Design + Projects
Last week, we talked about moving our treasured family nursery dresser into Baby T’s room, and shared our DIY plans to design a modern furniture look with the Ikea Tarva three-drawer dresser in Toddler E’s big-girl bedroom. Using dark wood stain and white paint, we wanted to create a sophisticated but classic design that would be timeless, and work with E’s evolving style and functionality needs over the next several years. (You can see some of our inspiration images for this project on our Pinterest board!)
So after buying the Tarva and bringing it home, we unpacked the individual dresser parts and set them up in our garage. John took on most of the work for this particular DIY furniture project (while I was busy painting the fabric drawers for the nursery), and he wanted to stain and paint the dresser parts in their unassembled state before putting the final piece together.
For the stain, we decided to try Minwax Polyshades. It’s got a built-in polyurethane coat to protect and make the surface more durable, which eliminates the need for a separate topcoat. Traditionally, wood staining involves rubbing the stain onto the surface with a soft cloth, wiping off any excess, and ending with a protective finish. But with a combination stain-polyurethane formula like Polyshades, you apply thin coats with a brush and let them dry without wiping off. We’d never used this one-step product before, but it sounded convenient and potentially time-saving. So we went ahead and bought a quart of the Espresso Satin finish, a nice dark color that looked like it would match the toddler’s bed frame. (According to the label, one quart covers 120-150 square feet – plenty for our little dresser project.)
To paint the drawer fronts, we wanted a soft paint color that would work well with the warm tones in the toddler’s bedroom. In order to keep our DIY costs low and stay within our total budget of $100, we surveyed our “leftover from previous projects” paint arsenal, and chose Swiss Coffee by Behr, a nice clean shade that’s bright but not blinding white.
With the materials assembled and the dresser pieces spread out and ready, John got to work. First, he focused on the parts to be stained: the dresser’s top, sides, legs and knobs. In order to get complete stain coverage on the small legs and knobs without touching them and making fingerprints during the staining process, he attached them to larger pieces of scrap wood. Then he sanded all the wood surfaces lightly and wiped them clean.
Next, he used a foam brush to apply wood conditioner to the unfinished pieces – an important pre-staining step that properly prepares the wood surface and helps the grain open up to absorb stain more evenly.
As you can see below, this really makes a difference when working with a soft wood variety like the Tarva’s white pine.
Once the wood conditioner was dry, John used a natural bristle brush to “paint” the Polyshades stain onto the conditioned wood in the direction of the grain.
Knowing he wouldn’t be able to wipe off any excess stain, John was careful to use long even brushstrokes. But he still found it difficult to cover the surfaces with a uniform layer of stain. Applying too much pressure on the brush created a thin streaky coat that let the bare wood show through more than we wanted. On the other hand, brushing with a lighter touch tended to deposit uneven patches of stain across the wood. It was a lot of trial and error to find a technique that worked – and even then, we weren’t able to eliminate every single brush mark.
The Espresso color was also not quite as dark as we wanted yet, which meant we’d need another coat of stain. So John left the first coat to dry for several hours, and in the meantime he moved on to painting the drawer fronts. For these, we wanted solid paint coverage that would still allow the texture of the wood grain to show through, something we knew we could achieve by doing multiple thinner layers of paint instead of one thick coat.
John brushed the first coat of Swiss Coffee on the three drawer fronts, thin enough that the knots in the pine were still visible.
With the first paint coat on the drawer fronts, John jumped back to the stained pieces (now dry), sanded them lightly, and wiped off the residue to prepare for another coat of Polyshades. The first coat still looked a little streaky, and we hoped that the second coat would be dark enough to camouflage the imperfections. But even though John had sanded between coats to give the surface better adhesion, the glossy polyurethane in the first coat still made it difficult to get a continuous finish with the second coat. He had to brush the stain on lightly to keep it from pooling, and it turned out to be even more tricky to apply than the first coat.
After finishing the second stain coat, John switched back again to the painted drawer fronts (also now dry), sanded them lightly, and painted on a second thin coat of Swiss Coffee. When that dried, he painted a third and final coat. Then he left both the stained and painted dresser pieces to dry overnight.
