I don’t remember buying my little kitchen table and two chairs, and I don’t remember ever liking them, either. They don’t even match each other. They’re functional enough, but they’re nothing to look at. So last summer I decided to replace them. I looked around in furniture stores but didn’t find anything much better than the ugly, colorless, shapeless pieces I already had.
Then I got the great idea to buy something old and classic that would last, and I found several great pieces, but no great deals. One Saturday afternoon, my friend Cheryl and I were driving home from an unsuccessful shopping run to find the perfect table & chair set for me at the perfect price, and she remarked, “You know, wading through people’s old stuff they don’t want anymore, or that they left behind them when they died, makes me just sick of stuff. It makes me want to just use what I have instead of buying more stuff.”
I went home and looked at my ugly table and chairs and wondered how I could stand to keep using them. But the alternative was spending hundreds of dollars to bring something into my house that would not significantly change my life, and that I didn’t need. So I decided to give my table & chairs another chance. Here they were to begin with:
I went to the hardware store over my lunch break and picked up some paint samples, brought them home, and mulled them over. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
We had a very dry summer in Minnesota, so working outside every day was a pretty risk-free proposition. No rain, no mosquitoes.
I finished up the chairs and put them in the kitchen:
Then I found some old stencils of my grandpa’s and tried them out. I wish I could do this all over again, because I learned some things about how to adhere stencils to wood and how to apply the paint . . . but I only learned it after I did this:
I went to work on the table:
Then I finished up and put everything in the kitchen:
The colors didn’t turn out as great as I’d hoped, and I would definitely do a few things differently if I could start all over. I’d skip the purple, for sure. I’d do the stenciling right. I’d use an oil-based paint instead of latex; the latex paint took ages to dry (or “cure,” as they call it), so I couldn’t sit on the chairs without subtley sticking to them for about two months. Lesson learned!
Financially, my project rocked. I spent about $40 on sandpaper, primer, and paint, or about 10% of what I’d been prepared to spend on something at the new furniture store or antique shop.
But something else happened during the process: I stopped craving that new or antique table & chair set that I’d thought I couldn’t live without. I squashed the shopping bug by engaging my hands and my mind. My little kitchen set is not much prettier than it was when I started, but now at least I appreciate it. I spent some time with it, happily singing along with ABBA while sanding, priming, and painting for hours on end. Working with what I had felt a lot better than shopping. Who knew?