All posts in: DIY Tutorials

DIY Wood Plank Countertops

oldcounter

UPDATE: If you want to see how these countertops fared and were eventually upgraded with another cheap DIY solution, head on over here…)

As we have established many times over by now, my kitchen was full of a lot of nightmarish problems that added up to everything being pretty much terrible and disgusting. One of the things that was actually OK, though, were the old countertops. I’m sure they were original to the rest of our 1950s kitchen, and they’d actually held up pretty well over time——fairly scratched up and pitted in a few places, but overall there wasn’t anything terribly wrong with them. I even kind of like the off-white/gold-flecked formica thing in the right space, but they just really didn’t fit with the overall design plan of the room. Even though it goes against most of my instincts to start getting rid of things that are more or less functional, this was just one of those situations where it made sense.

I thought briefly of doing this super cool faux-concrete treatment to the existing counters, which seems relatively easy and looks great, but I felt really strongly that the countertops should be wood. I love the section of butcher block I have in my apartment kitchen, and given that the rest of the room is mainly black and white, I worried that the concrete would end up making things feel too cold and flat——the kitchen really needs some wood color and texture to bring it to life and inject some warmth.

I really wanted butcher block counters, but even at IKEA (which seems to be the cheapest option around, after much researching), the countertops alone would have run me about $320, not to mention the cost of transporting them here. The closest IKEA is a little over an hour away, and I have a tiny car, so it would have required a car rental…and a headache…and tears…and all of a sudden butcher block felt a little out of range. I know I keep repeating this, but we hope to totally redo this kitchen *for real* sometime down the line, so I didn’t really want to invest that much time and money in fancy countertops that——more likely than not——won’t get reused in a future renovation. So I wanted cheap, fast wood counters that wouldn’t be too precious but would get the job done.

countertopwood

I decided to check out the offerings at the local lumber yard, and found 2″ x 12″ x 12′ and 2″ x 6″ x 12′ fir framing lumber, priced at $19.01 and $8.05 per piece, respectively. Since I needed two pieces of 2″ x 12″ x 12′ and one piece of 2″ x 6″ x 12″, that’s $46.07 for new countertops! I decided to buy an extra piece of each, just in case I messed something up, and have it all delivered for an extra 20 clams.

Because lumber is weird, 2″ thick lumber is actually 1.5″ thick (which is standard for countertops), 12″ is a little less than 12″, and I needed my counters to be 25″ deep, so I needed to bond three boards together to achieve the right dimensions.

Now. Admittedly, these countertops are not fancy. They look very homespun and a little…rustic, which I actually kind of like. If I really knew what I was doing and had the right tools and supplies, I would have ripped the edges of the boards on my table saw (which I don’t have) and joined my pieces of lumber with a biscuit joiner (which I don’t have) and planed down my boards with a planer (which I don’t have) and I would have had nicer countertops. At least I think that’s what I would have done? Like I said. Not fancy.

Instead, what I did have is my handy little Kreg Jig! I bought this thing for a freelance project a while back, and it does a fabulous job of joining pieces of wood easily by helping you drill nice little pocket holes. The joint ends up being really strong and pretty hassle-free and easy to do. I bought a cheaper pocket hole drilling guide thing before I got the Kreg, and I have to say that the Kreg is really worth the extra cost at about $100, if you’re going to use it.

drilling

Here’s how it works! Basically you put the wood in, set the height adjustment, and drill your holes. I forgot that the bond is much stronger if you drill two holes instead of one at each screw placement, so I did that for the second countertop (which I stupidly did not photograph). I eyeballed where the screws should be, placing one about every 8 inches.

holes

They sell special clamps for keeping the wood level with itself (if you just try to screw it, the piece you’re screwing into tends to lift up about an 1/8″) but I just used the very pro method of having my friend Nora stand on the joint to keep it level while I screwed. I like to pre-place all my screws in the holes beforehand, since it’s easy to lose track of which holes have screws in them, and they’re almost impossible to see after they’re sunk in the pocket holes.

nora-sanding

I used my circular saw to cut the depth down after everything was joined together, and then we started in on the sanding! Framing lumber tends to be VERY rough, so the sanding was definitely the worst part of this whole thing. Nora and I just switched on and off when our arms began to feel like Jell-O, and it probably took about an hour (maybe more) for each countertop. We started with 60 grit sandpaper and just worked our way up the ranks, finishing with 220 grit. The lumber went from being super rough and a little ugly to suuuuuupppper smooth and soft and gorgeous.

sanded

After the sanding, this is about what we were left with. The bigger knots aren’t going anywhere, but the other parts felt like silk. So lux.

