Real Life Design Lessons: When Your DIY Seems Doomed

Real Life Design Lessons: When Your DIY Seems Doomed

Janel Laban
Jun 28, 2011

In January 2008, Apartment Therapy partnered with an about-to-bite-the-dust (but still wonderful) shelter mag (Blueprint! Remember it?) for our first foray into a full month of DIY projects. The editors joined in the fun (ironic quotes optional) by tackling our own projects in real time and blogging the process. Here is the story of my own step by step furniture makeover — one with the very iffy middle stretch that I think every DIYer can relate to.

During the starting phase of the project, all seemed on track. I was finally going to make something I liked from the bottom half of roll top desk with a missing top half. I gathered my supplies, did the sanding, filled in the big holes where the roll top used to be secured and was raring to go. Here is what I wrote during that happily unknowing time:

The Shopping — I went with the One Shot Sign Painters enamel from Pearl Paint. I've heard it is super high gloss, which I want, and that it flows nicely, drying with less brush marks (hope this is true!). I haven't worked with oil based paint in a while and am already anticipating NOT enjoying the brush clean up, but c'est la vie.
The Prep — I notoriously am impatient at the start of a project. I detest making gauge squares (I just want to knit already!), am not a fan of pattern cutting (Let's get that sewing machine humming!) and figured sanding the desk would evoke similar feelings - but I actually enjoyed it, in part because I really didn't like the color/finish of the desk and was happy to see it eradicated after living with it for way too long. Honestly though, I think the real reason it was quite pain-free was because the sander worked well. It was easy to use and generally made what could have been a tedious step quite speedy. Go Mouse!

So happy! So peppy! And then, the day of reckoning came, when everything seemed to go wrong - when it's too late to turn back but you really don't want to continue either, since it seems like, yes, you've just ruined a piece of furniture and it's only going to get worse. Here is my write up of that stretch:

The Painting — After buying the supplies (I was very good at this part) and prepping the desk (still pretty good) I lugged the desk down to the low-ceilinged, dark, unheated communal basement of our building to get going on the next step. Not my favorite spot, but when it's January in Chicago, your choices for places to paint are kinda slim....
After settling in, I broke out the paint. Wow...very gloppy. Very sticky. Very smelly. The One-Shot Sign Painters Enamel is some serious paint. It took a loooong time to brush this on - in the cold, dark basement. I stuck with it and emerged from the depths a few hours later feeling good - I knew it would take a while to dry, so I put it out of my mind and didn't really check on it for a few days. Ignorance is bliss.
The next time I had a few hours for the project, I went down and checked it out. Uh oh. Not good. There were some sections where the paint had gotten funky - not smooth at all. While I'll never know the exact reason I think that it was either some sort of reaction with the old finish (in spots where I didn't sand well enough) or the temperature or dampness level of the basement (which I knew was not ideal). Not pretty. What I envisioned as a light sanding before the second coat took on totally new proportions. Some areas needed serious work, right back down to the wood to remove the badly cured paint.
After spending plenty of time with the sander again, the photos you see here are where I was at - with a desk that looked like some badly "aged" faux antique...but things have GOT to take a turn for the better after this, right?

At this point, I was really, really, really tempted to just abandon the project. It was cold in the basement, the desk looked horrible and the thought of redoing a process that I had just failed miserably at to rescue a piece of furniture that I never really loved to begin with seemed foolish. BUT, I had already started blogging it for Apartment Therapy, so I pressed on, afraid to admit defeat publicly and be a downer on the whole "we can do it" vibe of the January Jumpstart month.

I stuck with it, and while it took a while, the end results were worth it. Here is how I wrapped it up:

Finished! — I'm very happy with my "new" white desk. It's super glossy and has the feel of a lacquered piece, which was what I was hoping for. You can see the reflection of the black box in the surface even in this photo - I love that! Getting here was not easy; the One Shot paint was a bit of a bear to deal with and I ended up doing three coats total, with sanding in between. Drying time in my unheated apartment building basement (in January!) took a while, too.
The biggest improvement to my DIY process came after my last post - instead of applying the second and third coats with a brush (like the disastrous first coat) I switched to a small, ultra fine roller. A HUGE improvement and one worth noting for next time.

Three years later and I love the piece even more. It's moved from my bedroom in my old apartment to the entry/living room of my new apartment and the finish is holding up great. But, the real takeaway from all of this is...don't give up! Sure, it was the fear of failure in front of (millions of) readers that kept me going during the dark days, but even if no one would ever know, it's worth it to keep going. I had no experience in this area, and no knowledge of the materials, but I just followed my gut and kept trying things and it turned out all I needed to get the job done right was the proper tool — in this case a $2.99 small sponge roller! And, in addition to the satisfaction in completing a task, I ended up with a piece of furniture I love and am proud to have in my home.

So, next time you are sitting there with things scattered into a bunch of pieces (physically OR metaphorically) that seem like they'll never come together, you can think of my shiny white desk and know that it is worth it to press on…

Have a similar tale to tell (and who doesn't)? Please share in the comments below!

Janel's January Jumpstart Preview
Janel's January Jumpstart Part 1
Janel's January Jumpstart Part 2
Janel's January Jumpstart Part 3
Janel's January Jumpstart Part 4

Images: Janel Laban

moving--truck moving--dates moving--dolly moving--house moving--cal Created with Sketch. moving--apt