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DIY: How to Refinish Laminate Furniture

I worked on a variety of upcycling projects in our apartment while we waited for a lease to expire on the first floor of the White House. It helped me be a little less impatient to start renovating. Here’s a short version of the process I followed:

building-home-and-family-painting-laminate

The desk wasn’t a thrift store find. Even thrift-challenged me could probably have found a more appealing desk as a starting point. But it has sentimental value:

As kids, my sister and I took turns going into our parents’ room and wrapping Christmas gifts for each other under the supervision of Mom and Dad. The year my sister was old enough to wrap a gift, my parents told me not to ask her what it was since she was too young for secrets. For years, I laughed how she had burst from my parents’ room and announced the gift: “It’s a pink pony!” It became a family joke about how NOT to keep secrets.

Several years later, I asked my sister to give me a hint about my Christmas gift, but she had learned the value of being cryptic after being the butt of the pony joke. “It’s in Dad’s office,” she giggled. I remember thinking she had seriously underestimated my investigative skills. I looked in the closet where my mom’s wedding dress and some old coats hung. I pulled books off the bookshelf and checked between them. I looked under every piece of furniture, inside every forbidden drawer. Nothing. What’s more, when it came time to wrap presents, no one even went into the office to retrieve a gift! I thought my sister, having mastered secrets, might be learning about white lies.

My dad walked me into his office on Christmas day and pointed to his desk, sitting in plain sight. “The desk is yours,” he told me. I stood in shock for awhile. Such largesse! I love that desk and everything it represents. I remember my dad doing taxes at that desk, paying bills, sorting out medical statements when my sister was born. To me, giving me his desk said my dad believed I was responsible.

Unfortunately, the desk was ugly. I didn’t notice for years. When I did notice, I was scared I might ruin an heirloom. (Can it be an heirloom if it’s laminate? I’m undecided.)

The key to refinishing laminate furniture is to allow yourself lots of time: there are two layers each of primer, paint, and sealant, and each layer needs to dry between coats.

I started by removing the old desk hardware, knowing I would switch out the dated knobs for something more modern.

Building Home and Family Removing Hardware

Typically, you don’t want to sand laminate. The one exception is if you are going to use different hardware/drawer pulls and fill some holes with putty, you may want to lightly sand the putty with a fine grit sandpaper to make sure it’s flush with the main surface.

Building Home and Family Wood Filler and Putty Knife

Building Home and Family Wood Filler

To apply the Zinsser primer, I used an angled paintbrush, plus I smoothed the paint with a mini paint roller to remove brush strokes. I used the same process for the paint. Paint at least 2 coats (until opaque), following directions on the cans for dry times.

Building Home and Family Zinsser with Angled Brush

I also added a coat of polycrylic using an angled brush to keep the finish from chipping/scratching. Follow the wood grain.

When I was done painting, I lined my drawers with fabric. I used a Cotton + Steel print and love the contrasting yellow of the lemons against the blue-gray paint color.

Building Home and Family Lined Desk Drawers

The easiest method is to cut the fabric to size: place fabric inside drawer and use a very sharp razor, rotary cutter, or Xacto knife to cut along the creases.

I actually used a different process. I cut the fabric slightly bigger and added a thin layer of iron-on interfacing onto the back/wrong side of the fabric around the edges before cutting the last ½” or so to size. The interfacing should keep the edges of the fabric from fraying.

Spray half (e.g. the left side) of the back/wrong side of the fabric with spray adhesive and adhere to drawer bottom, smoothing any wrinkles. Then repeat on the other side. Doing this in two parts makes it easier to get the lining straight and smooth.

Building Home and Family Laminate Desk Before and After

Overall, I’m happy with the finish, although I’ve since selected different colors for furniture in the White House. Oops! I’ll probably try to find a way to tie this in.

 

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Nursery Inspiration

Our baby’s first home is an investment property and not our “forever home,” which means I have been torn as to how much time and money to put into our nursery. On top of that, space is limited, so I want to avoid bringing things into our home that will be used for only a short time – even if they’re adorable! This process has been full of compromise.

Palette
I am really bad at editing (in a room, quilt, painting… the list is endless). I love color and want to incorporate every item I like, even if it doesn’t match anything else I own. Step 1 for me was narrowing my palette.