If I were going to do this all over again, I probably would have tried to have the adjoining edges at least ripped on a table saw about 1/4″, since the edges of the framing lumber aren’t very crisp. With perfect flat edges, the joints probably could have been tighter and more seamless, but I don’t really mind. I actually made a smaller section of countertop for my friend Anna after I made my own and attempted to do this with a circular saw and a rigid metal cutting guide, and that worked pretty well. Not perfect, but perfection is overrated!

countertop

I’m not entirely sure what to seal the countertops with in the long-term, but for now I put a generous coating of mineral oil on them to give them some water resistance and bring out the natural color of the fir. I love the way the wood looks with all of the knots and imperfections, and the tone of the wood is so pretty. I think they’ll look nice over time as they get dings and scratches, too——I like when things like this look well-used and have some character. The wood is too soft to double as a cutting board, but we’ll have a section of butcher block directly next to the stove and normal cutting boards available for all of our chopping desires, so I’m not worried about it.

If we had a bigger budget, we probably would have just sprung for actual butcher block, but for about $80 for all the materials and delivery (since I also had to buy the proper screws and a buttload of sandpaper), I feel pretty good about these counters! We’ve been using them for a couple of weeks now, and they’re doing exactly what they need to do, and that’s good enough for me!

beforeandprogress

Imagine with me for a moment that there are cabinet doors and drawers and new hardware and a different floor and pretty things on the counters and no hanging wires or weird exposed plumbing in that second picture. Also that I hadn’t left that little yellow sponge on the floor.

Can you see it? I can see it.

The Kitchen has a New Floor!

floor4

One of the more perpetually hilarious/depressing things about looking at apartments in New York is seeing the ways that landlords try to get creative when renovating and preparing a unit for the next tenant. I recently got an email from a reader who was looking for a recommendation on where to hire a french polishing expert after she uncovered a beautiful original hardwood door in her Harlem apartment, which at some point had been covered with a piece of 70s wood paneling. When my friend moved into her apartment near me, the trim had all been painted alternating shades of fleshy pink-beige and baby-poop-brown. Of course, there was my last apartment with the pink laminate cabinets and the pink-ish laminate countertops and the pink-ish faux-marble ceramic floor, but that wasn’t so bad. At least it was all pink?

It’s cute, when you think about it. Why not just go the easy route and pick stuff that’s totally neutral? Because landlords are people, too, with creative impulses that cannot be tamed by worrying about what any other sane person might possibly want to live with. They like to experiment. They like having some room to play. It’s very adorable and very frustrating to live with the consequences.

Floorbefore

floorbefore2

Pretty much my single biggest gripe with my apartment has always been the kitchen floor. What a terrible piece of shit.

Let me count the ways:

1. Stupid design with the black edge and big black square in the middle. Why? Just because.

2. White ceramic in a kitchen. You guys, I’m a clean dude. But a white ceramic floor in a small kitchen is just not a great idea if you don’t want to be mopping every 4 seconds. No matter how often I cleaned this floor, it ALWAYS looked filthy.

3. Cracked and chipped tiles. Everywhere. ‘nuf said.

4. So, so uneven. Yes, the floors all over our apartment are uneven, and that’s OK. But this kitchen floor was so bad because this tiling job is so terrible that none of the tiles themselves are at all level. This means that cleaning the floor essentially amounted to all the gunk getting stuck on protruding edges of errant tiles. Pretty traumatic stuff.

5. Grout. I actually always assumed these huge grout lines were dark grey, but once I started really scrubbing some of the lines, I realized it was actually originally white. I think. EW. But there’s only SO MUCH bleach and baking soda and a toothbrush and my willpower can accomplish, so it never really cleaned up beyond a piss yellow. Which was worse than the “dark grey” (dirt), in my opinion.

I thought maybe I would just live with this tile because I otherwise love my apartment and could maybe just concede on this one thing. It could probably be worse, right?  And besides, what do you do about a tile floor? There is just no way that I’m going to demo and replace a ceramic floor in a rental apartment. As this blog has proven many times over, I’m a lunatic, but I’m not, like, completely unhinged. Give me some credit.

rubber

Then, I had an epiphany. I didn’t actually have to alter the floor in any major way to get rid of it. What Dean at My Little Apartment did in her bathroom years ago popped up in my mind (holy cow, that was back in 2007. am I the Rain Man of home blogs?), so I thought maybe I could do something similar. Rubber was the answer to my prayers (/incessant whining).

