Not a pair of bookshelves, THE pair of bookshelves.  It was love at first sight.  But wait, what’s this… $299…. EACH??  And did I mention that I didn’t have a job yet?  Yikes.  How was I going to swing this?  But look how pretty they are!

I mourned over my lost set of bookshelves and, of course, immediately called Chris to lament my situation.  I sent him the picture so he could see just what a loss my apartment was without these fabulous bookshelves.  He did his usual “Mhm, that’s nice” and we soon moved on to talk about something else.

Little did I know that my Chris was hard at work on my graduation present and, in turn, had become a furniture builder.  He called with the news and, to be honest, I was extremely skeptical.  I’ve never heard him talk about building furniture before and these aren’t a simple pair of IKEA bookshelves.  I dreaded the day of the reveal knowing I can’t fake liking something, especially to him.  Fortunately, for both of us, I was pleasantly surprised.  They looked amazing!  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  To Chris’ dismay, now that I know he can build something based on a drawing, I’ve provided him with a healthy stack of items to duplicate.  Sucker.

His.

I don’t know what the appeal of Pottery Barn is- from what I can tell, it’s a very nice, very organized, and very expensive garage sale. Naturally, Julie loves it. Almost everything we own is “just like” something she found at Pottery Barn, and she gets pretty giddy every time a catalog shows up.

A little over two years ago, Julie sent me a link to a $300 bookshelf. After restarting my heart, I realized that there was absolutely nothing special about it. I mean, for $300 I feel like I should be able to ride it to work, but no, these shelves couldn’t even stand up on their own- they have to lean against the wall. I looked at pictures and dimensions and decided I could build it, which was convenient because I also needed an idea for Julie’s college graduation present.

I should mention that at this point, I had never really built anything but bike ramps, so my carpentry experience revolved around the assumption that someone would be barreling towards whatever I built at full speed with the intention of hurling themselves into the air. All this thing had to do was hold up books, but nonetheless I ran off to Home Depot and filled my Jetta with a pile of lumber, much to the disbelief of onlookers in the parking lot.

I went back home, laid everything out in my parents’ driveway, marked off a few measurements, and started hacking away. The easy parts were the shelf bottoms and backs. All I had to do there was cut everything to the same length, which only took about an hour or so. The next two days, however, were spent building the shelf sides and supports. Each one of these pieces has a rounded edge, so I made a cardboard pattern to get an identical curve on every piece. Actually shaping that curve into the wood was a pain. I didn’t have access to a huge selection of carpentry tools, so I basically made a ton of increasingly smaller cuts as close to the curve as possible, and then hand sanded everything smooth. At one point my neighbor popped his head over the fence and asked, “What the heck are you doing over there?” I pointed to a few seemingly random piles of wood and replied, “Making bookshelves. See?”

Once I had everything finished and assembled (beautifully, I might add), I excitedly called Julie and told her what I had been doing. She fell silent for a second and asked if I could cut it in half because upon further examination, she decided she wanted two shelves. Uh… what? She clearly had no idea how much work I had put into this project because she said “Well, it’s not like building another one!” No, Julie, it’s exactly like building another one. I decided that I really had nothing better to do, so I started taking everything apart so I could, you know, do everything over again. When I told my mom all about this her only reply was, “Well I hope you really love this girl!” I’m still not sure what that was supposed to mean.

Finally, I finished these things, and it was time to visit Julie in her new apartment and deliver her present. It was raining cats and dogs that weekend, so I had to wrap everything up in trash bags. I also brought my entertainment center, so everything had to be disassembled to fit in my car at once. When I got to Dallas, I hauled everything inside and began final assembly, which required running a drill at 11pm… oops. Once everything was put together, I saw my hard work pay off- everything fit perfectly into the nook she was putting it, without so much as an inch to spare.

If I had to do everything over again, I would. It was literally a labor of love, not only because it was for my fiancee but I also realized that I love carpentry. Oh, I also love building a $300 shelf for less than $60.

I apologize for the pictures. They were taken the day we moved out of our apartment.  There’s too many boxes blocking the bookshelves right now to photograph.  Yes, we did move a year and a half ago and yes, we’re still unpacking.  Oops.  Maybe one day we’ll get to it…

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Tales of a CraigsList Addict

Hers.

I’ve been on a mad hunt for the last few months for the perfect dining room chairs.  I was torn between buying something ready-to-go from a home furnishing store and finding a used hidden treasure.  I found a few chair candidates at various stores but there were two main problems- 1) each chair was over $100 each and 2) I really wanted to customize the chairs with a fun print but there just weren’t any stores that provided this option in a cost-effective manner.  So thus began my weeks-long search on CraigsList, scouring for the perfect chair.