Probably the easiest solution would have been to pair blush pink and gold. They are popular colors right now, and I’m having a girl. Easy peasy. But my mom decorated my childhood bedroom in pink and white – even making all the curtains, bedding, etc. herself! – and I hated it. It made me feel like I was supposed to sit in a frilly dress and not get dirty while I was more of a mud puddle princess. So… no blush pink and gold for our baby. (Even though I think it’s really cute now! Irony.)

I kept returning to one of my favorite backgrounds in the A Beautiful Mess iPhone app and decided was the perfect fit:

abm

From that background, I pulled a still-huge-but-at-least-cohesive palette:

building-home-and-family-nursery-palette

It even includes blush pink!

Having settled on an 8-color palette, I almost died laughing when I was reading Emily Henderson’s design blog archives yesterday and came across this gem (abbreviated by me for relevance):

“Tip #1. You can mix however many styles you want… as long as you have a consistent color palette peppered evenly throughout the space. This is the number one problem I see – not telling a cohesive color story through furniture and accessories. Now if you are a color genius, or an extremely confident diy-designer then of course you can do whatever you want – and I’ve seen rooms look great with 94 colors in them. But I warn that if you have a ton of different styles in a ton of different colors all thrown together in a room, it can look like a thrift store, or even worse, a big, busy, messy, cluttered mistake.”

Yes, that is Tip #1. Top designer Emily’s very most important design guideline. It’s like she met me and is warning me not to follow my instincts, and yet, here I am, plodding ahead as “an extremely [over-]confident DIY designer.” Haha… I will probably wish I had followed the advice, and yet, I just can’t help myself!

Furnishings
The nursery is approximately 10′ x 10′. It can fit a lot of furniture, but not without looking cluttered. My second goal was to determine what items are most important and try to eliminate everything else.

  • Crib – The baby needs to sleep somewhere. I’m not a huge fan of most budget convertible cribs (with accessories, you can reassemble a crib into a toddler bed and then a twin bed), so I plan to keep this item inexpensive and upgrade to a “real” bed when it’s time.
  • Dresser – In addition to storing clothes, blankets, etc., I plan to put a cushion on top so it can double as a changing table. (Yep, I know to never leave my kid up there unrestrained.)
  • Bed – This choice is less common than the others. I originally planned to include a chair for feeding the baby. Both a bed and a chair won’t fit, so it had to be one or the other. I realized it might be more convenient to have a bed so the parent on “baby duty” can catch some sleep. Plus, when the baby is small, we could keep a bassinet in our room and have the nursery double as a guest room. We anticipate more visitors with the baby.

In addition to furniture, I know I’ll need a rug. The hardwood floor will be beautiful when it’s refinished, but we won’t get to that before the baby is born. We won’t do it right after, either; it makes more sense to refinish the nursery floor when we refinish the other floors (economy in grouping like projects), but the process generates a lot of dust and would mean moving ALL our furniture from EVERY room out of the apartment. It might not even happen while we’re living there. Serious bummer. Bottom line: a rug will be key.

Based on palette and furnishing considerations, here’s my inspiration board for our baby girl’s nursery (sources below).

building-home-and-family-nursery-inspiration

Was there anything you wish you’d had in your nursery, an item you thought you could live without but couldn’t? Am I totally off-base not having a chair in the room, understanding I have some very comfy chairs in the living room that’s just a few steps away? Advice is much appreciated, folks!

Sources:

  • Ikea Hemnes bed frame; our goal is to DIY this bed frame when we have more time, so the Ikea frame is a temporary solution
  • Ikea Gulliver crib
  • Curtain handmade from a Target shower curtain, sewn to size (for a prior apartment) and backed with heavy Ikea fabric for light blocking
  • Secondhand dresser painted to suit
  • Looking for a budget version of this lamp
  • Handmade crib sheets (fabrics are Robert Kaufman Urban Zoology Ostrich in Charcoal, Windham Fabrics Handmaker Loom in Black & White, and Flannel gingham plaid in Black) – will share details later in case you want to make crib sheets of your own
  • DIY wall art based on this tutorial/inspiration (with colors and images to suit)
  • Rug- Still searching, but recolored this rug by Lulu & Georgia to fit the inspiration board
  • House shelves from Target with hand painted peg dolls of our family inside
  • Canvas hamper from Land of Nod

One final note for anyone still reading: I’m a little crushed not to incorporate more wood into the design, but we have wood stained in almost every finish in the unit now. I don’t want one more mismatched piece. But opting for white furniture does kill me a little bit, even though I think it makes the other colors stand out in a positive way. Natural stained wood is my absolute favorite.