I ended up buying my rubber from a company with the catchy name of Rubber Flooring Inc. Most of the companies I found only sold this style of rubber in 4-foot wide sheets, but I was nervous about how a big seam running up the middle of my floor would look/function over time. I really just wanted one BIG sheet, like a beautiful black sea of gorgeous hospital-y rubber. Luckily, the Rubber Flooring Inc. roll is 7.5 feet by 17 feet, which is almost the exact dimensions of my kitchen.

I love you, Rubber Flooring Inc. I love you and your straightforward, no-nonsense, branding and your sale that allowed me to get free shipping and a brand new kitchen floor for $250. It’s not chump change, but after living with this floor for a year and a half and figuring I might well live with it for another 5 or 10, this seemed like my best option.

process

I accidentally deleted the process photos off of my camera, but here are a couple I snapped with my iPhone. The whole thing was very straightforward, I just drew up a diagram of my floor plan and where I needed to make the cuts, unrolled the whole thing in my living room, and hacked it up accordingly.

I should probably take a moment to note that this roll of rubber, which looked fairly modest in size, was very literally the heaviest thing I have ever attempted to carry in my life. I still have no idea how Max and I manhandled it up to the 5th floor, but I do recall almost breaking an arm in the process.

floor2

SHAZAM, new floor.

I love this floor. It’s so, so easy to keep clean, it feels nice underfoot, and it magically evens out the whole wonky tile business underneath. I can forget about the bad tile situation and move on with my new life. I’m very happy with it.

As per the manufacturer’s instructions, I stuck down the edges with double-sided carpet tape. For a few days, this worked great, but it soon became unstuck from the tile underneath. The rubber is heavy enough that it’s till OK, but I really want to find a solution to keep it stuck down better. I tried hot glue, which was a massive fail, and now I’m thinking maybe rubber cement? I don’t know. I don’t want to damage the tile floor, but I want this thing to sit as flat as humanly possible. This would have been a non-issue if I had had the foresight to do this BEFORE installing new cabinets and baseboards, but I didn’t, and now I must suffer the consequences.

ANYWAY. Enough about that.

Hey, look! I installed new white toe-kicks on the old wood cabinets. Doors and drawer fronts to follow, finally, if it kills me. I will have matching cabinets it it’s the last thing I do on this earth.

rug1

The DAY after I put down the new floor, I was hanging out and thrifting with my friend on the Upper West Side and we went in this little tiny very fancy looking antiques store, filled with gorgeous expensive furniture. Now, I usually don’t even go in places like this, and when I do, I immediately look at the ceiling and the floor. That’s where the bargains are. Sometimes. Maybe.

“Is this for sale?” I asked, pointing at a very dirty, perfectly beat-up oriental rug under a bunch of stuff.
“I don’t know, I guess it could be? You really don’t want that rug though, it’s filthy. We’ve just been using it in the store forever.”
“OK, so how much could it be for sale for?”
“Say $125?”
“Could you do $100?”

We took the rug outside and laid it on the sidewalk, where the owner proceeded to tell me how much I did not want to buy this ratty piece of crap rug. Assuring him I did, he assured me it wasn’t worth that much, and decided without further urging to sell it to me for $45. Then he put it in a garbage bag and I was on my way.

Like magic! I love this rug. It’s the perfect size for the space, and I love having a rug like this in the kitchen. Antique orientals aren’t too precious because they’ve already taken a lot of wear and abuse, so it’s perfect. Upper West Side. Who would have thought?

rugcloseup

A sale’s a sale, folks. It never hurts to ask.

floor1

Mekko also seems to appreciate the transformation, which is really all that counts anyway.

Tiling: Part 1!

howtotile1

I am really not one of those people—the people who get sick a million times every winter and spend the rest of the year dreading the cold months with a palpable sense of terror and despair. I generally weather the winter months just fine, save for three years ago when I contracted Swine Flu and was quarantined to my dorm room with little more than a box of Kleenex, a few DVDs, and some cough syrup with codeine. Which really just ended up being kind of a fun vacation, at least the parts I remember.