The next day, we brought everything up to E’s bedroom, and she and John went to work assembling the dresser.
And here’s the finished piece!
The dark stain with white drawers is a classic look with a modern twist – and just as we hoped, it fits perfectly with her decor without looking babyish or cutesy.
We love how this custom-finished dresser came out, and so does Toddler E. It’s the perfect size for her – she can reach all the drawers and pick out her own clothes each morning.
But would we use the Polyshades stain again? The pros: its Espresso color does look deep and rich, the streaks from the brushstrokes aren’t too noticeable, and the surface is well sealed and protected. The cons: it was a LOT trickier to apply than we thought it would be, and while it did save John the extra step of adding a separate protective topcoat, there was definitely a trade-off of extra effort and time as he attempted to create a smooth finish. So… we’re not sure if we’ll use this stain-plus-polyurethane product again, and we may go back to the traditional stain method for our next wood staining project.
But in the end, we’re very happy with our DIY kid-friendly Tarva project! And hopefully Toddler E will be using this dresser for many years to come.
We’re curious – have you ever used Polyshades before? What was your experience with it? Do you have any helpful tips or stories?
Today we’re sharing our inspiration and ideas for a classic modern Ikea dresser hack, plus the history behind our vintage DIY nursery dresser!
As you know, we’ve been transforming Toddler E’s former nursery into a big-girl bedroom (see the moodboard and plans here). We’re slowly but surely updating things like furniture, artwork, window treatments and lighting, and even the closet. Last summer, before Baby T arrived, we tackled one of the big projects on our to-do list: replacing E’s vintage oversized dresser.
This multi-functional piece had been perfect for her infant needs – we stored everything from clothes and baby gear to diapers and wipes inside, and also used it as a changing table. But by last summer, E was potty trained and her bedroom no longer required diaper-related storage or functionality. And we wanted to move this perfect-for-a-nursery dresser into the new baby‘s room, so it was time to find something different to fit E’s big-girl lifestyle. But before we talk about our search for her new dresser, let’s share a little backstory on the old one.
The perfect nursery dresser
There’s history behind this piece of furniture. It was actually John’s childhood dresser nearly 40 years ago, and his parents gave it to us when we were getting ready for E’s arrival. We were excited to keep it in the family and re-use it for a new generation – the dresser’s solid wood construction just needed a little DIY refresh for its next phase of life.
Here’s what we started with:
John removed all the drawers, took off the dated brass hardware, and lightly sanded the dresser’s case and drawer fronts. Then he primed the bare wood and painted it black, to match the crib we had bought for the nursery.
Finally, we added new hardware (classic nickel pulls and some fun blue and green knobs), filled the dresser with little onesies and lots of diapers, and put a changing pad on top.
We used this DIY nursery dresser in E’s bedroom until last summer, when it was time to move it into Baby T’s room. We kept the black color and just changed out the top knobs to coordinate with his nursery decor.
Which brings us back to our search for a new dresser for E and her big-girl clothes. We planned to put a toddler bed in her bedroom where the old dresser used to be, so the new dresser would have to go against the opposite wall and be small enough to fit in a narrow space between the closet door and a heating vent.
New dresser and inspiration
We looked around at retail stores, thrift shops, and on local online resale boards for dressers that might fit the bill. Our requirements were:
- Solid, sturdy wood construction with smooth-rolling drawers
- A width less than 32 inches, to fit between the closet door frame and the vent cover
- Simple design with clean lines that we could customize with some DIY love
- Budget-friendly – we wanted to spend less than $100 on this entire project (including furniture purchase and DIY supplies)
After considering many different options, we decided on the Tarva 3-drawer chest from Ikea:
The Tarva is a nice size that’s very user-friendly for Toddler E – she’s able to reach all the drawers to access her clothes, which is important as we encourage her to be more independent. It’s narrow enough to fit in the 32-inch wide space we have available between her closet door and heating vent. We also liked its strong and solid wood frame and its smooth-rolling drawer mechanism, making it sturdy but easy for little arms to open and close.
And of course, I immediately started thinking about how we could customize it for her new room design.