I sifted through hundreds of listings, many at 2 am to Chris’ dismay.  I had a very specific chair in mind- wooden back, interesting design (no plain ole ladder backs for me), and a really awful fabric seat that was dying to be recovered.  It turned out to be quite the challenge to find 4 matching chairs that fit these criteria.  But, one late night after quite a few elbow nudges from Chris (indicating I should give up), I finally found them.  The design was just what I was looking for.  The wood was an outdated stain, which helped ease my worry about painting over the wood.  And the fabric seats were as awful as I had dreamed (it makes the “before” pictures that much better).  I excitedly shook Chris awake to tell him of my big accomplishment.  After only receiving a muttered response and not much else, I decided that was my go ahead.  The next afternoon, Chris and I were on our way to buy the chairs.

I was a little nervous about the purchase because I could tell Chris thought these chairs were the definition of hideous.  I reassured him (and myself) over and over again that they had potential.  He just had to wait and he’d see.

I found an awesome geometric print from Joann’s Fabric that would instantly modernize the chairs and settled on a light gray color for painting the chair, which complements our dark gray dining room.

We spent our Saturday painting the chairs, to which I learned never paint against the grain of the wood if you want a clean look (oops, live and learn I guess).  While the chairs dried, we took to recovering the seats.  Chris perfected folding corners and I worked on conquering my fear of staple guns (a fear that stemmed from Final Destination 3… not a joke).

Less than a day later (much of which was thanks to the extreme Dallas summer heat which sped up the paint drying process), we were done!  They turned out great and are my new home obsession.  I’m officially addicted to finding chairs on CraigsList to refurbish, whether Chris likes it or not.

His.

I’m really happy with these chairs for two reasons: 1) we finally have something in the dining room, and 2) I don’t have to listen to Julie complain about needing something in the dining room.

I also get to sleep at night. I kid you not, I was waking up in the middle of the night to find Julie wide awake next to me, scouring the internet for… chairs. I’m no doctor, but I’m pretty sure that’s not normal on any level. Oh, and then she’d complain about being tired all the time… nooooo, really?

So last week I got a call at work from Julie that went something like this:

Julie: “Don’t forget, we’re going to look at those chairs tonight.”

Me: “Wait… what chairs?”

Julie: “I told you. The chairs I found on CraigsList!”

Me: “You never told me about any chairs on Craigslist.”

Julie: “Yes I did! Remember? Last night… When you were asleep.”

As if my opinion mattered, we went over to look at some chairs. I could see that Julie loved them and saw potential, but for some reason all I could think of when I looked at those chairs was the Bundy house. So after biting my tongue and forking over my emergency gas money, we were on our way home with a new project, as if we really needed another one.

First and foremost, we had to paint them because they were hideous. Julie picked out a light gray color, we sanded  the sheen off, and we started painting. It was about 105* out, so by the time you finished your second brush stroke, your first one was dry. This meant that any drips or uneven spots were almost impossible to fix in time, so getting things to look good was quite the task. I realized the next day that Julie didn’t know you had to paint with the grain… I swear, sometimes I want to sign her up for Cub Scouts.

Not only were they in desperate need of a paint job, but even I can admit that they needed to be recovered. If it matches your grandparents sunroom furniture, it’s probably not a bad idea to invest in a little fabric. Julie has an irrational fear of staple guns, so the recovering was left to me… or so I thought, as Julie quickly discovered the satisfying “CLANK” that comes with stapling. At this point my job was to fold the fabric over the corners while Julie yelled “hurry, I want to staple!” Disconcerting, to say the least.

This whole experience taught me that I should hide my extra cash from my wife and save up for a paint sprayer. Fortunately, though, I had the foresight to install a dimmer in the dining room, so with the proper lighting these chairs really look great. And for the first time since we moved in, we finished a project in one sitting without going to Home Depot.

Details.

Fabric: Joann Fabric, on sale for $12.00/yard, 2 yards needed

Chairs: CraigsList find, $125 for all four chairs

Paint: Home Depot, Behr, Burnished Clay, $14 for a quart

Total Project Cost: $163 which about equals one chair from Crate and Barrel or Pottery Barn.  Beat that!

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Filed under Before & After, Dining Room

Bench or Be Benched

Hers.

Chris always jokes that I’m the idea person and he’s the execution person.  While my head is always up in the clouds dreaming of the next great thing, he’s back on earth figuring out how to make it happen.  I’m not sure when he’ll learn that my ideas will only get bigger as he keeps telling me he can figure it out.  So, when I showed him the below picture, he took a quick glance, grabbed pen and paper, and begun an hour of mumbling and sketching.

Another hour later, we were at the home improvement store finding lumber.  We returned home and he got to work.  Before I knew it, he had assembled our version of the pictured bench.  And then it was my turn.

I decided to paint the bench white to match the guest bedroom.  The bench would eventually be placed at the foot of the bed as a place for guests to place items and to ground the bed as a footboard.  I then took to distressing the bench which consisted of throwing random objects I found around the garage such as wrenches, chains, knives, etc.  Hey, I have to keep things interesting around here!