But this year has been so different! Head colds here! Sinus infections there! I am a walking cesspool of virus and disease! Over the course of the past week, I have demolished entire jumbo boxes of Puff’s tissues with ease, spent more hours in bed than I previously thought possible, barely showered, and asked in earnest “what’s a credit card?” during a bout of fever. I am so done with this bullshit.

This got me thinking about the last time I was sick, which, as it happens, was only a few weeks ago. I remember this time vividly because I chose the opposite recovery strategy: instead of lying low, biding my time, and staying hydrated, I decided to live large. Nothing would hold me back. It was time to tile my kitchen’s backsplash, and neither searing headache nor minor fever would hold me back.

I don’t know if it was the tile or just a much, much less miserable virus, but distracting myself with tiling while also feeling generally terrible turned out to be an OK strategy. There were no bowls of steaming soup or cups of tea, but there were headachey trips to Home Depot and then Lowe’s looking for a simple saw (later ordered on Amazon anyway), and some fun coughing fits while hauling a 50-pound bag of thinset powder down a street and up five flights of stairs.

The important question isn’t why I got myself into this, but what I got out of it, which was basically not feeling totally useless and hopeless. Which, after the past week of feeling nothing but despair and misery, I can say is worth a lot.

BEFORE

I talked about tiling my kitchen backsplash a while ago, and mentioned that it was proving difficult to find white 4″x4″ tile to match the existing tile that the landlords installed about a decade ago. In theory, matching this tile seemed like a pretty simple proposition, but there are many different brands of tiles, each of which boast a range of different whites. Added to that is that even the same white may vary between dye lots. Oh, and glazes tend to change slightly over years of exposure to sunlight. So yeah—100% matching tile, not happening. Like ever.

I know a lot of people had strong, valid opinions and ideas regarding this very important topic. There were ideas about doing something different behind the stove to break it up, about using a different material entirely, about ripping down the existing tile and replacing it entirely, but ultimately it all seemed like too much. Backsplash tile is supposed to be utilitarian and functional, and that’s all I really wanted. Tearing down the existing tile seemed just a little over the top for a rental (EVEN for me), and would probably lead to a whole mess of drama of replacing the drywall, discovering mold/monsters in the walls, dying, etc.

subwaytile

So ultimately I just decided to match the tile as closely as possible and move on with my life. This is, after all, a Brooklyn rental apartment, and that’s kind of how it goes here—things don’t always match, nothing is perfect, and that’s OK. Hell, most of the NYC subway stations are tiled with white 4×4, and it’s all a crazy patchwork of different whites. Look at that picture! There are at least 4 different whites there. But it’s fine. It’s whatever. It’s New York. Deal with it or GTFO.

So, my backsplash! It’s not perfect, and I’m fine with it. And I really think that once the kitchen is finished, the mis-matched tile will be hardly noticeable.

supplies1

supplies2

My beautiful tile-happy friend, Anna, came over to teach me how to tile since this was my first time, and I’m super grateful. There was a LOT I didn’t know, and I now realize that my plan to “kind of wing it?” was severely stupid and I’m so lucky to have an Anna in my life. If you don’t have an Anna, I will try my best to teach you my limited knowledge of tiling now.

Firstly, supplies! I really should have taken these pictures before I used everything and mucked it all up, but you’ll definitely want:

1. Tiles. Duh. Don’t be stupid. I used U.S. Ceramics brand Bright White tiles, which are $20 per box (each box covers 10 square feet).

2. A couple of big-ish buckets.

3. Thinset mortar. I actually used a mix of pre-mixed thinset and powdered thinset during this project, and to me they seem to work the same, although powdered is supposed to be stronger. Thinset comes in either a grey-ish color or white—I’d recommend white but it doesn’t really matter with solid ceramic tiles.

4. A box of disposable latex gloves. Tiling is MESSY and you’re doing yourself a HUGE favor if you can just periodically remove your gloves and toss them. It seems wasteful, but it’s really kind of necessary.

5. Notched trowel for applying the thinset. Try to take care to wipe this thing down FREQUENTLY. Or be like me, let a hard cast of thinset completely dry around the handle, and learn the meaning of real shame when Anna asks to borrow it a few weeks later and says when you hand it over, “oh, you don’t take care of your tools, do you?”

6. Rubber float for keeping the tiles even and applying grout.

7. Nippers. If you have to make any small cuts to work around irregular stuff or remove spacers or whatever, you need these.

8. Sponge.

9. Score and snap tile cutter. This handy tool is very easy to use and only about $20, and way less scary than a wet-saw.

