Wednesday, 19 March 2014


I thought I had outgrown furniture made so lovingly by IKEA.

I just always had the association of it being so cheap, so flimsy, that it’s the go-to for anyone fresh out of college, in need of a fully-furnished apartment pronto, and not a lot of original design sense. 

I mean, the stuff is ingeniously designed and packed, and I am one of the few who takes near-perverse pleasure in following the step-by-step instructions to creating my own allen-wrench created masterpiece. 

Don't you just hit a point in your life where you outgrow the stuff and start collecting nice pieces?  

Not when you are an expat with no idea with what the future holds!

Still…the new flat came fully furnished with fairly solid furniture that was fresh from IKEA, and I can’t really complain- I’m pretty sure that aside from the Billy bookcase, everything else was from the upper price range of the warehouse.  I think this might be the first time I've had rooms full of matching lines of their furniture as well, and altogether, the place looks pretty sharp because of it, if not a little sterile. 

One thing that makes me sad is how disposable people consider flat-pack furniture.  Not a day goes by where I take out the trash and I am faced with the garbage bay that is filled with remnants of an Ikea-lived life.  Most of it is truly rubbish- broken down, splintered and unstable- but I've been rescuing pieces here and there that are perfectly good, solid, clean furniture, either from the garage downstairs where the bulk rubbish is picked up, or off the street if I see someone dragging out to the curb for pickup.  I was even able to salvage a Malmo bed for hardware parts that the that was missing off mine, probably as the result of one too many moves on my landlord’s part.  Frequently, this stuff isn't designed to be taken apart and put back together multiple times, and that is when it really starts to disintegrate. 

No, I am not becoming a hoarder.  No, I’m not living in filth and squalor, itching my bed bug bites and being plagued by a mystery rash.  

I am the savior of unloved Ikea furniture.  The patron saint of unwanted Swedish goods.   Bask in my holy glow, listen to the angels sing my praises.  Yeah, that’s right. 

The flat having a lovely outdoor space to enjoy once the weather gets a bit warmer was a real selling point for me.  A grill, a little vegetable garden hanging off the banister, a place to dry laundry in the sun.  All very nice.  How about a place to sit then, and a table to eat at? 


Yup, dragged that right out of the garage.  It was hideous, but it was a solid piece and quite heavy despite there being a big wear mark from maybe a plant or a computer monitor.  The metal legs gave it an ugly industrial chic look.  No wonder why it was discontinued by the Swedish overlords. 

First; an adventure to the hardware store.  This went horribly wrong. 

There are dozens of little hardware stores all over London, but very few who specialize in paint and will mix it for you to match a colour you want.  I found one after much searching, and showed up one lovely Saturday afternoon with my paint chips and ideas of splendour dancing in my head. 

The cheif who helped me out with the paint mixing was fairly young and clueless, and didn’t quite know how to gracefully mix the paint.  Before the lid could be secured into place to give the paint can a ride in the super-shaker, he spilled a great deal of the paint on the floor, along with  most of the raw dyes, which was really effecting what color the final product would be.  Part of this was not entirely his fault, as there was a bat-shit crazy woman whose remaining teeth were growing horizontally out of her mouth who was hovering over us, asking all sorts of questions that had nothing to do with hardware supplies or paint, and neither one of us really knew what to do about her as she just seemed lonely and wanting to have a chat desperately, about cats and the weather and the end of the world and god, and she was clattering her teeth so rapidly, I couldn’t get a moment to think clearly, and all the paint fumes were making things woozy.  I was getting as agitated as that paint was supposed to be.  Plus, the floor of the hardware store was starting to look like an oozy Jackson Pollack reject.

The third time we tried for the paint, the guy managed to spill a bit on the floor anyway.  I stared in alarm and disbelief.  Was he high?  Have I been here for six hours trying to buy paint?  WTF, why can he not stop spilling my paint!  This was worse than a Marx brothers movie.  His boss came over and assured me, oh he didn’t spill dye that time, we’ll shake it up and it will be perfect.  Foolishly, I agreed, and I went home with a gallon of paint that ended up being all wrong from my original vision when I saw it in daylight, and the outside of the paint can was streaked with dye and threatening to yellow anything I put it near.  What I wanted was a deep, mossy green.  What I got was a yellowish mint. 


UGH.  At which point I was trying to re-negotiate, and they pulled the ‘once it’s mixed, you own it’ card on me. 

I hope they encounter some paint-encrusted cement boots soon.   This sainthood is just not working out for me.

It’s really easy to re-finish furniture.  Sure, it takes a little time, but way to make something generic and beat-up look like you love it.  And you will.

I had four things to finish:  the table for outdoor use, a set of side tables for indoors, and a good old Ikea chair for outdoors.  Everything, salvaged from the dumpster.

