Remember our “family estate sale day” from a few months ago? I’ve always wanted a little writing desk like this, and they’re really expensive in good shape. It was love at first sight with this quirky desk, and (since my hubby loves me), we decided to take it home as a project. As usual, we paid for it before we realized it wouldn’t fit in my mom & dad’s Prius. I have a terrible eye for what will fit in a car! We ended up swapping out cars for the Toyota Camry I drove in college – you can get anything in that car! (I moved to and from college in that beast so many times.)
Before I go further – I am not a DIY expert, but an enthusiastic amateur. This is a “learn from my mistakes” kind of project.
The desk was uneven, painted terrible colors, missing hardware, and terribly scratched up – but I had a very clear idea of how it could look. So we took it home and embarked on the process of refinishing. We started out by removing all the hardware and using a palm sander on the door and drawers. I really liked the way they were turning out, but it was a full afternoon of work just to do the easy parts. (This was the first “oh crap” moment.)
We don’t have a garage or yard, so we commandeered the sidewalk for the bulk of the project, and did some of the work in the guest room with the windows open and the fan running.
The desk has so many different surfaces and small nooks, it would have been impossible to get all of it sanded evenly. (At least with my tools and skill level.) At this point, we sought the advice of Jenny Linquist, DIY queen. (We should have put that on her business cards!) Her suggestion was to use a chemical paint stripper. Thank goodness for Jenny – we’d have never thought of that! So, we picked up a can of Klean-Strip paint stripper to use on the desk itself. We did two rounds of “stripping” across two weekends, following up with a paint stripper after wash (not this one, but a similar product that our local Ace Hardware had.) While the paint stripper was 100% easier than palm sanding the whole thing, it was still a ton of work. The stripper is a weird, goopy gelatinous consistency, and has to be scraped off carefully to get all the paint off. (I bet our spam is going to go through the roof after using “stripper” and “stripping” in a post this many times!) Once all of the old paint/stain had finally been removed, we stained the desk (we were shooting for a teak color to coordinate with our coffee & side tables), and gave it a coat of polyurethane. The finishing touch was new hardware that we’d found at two different antique stores on the Olympic Peninsula.
This was not a quick Saturday afternoon project – which was kind of what I was expecting. I started the first round of stripping late in the day, and had my second “oh crap” moment when I realized how long it would take. (Hours.) I wanted to get the desk home, refinish it “real quick” and sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labor.
Working on this desk was pretty revealing for me. It showed a lot of things about my character that aren’t particularly flattering. I am all about the “take the bull by the horns” moments, but the quiet, diligent, behind the scenes moments are hard for me. There were several moments during this project that I couldn’t tell if I was making progress. I was cranky and filled with doubt that all the work would be worth it when we finished. My head ached, my arms hurt, and there wasn’t a shortcut.
I am so happy with how the desk turned out. But the truth is, my expectations weren’t in line with reality, and I didn’t enjoy the process nearly as much as I could have. My heart was ugly along the way. I did the work kicking and screaming. It’s funny how humbling projects like this can be. Every time I look at the desk, I am reminded that life is full of hard projects. I can either enjoy them, or be miserable. I was pretty miserable working on this one. But the beautiful thing is, I can choose to do things differently next time. Here’s to many more uncharted journeys, and choosing joy along the way!