10. A level! You really need to make sure your tile is staying level, so this one is important.

tileprep

First, you need to prep the space. For me, this meant removing the shelf and patching the holes in the wall, removing the last column of existing tiles (it had a plastic trim piece at the end, which is installed under the last row of tiles, so the tiles needed to come down to remove it), and painting the wall where the old thinset took the outermost layer of drywall with it. Because thinset is water-soluble, the surface it’s being affixed to should always be painted—never tile directly over unpainted drywall or joint compound. At the same time, thinset won’t adhere as well to glossy paints, so either rough up the surface a bit with sandpaper or scrub with TSP, depending on how glossy the paint is. I’m really not an expert on this.

Next, Anna and I mounted a piece of wood to the wall to support the bottom row of tiles. Tiles will move with gravity while the thinset is wet, so they need a solid surface to sit on while they’re drying.

tileplacement

Mixing directions will be on the back of the thinset bag, but it should be about the consistency of mashed potatoes or peanut butter when mixed. It’s important to get the consistency right—thinset that’s too watery is bad news. Make sure the grooves stay rigid after being applied with the trowel and it should be OK.

Obviously, putting ANY amount of thinset down your drain is a terrible idea, so this is where the buckets come in. Mix the thinset in one bucket and fill the other with water, which you’ll use to wet your sponge and keep tools clean throughout the job. Later, when you’re finished, use the bucket to give your tools a cleaning and dump it outside, where it won’t fuck anything up. If you have access to an outdoor hose, you are SO LUCKY.

We decided to back-butter these tiles, applying thinset to the tiles themselves instead of directly on the wall. This allows for greater precision, which was important because the new tile is butting up to existing tile, so it was really important to constantly make sure things were level and looking OK.

When applying thinset, it’s important that it be multi-directional (the grooves act like suction, so using multiple directions improves adhesion…or something). Each tile needs to be pushed gently into the wall, and it’s a good practice to use your finger to remove any thinset that might come out from around the edges after every tile. This keeps the job clean and orderly instead of chaotic and nightmarish. You’ll also thank yourself later on when you don’t have to scrape your grout lines before grouting.

Every five tiles, Anna recommends using a lightly damp sponge to clean the surface of the tiles, the grout lines, and around the edges of the row. Again, this keeps things feeling clean and manageable and makes clean-up at the end much, much easier.

Also every five tiles, run your rubber float over the tiles just to make sure that things are all on the same plane. Especially when back-buttering, it’s easy to have inconsistent thinset thicknesses between tiles, so it’s important to frequently check if everything is flat and even and make adjustments accordingly if they aren’t. You don’t have long to remove an odd tile and add more thinset, so consult with the float frequently.

I basically just went on like this for the entire wall, building from the bottom row up. Tiles likes this are self-spacing, so there’s no need to use spacers (you’ll have huge, sad grout lines if you do!). If I’m being honest, all of this took a lot of time and energy and overall was surprisingly torturous. Tiling is a weird thing that makes you feel miserable while it’s happening, and then for some reason hungry for more when you’re done or between sessions. I simultaneously want to tile all the things and never tile again ever.

tileafter

And here’s the current status! I’m totally ashamed to say that I STILL haven’t grouted, which is why it all looks kind of dumb and unfinished. I know grouting shouldn’t be that difficult, but I really need to be able to set aside a few hours for it and I’ve just been either super busy or super sick and it just hasn’t happened. The main point of this post is to shame me into making sure it happens soon though.

SO. You can definitely see where the two different tiles come together. It’s not a great match. BUT. BUT. BUT. I really think that once everything is grouted (the old tiles will be re-grouted), the tiles will look much more unified. AND when I get around to mounting the second half of the ledge (it has to be cut down a bit first), the transition point will totally recede and nobody will even think about it. I think. I hope. If I keep saying it, it’ll definitely be true.

Dresser Restoration

Sometimes, I can’t explain why I do the things I do and why I choose a particular moment to do them in, particularly when drugs or alcohol are not contributing factors. Why did I put in that late-night ASOS order last week? Beats me. Why do I NEED to reorganize my kitchen cabinets at 2 in the morning? Can’t say. Why did I up and decide to restore a whole dresser on a Saturday afternoon while Max’s lovely mother was staying at our apartment? No reason that I can think of.