First, it’s important to give it a good sanding.  Even if you have a primer that says ‘no sanding needed’, call it on its bullshit and get to work.  Roughing up the surface gives the paint something to grip to, and if the furniture is laminated, you won’t have a chance in hell to get a coat of paint to stick.  I used a medium-grit paper and it took me about a half hour for each piece. 


Now, on to the priming. 


I used a water-based primer.  Anything else you need to buy brush cleaner to clean up, and that stuff is just toxic and I can’t be bothered.  I generally just throw my paintbrushes away once I’m done anyway- wasteful, I know, but I just don’t have storage space for things like that.  If you are dealing with something with a dark coat of paint on it to begin with, you can ask the hardware store to tint it for you to give yourself a darker basecoat to work with.  When I asked, they looked at me like I was an escapee from an asylum of sorts, and eventually pulled out a huge jug of paint tint and tried to sell me a gallon of it.  No, I just need a few drops.  Most places will do this for you, but I persevered and  went home with glaring white, and I probably was given that nickname at the hardware store to boot. 

I got a mini-roller as well- this is key to have nice, smooth coats.  Brushes, especially cheap ones, can leave lots of DIY evidence. 

Wipe off all the extra dust from the sanding, and start priming.  I used two coats and completely coated every piece.  I let it try overnight before slapping on the second coat. 


Then, the paint.  I ended up purchasing some pre-mixed stuff since the yellowing mint was making me depressed every time I looked at it.  I think it might have been the same colour the interior  walls of my high-school was painted, and that place was a dump.  Still, I had an idea brewing, and painted the table pissy puke mint colour  anyway.

Pretty, right? 

The red side tables gave me the most grief.  The paint didn’t have great coverage.  I ended up doing five coats on each one.  Everything else took three.  Dark colours are harder to work with as you will start to notice all sorts of flaws in coverage. 

This whole process took most of a week, but maybe an hour each day.  I’d put on my painter clothes, go outside paint, clean the brush and roller and wait until the next day to do it all over again until I was happy with the coverage.  Letting things dry overnight will keep you from getting too many dents and blobs in your paint job. 

Now, for the finish touch.  Or in the case of minty unfresh table, several finishing touches. 


I ran out to the craft store and got a jar of modge podge and some short-bristled brushes.  I hunted around for bits of paper and postcards that I had been uselessly saving- some pretty wrapping paper, maps, some really awesome postcards that I bought at the Lomo store in Budapest that I never got around to sending, some stationary from Musee D'Orsay with Japanese prints. 

I glued the whole mess on to the table.  I haven’t decoupaged since I was a kid.  Yes, it’s overtly kitschy.  But look, all the pretty bits of crap I’ve been saving now has a home where it can be admired/stared at with alarm/shit on by pigeons.  I decluttered AND I cluttered a table with piles of paper permanently.  It’s a miracle!  And it hid a great deal of the awful green truth!

After another 24 hours of dry-time,  it was time for a couple of coats of varnish.  I had to buy two wee cans- one for outdoor use and one for indoor.  Both claimed to ‘dry clear’, but they totally darkened all the things.  Lies, cans of paint are full of lies! 

It’s good to do this last step outside (well, I did everything but the decoupage outside) because varnish gives everyone an instant migraine.  It’s terrible stuff, and it’s hard to apply, and it is hard to clean up if you get it on anything you don’t  want it on.  It starts getting tacky right away, your brush strokes show, and I got an alarming amounts of bubbles in the finish with every pass.  Most of those went away, but I was having a new adventure, as mosquitoes and blackflies were attracted to the varnish, and now I have dozens of them permanently embalmed in the finish.  If I tried to pick them out, they would take out the paint down to the primer, leaving worse-than dead bug carcass divots in the paint.   Ah, well.  In the end, I decided this was something I was going to have to live with.  Two coats of varnish later, the whole lot of furniture looked shiny and protected, and totally usable.  For about $50 worth of paint and supplies, I took some garbage and turned it into functional things that I would have had to shell out ££ or $$ for.



Not bad, eh?  The side tables match a Moroccan kilm perfectly, and give a bit more richness to a colorless room.


I am not quite done with the chair, as I have a bit of work to get a waterproofing for the new cushion.  No one wants to sit in a soggy fabric chair.  But hey, totally legit place to sit out with a book and a toddy.

And yes, the table:


It's kitchy, but not hideous.



Right now, it's making a nice place for my seedlings to bask in the sunlight, but soon, it will get some use as a proper picnic table.  

The only real issue is the table legs.  They are metal.  You need to get a special oil-based primer in order to stick paint to metal, and I didn’t want to spend any more money on this project.  I covered it the best I could, but if you nick it, the paint peels and scratches off down to the metal with no effort at all. 

Ah well.  The table top is so damn pretty, no one will ever notice. 

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