This project will stay close to my heart because it doubled my share of the household tools.  Not only do I have a hand sander, I now have a wood burning kit and, man, do I have a new affinity for wood burning tools.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to carve my initials in a tree.   I’m not sure why I never got around to it as a kid.  The tool was so easy to use; it was like using a magic marker, well, a marker that melts wood away that is.  I decided to carve a heart with Chris and I’s initials and our dating anniversary.  Now, THAT’S custom furniture!

His.

I never cared much for art, but I’ve always appreciated something that’s well built. Similarly, I have basically no artistic ability, but I like to think of myself as a fairly skilled craftsman. So when Julie wanted to buy a bench that was made out of fence-board, I quickly shut the idea down, insisting that if she liked that look, I could make a custom piece out of the same material. The real reason, though, is that fence-board is cheap, and the asking price on the bench she found was obscene.

We then ran off to Home Depot to stock up on lumber and sandpaper (Julie uses an unexplainable amount of sandpaper) and I went to work. A few quick calculations in my head later and the sawdust was flying. Within minutes I had all the pieces cut and laid out like a puzzle. At one point, Julie walked into the garage, glanced at the piles of wood, tools, and fasteners with a look of sheer terror, and just walked back inside. I guess I require a certain degree of disarray before I feel comfortable working.

About an hour later, I had what was beginning to look like a bench. This time, Julie actually stuck around. Once I got everything assembled and painted, Julie decided we should distress it. This basically consisted of me whacking the crap out of it with the largest tools I own while Julie ran (read: ruined) my sander around the edges. As a finishing touch, Julie carved our initials into one of the legs with a wood-burning tool.

With only an hour or two and less than $50 invested, we had a custom piece of furniture for our guest room. It was intended to look like an old piece of junk, but under the fence-board lies a frame of 2x4s you could anchor an aircraft carrier with. And the best part is that Julie got a taste for woodwork, so I imagine I’ve been assigned a new hobby.

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The Greg Test

Hers.

So when you’re young, broke, and are new to the world of home ownership, there are three magical words that bring joy to your ears- hand me downs.  After we settled into the house and had unpacked a majority of the boxes, we soon found ourselves with a lot of house and a lot less furniture.  There was literally an echo in our living room when you spoke.  So, when Chris’ mom mentioned that she’d like to give us her coffee table, we jumped at the offer.

I couldn’t remember what the table looked like exactly when we initially accepted her gracious offer.  I was a little nervous not knowing what I had agreed to take on but, honestly, anything would be better than the cardboard box we were currently using as a makeshift coffee table (sadly, I’m not joking).  Chris seemed convinced that I would love it but his sense of my likes/dislikes are sometimes questionable… hence the awful hot pink shirt I was gifted with one birthday.  See below.

The minute I saw the table, I loved it.  It had a great shape and had the naturally distressed look I love.  I even had the in-laws blessing to repaint the table and distress it more (jackpot!).  Then I heard that it was hand built by Chris’ grandfather.  I was in awe.  I couldn’t wait to incorporate this table into our home.  It really is an incredible treasure which is that much better because of the love and sweat that were put into it by our own family.  And it looks perfect in our living room!

His.

For starters, that shirt was part of a joke that my wife apparently didn’t get.

Anyway, I can trace my craftiness back to my grandfather. He’s an expert craftsman and a brilliant artist, and he had six kids. I don’t have any kids, but I know that they are remarkably destructive given their relatively small size, so everything he made was built to last and had to pass “The Greg Test”, which means my NCAA champion shot-putter Uncle Greg literally jumped on it. If it doesn’t break, you can probably use it to hold your house up. I don’t like having flimsy things in my house, so I leapt at the opportunity to have the coffee table he made. If a tornado rips through my house, I’m grabbing onto that table.

When Julie puts her feet up on something, she tends to kick it like she’s going for a field goal first. This table had withstood the years of abuse my sister and I had thrown at it- it was a bench, a footrest, a ramp, a stage, and a slide- so I knew it would survive my accident-prone wife. It’s also huge, so there’s plenty of room for all the “decorator pieces” she can handle.

I liked the table as-is, but Julie wanted to “distress” it. I don’t know if she missed the story about using it as a slide but trust me, this thing was pretty distressed as it was. Fortunately no one was attached to the paint job and we had my parents’ blessing to repaint it. I dulled the finished, sprayed a light coat of primer, and brushed on a strong, oil-based flat black paint. Julie sanded down the edges to finish off the “distressed” look.

I’m not attached to a lot of things, but this table is really special to me. Believe it or not, I can pinpoint my earliest memory, and the table is in it. It’s handmade by my grandfather and stands as an inspiration of what can be built if you put care into your work. It’s built to last, so I like to think that it will end up in one of my kids’ houses one day. And Julie finally got to distress something.

  

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