But I did, and I’m lucky that when Max and his mom got home from an exhausting day of non-stop exciting action to find me covered in grime with dresser drawers strewn about the apartment and the air reeking of furniture wax, they took the whole thing in stride. Those close to me have mostly developed a certain tolerance for this sort of thing by now. “Oh, there he goes again,” they say, rolling their eyes. “I guess we’ll just come back in a few hours when he comes down.”

dresser-before

So Max and I bought this dresser a few months ago, and I’ve just been too busy with school and work and procrastinating to devote any time to fixing it up. I mean, it’s a nice dresser—totally looks pretty nice and there’s nothing functionally wrong with it, so it wasn’t exactly first on my list of priorities. All I really did was wipe out the drawers before we started loading clothes into it, and Max threw a bunch of art books on top before I even had a chance to clean it off.

It’s hard to tell from the pictures, but it had a bunch of little nicks and scratches and bumps and bruises and chipped veneer and little bits of paint and cigarette burns and rings on the top. We did buy it for cheaps from a dead person’s house in Long Island, so.

Also, every time I did wipe it with any cleaning product, the towel would turn a shade of dark brown, which was a bit disconcerting. I love some nice rosewood, for sure, but decades of smoke and tinted furniture polish and wax and crap probably weren’t doing the wood a lot of favors at this point.

supplies

Here was the restoration supply kit, which is a little modified from how Morgan originally taught me at The Brick House, but using the same basic principles. Since there wasn’t any existing finish on it like varnish or polyurethane, I didn’t want to touch it with sandpaper, since it’s easy to get carried away and remove more than necessary. Since the drawer-fronts are veneer, that’s definitely something to think about. Instead, I opted for some fine steel wool and soapy water, which did double-duty of scrubbing the shit out of this thing and smoothing out some problem areas where the solid wood had noticeably chipped or scuffed.

progress1

That top image is the top of the dresser before, which kind of shows the surface damage and general sadness going on with this dresser. I started by unscrewing all the hardware, which I’ll get to shortly.

Then all I did was fill a bowl with a few tablespoons of Murphy’s Oil Soap and some hot water and went to work with the steel wool. This thing required a LOT of scrubbing to liberate the wood from so many years of general grime and horror, so I just kept dumping out and refilling my bowl so that I wasn’t totally just moving gross water around. It’s important to only scrub the wood WITH the grain (duhz), and I followed up with a few rags after scrubbing so that water wouldn’t sit on the surfaces long enough to penetrate and ruin anything. As all the old crap came off of the wood, it got noticeably lighter and the beautiful grain really started to show through, which was all very exciting. So I just rubbed my wood until it felt nice and soft and it didn’t seem like any more weird stuff was coming out of it. That came out all wrong.

(by the way, I’m basically making this up, but it worked for me so I guess it’s a good method totally worth emulating and basing your furniture restoration and entire life around)

Fast-forward a few hours, and my arm felt like it was going to fall off, a symptom that should persist no more than a few days. If it does, call your doctor.

Before I moved forward with messing around with my wood any more, I wanted to give my hand, wrist, and forearm a break. Damn it!

handleprogress

This is the part where this post might get controversial because I showed no mercy on the old brass hardware. This is a personal decision I made in a fit of “OMG SHINYYY!!!!!” but in retrospect it might have been better to use a less intense product and keep some of the patina on the brass. Brasso probably would have done the trick nicely, but I went all-out and scrubbed these things with Barkeeper’s Friend (also known as EVERYBODY’S GODSEND) and the rough side of a sponge until all the tarnish was gone and the brass glimmered like melted sunshine. I used an old toothbrush on the tricky inside-bits.

Yeah, I like my furniture to look its age and whatever, but brasssssssy. I couldn’t stop. I just couldn’t.

Diverting attention away from the wood to the hardware also gave the wood a chance to dry out, which is what you want before applying any type of finishing product. Trapping water in wood is not a good plan FYI.

drawersprogress

So I went back to the dresser and the whole thing looked more or less like this. If you’re doing this sort of thing, this is the part where you might be tempted to panic because your wood will be so dry and hazy and sad looking that it seems like nothing will ever save it and you’ve ruined vintage rosewood and you should be put to death immediately. You are a very dramatic person and possibly need medication to get a handle on your feelings.

