Category Archives: Homegrown Furniture

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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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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