This is where the Danish Oil comes in. After using Danish oil, Teak oil, Tung oil, and Restore-a-Finish in the past, my favorites are definitely Danish and Teak. Tung tends to darken wood a bit (I think), and I don’t really trust Restore-a-Finish for a project like this because all you really want is the natural color of the wood to come out. There’s a time and a place for Restore-a-Finish, I’m sure, but it’s not when you’re dealing with rosewood or teak because it’s pigmented and that freaks me out.

After the oil (leave on about 15-20 minutes, wipe off excess, repeat if necessary), I finished off the whole thing with Howard’s Feed-N-Wax. This stuff is magic and smells terrific. Then I just screwed the hardware back on and…

dresserdrawerdetail

Hello.

dresserafter2

What’s your name? Can I get your number?

So I was kind of lukewarm on this dresser before because the drawers are kind of annoyingly shallow and it isn’t the most functional thing on four legs, but now I love it? I can never get rid of it?

topafter

dresserradiatordetail

A couple people have pointed out that this dresser sits verrrrry close to the old radiator, which is not generally a good idea. However, it’s probably an OK idea if your landlords are cheap and turn the boiler on about twice every winter, and your boyfriend keeps all the radiators turned off (and a window open, and a fan on) year-round anyway. You are also probably cold all the time and worry for the life of your plants.

At the very least, I’d like to paint this radiator white like the other one, but I also have fantasies of just removing the whole thing and capping the pipe. This project sounds difficult and scary and heavy, but it would open up an alternate room layout that I’ll admit to finding very exciting and enticing. I should be restrained is what I’m saying.

dresserafter3

I’m out of things to say about this dresser.

dresserafter1

Dog Bed

I know that there are certain things that people are supposed to do before guests come to stay, but those types of social graces generally escape me. I’m the sort of person who forgets to ask about food preferences and figures the guest should be both willing and able to just forage for themselves, particularly while I oversleep and they creep quietly around the apartment trying to locate a fresh roll of toilet paper or a bottle of Valium. So when my sister came to town to stay with us this weekend, I made the effort to actually think for a second about what would make her stay more comfortable and enjoyable, so naturally I spent the day before her arrival making a proper bed. For my dogs.

Hear me out: Linus insists on sleeping in the bed, usually between us or on top of me, but Mekko likes her space. She’ll cuddle up with us until the actual moment when we’re definitely going to sleep, and then she’ll proudly stand up, shake off, and go sleep on the couch until morning. After her beauty sleep and only when she’s good and ready, she comes back to the bed for a morning cuddle session before our walk. It’s all very polite and ladylike. She’s a creature of habit, which is really adorable until a person needs to sleep on the sofa and she gets all sulky, hoping somebody will notice the injustice being dealt against her.

I knew she needed a proper bed of her own, the problem being that dog beds exist on two extremes: stupid expensive or ugly as shit. I don’t like either and I don’t stand for ugly things when it comes to my children. So I made my own, because I convince myself these things will be easy and fun, two delusions that pretty much fuel the entire existence of this blog.

This magical land that I like to call “Target” sells dog bed inserts for $9.99 a pop. They make a few different corresponding covers for them, but that would have been too easy, too common, and too unattractive for my perfect angels. Luckily, I am secretly a hoarder and have a whole overflowing enormous bin filled with fabrics that I either LOVE but haven’t used (yet), or fabrics that I have no use for but can’t get rid of because they’re perfectly good and might come in handy someday. I can feel your judgment through your computer monitor, by the way, and it totally stings so just cut it out.

(Yes, that’s some rad wool Pendleton you see at the bottom there that I bought 8 months ago in Portland for no other reason than because it was marked down and I loved it. HOARDER.)

The only problem with these dog bed inserts is that they’re pitifully under-stuffed and lack the necessary luxury that my faithful companions deserve. Luckily, the fancy polyester cases have a zipper, so I bought two so that I could just gut all the stuffing out of one and put it inside the other one, making one super-stuffed amazing bed that would convince my dogs that I am actually god.

Now THAT’S what I’m talking about, am I right? If you were a dog, you’d totally want to relax all day on that. You know you would.

Especially if it were covered with this. When Max and I were in Finland, we visited the Marimekko headquarters, which has its very own outlet store attached to it, inside of which is a magical remnant bin I sifted through like I was in the middle of a Survivor challenge. There were a lot of little scraps and bits and pieces of stuff, but then the heavens opened and my greedy paws landed on this big piece of hot pink and red Unikko, one of Marimekko’s most iconic textiles. Designed in 1964 by Maija Isola, the print was the first floral that Marimekko ever produced, after consciously avoiding floral patterns because they were too traditionally feminine, a precedent that the company sought to avoid with its bold, forward-thinking clothing and textiles.

Fun fact: originally, imperfections in Marimekko fabrics were considered a sign of quality, since they were evidence of the screen-printing process that produced them, but now most imperfections are weeded out by a worker who scans the entirety of each bolt for mistakes (I think they allow up to three imperfections per bolt, but I might be wrong about that). This piece didn’t make the cut for retail because it’s a mess (you can see where they dye is all runny and weird, particularly down the middle), but since the remnant bin charged some ridiculously low price by weight, I didn’t hesitate when throwing it into my basket. Along with some other little scraps I’m still hoarding for a rainy day.

Since there wasn’t enough Unikko to cover the whole thing, I wanted something a bit more heavy-duty for the back. Like most healthy, balanced people, turns out I kept my old shower curtain that shrunk too much in the wash but was still a nice thick cotton-bamboo blend.

I cut the Unikko fabric about the same size as the insert itself, when laid flat (I used the extra sans-stuffing cover as a guide). I do this when making pillowcases of any size, since the seam allowance actually makes the finished product smaller than the insert—meaning it will stay looking fluffy and sexy and awesome instead of loose and droopy.

Since I wanted the cover to be removable but am still avoiding learning how to properly sew a zipper, not that I have any zippers on hand anyway, I opted to make a simple envelope back. To do this, I added about 8-10 inches of width to the back and then cut it in half, giving me the necessary 3-4″ of overlap in the middle when the pillow is inserted.

Like so. Making sense? Ugh, sewing tutorials are difficult, particularly as I have no real idea how to sew and no real business giving advice.

Since I used a shower curtain, I used an existing seam for the outside of the pocket and sewed a new seam for the inside of the pocket, since that’s the one you’ll never really see anyway and I’m crappy at sewing even straight lines.

Then I just laid all the “right” sides of the fabric facing each other, and pinned the whole thing up on each side. When using a sewing machine, put the pins in perpendicular to the edge so that the needle can sew over them without breaking or causing catastrophe, mental breakdowns, or death. This is crafting, after all, and the risks are real.

The dogs, by the way—SUPER NOT HELPFUL. Here’s Linus being a little entitled jerk and demanding to literally sleep on top of my project.

Mekko, of course, sort of watched me judgmentally and with a palpable sense of pity before just falling asleep. “Look at this fucking putz,” she thought. “You can quit it with this bullshit right now, you’re embarrassing yourself.”

But I PERSEVERED. Little furry bullies will not drag down my crafting fervor. Nothing can extinguish the fire in my soul to make crap I should have just bought months ago. Except, like, death or something better to do.

Then it was just a matter of sewing all the outer edges together. I know there are fancier ways of doing this, but I don’t know what they are and I don’t really care because a single line of stitching is all I’m really capable of without feeling like I need to go somewhere and senselessly smash stuff for a while.

This is the part where you get to cut corners! Har-fucking-har.

Snip those corners off so when you turn the thing right-side-out, the extra fabric in the corners won’t make things wonky. Yes, in fact those are the best terms I can come up with to describe this.

Turn it right-side-out, and then from the inside, use a knitting needle or some other pointy object, like a chopstick or a fingernail if you’re a witch, to push the corner out. Basically it should look like a corner instead of a mess. I’m fading here.

I put a single big button in the middle of the back to keep the envelope closed. This helps keep the pillow shapely and nice, otherwise the insert will try to escape out the back and the cover will start to look weird.

I have no idea how to sew a button hole, so I just cut a slit a little smaller than the button and sewed a million stitches around the perimeter of it to keep the fabric from fraying around the hole. This is the part where I don’t really care what it looks like at all and just sit in front of the TV pretending to be talented, stitching and stitching for a while until it seems like the hole is never going to fall apart. You’ll know when you get to that point, then do some more stitches for good measure.

Then force your ungrateful diva of a dog to lie on it while you take pictures and try to entice her to do something—anything—to look even remotely excited or happy about the thing you just spent 3-4 hours making for her to enjoy and cherish.

Remind her that the whole internet will see these pictures and all of a sudden girl knows how to work her angles and model like a fucking pro. Jesus, I’m fucked.

Despite her initial hesitations, Mekko has warmed up to the idea and used it willingly several times over the course of the last few days, which I think means its a success?

Linus loves it, but that guy will sleep anywhere.

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