There are tons of Tarva design hacks out there – it’s the perfect base for DIY customization with its simple shape and clean lines – but I didn’t want to go too crazy with this piece. I really liked the idea of a stain/paint combination – dark wood around the case to match the dark wood bed frame, and white drawer fronts for a fresh contrast to keep it from feeling dark and heavy. I found some inspiration photos, showed John, and we both thought this look would fit really well with the toddler’s other room elements.
It’s a sophisticated but classic style that looks timeless. We didn’t want anything too trendy or cute or age-specific that might be dated in a few years (like a pink princess theme – yikes!), but this dark-stain-white-paint design is so fresh and simple that it should easily coordinate with any future room decor changes.
In our next post, we’ll share a little DIY tutorial on how we stained and painted the Tarva dresser. (Update: check out the tutorial here!) In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek of the finished piece…
Many more details to come, including our process, our experience with staining wood furniture, and how Toddler E likes her new dresser!
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John and I have finally nailed down (pun intended!) our house project plans for 2015, and we’re excited to share them! Our challenge this year: How to get the most value from our small budget and limited free time.
We’re starting out the year with a very limited house project budget, mainly for two reasons. First of all, we need to continue funneling cash into our emergency fund (since it was nearly drained to pay for the new furnace last year), and build it back up to a comfortable level so that we’re again prepared for unexpected disasters. Secondly, we’re still catching up financially after the unpaid maternity leave I took last year from my day job after Baby T was born. Since we’re committed to staying as debt-free as possible, this means that we need to be smart about how we spend on home improvement and DIY projects.
So we did a bit of informal cost-benefit analysis, and our first priority will be projects that improve our home’s functionality and safety. But we’re also adding some fun design projects to our list, things we can DIY at a minimal cost but that will have a big impact. Finally, we’ll need to fit these projects into our already-busy daily life and family responsibilities, so we’re trying to be as flexible as possible with our expectations and timeframes. It’s all about balance and keeping an eye on the big picture.
Without further ado, here are our goals and plans for 2015!
GOAL: Get an energy audit
WHEN: Before spring
We talked about scheduling an energy audit last year, but then didn’t follow through in favor of other projects. Now we’re finally planning to set up an audit next month so that we can get a clear overall picture of our home’s energy efficiency. Our new furnace was a big step in the right direction, and hopefully the results of the audit will help us make smart decisions going forward.
Our energy audit will cost about $100, but it’s a good investment and a valuable resource. Knowledge is power.
GOAL: Finish Toddler E’s bedroom
WHEN: Late winter/early spring
We’re so close to finishing the toddler’s big-girl room! The big remaining task is to hang some art on her walls. She’s already got these fun owl prints, and we’ll be looking for a few more affordable pieces to fill out the room (and then figure out how to hang them on the plaster walls – a question that applies to our whole house). Finally, we’re going to add shelving and a light to her closet.
The cost of completing this room will be pretty minimal, and Toddler E is excited to have her very own special space (which makes us all happy).
GOAL: Finish Baby T’s nursery
WHEN: Spring/early summer
The nursery too is nearly done, but there are a few important changes and additions we need to make. When we first bought the house, this room was used for storage and we painted the walls a blue-gray color. But now that we’ve re-designed this room as Baby T’s nursery, I’m realizing that a warmer paint tone would better tie the other design elements (like the rug, furniture and accessories) together. Also, the curtains we originally chose are too flimsy and short, and we need to find some more substantial panels to block light while Baby T sleeps. And then once the walls are repainted, we want to get (or make) some unique artwork to hang in here. Finally, we’ll add a shelf and lighting to the closet.
Finishing the nursery will cost a little more than the toddler’s room (we’ll need to purchase paint, curtain material and artwork), but I think we can be really creative here to get the most value for our budget.
GOAL: Clean up the front yard landscaping
We’re not planning to take on any big landscaping projects this year, but there are a few smaller things we can do to tidy up the front of the house that will hopefully improve its curb appeal. First, we’d like to have the stumps of the yew shrubs removed. When John cut the yews down last summer, he left these in place since they weren’t something we wanted to try removing on our own. So this summer, we’ll hire someone to dig out the roots properly (to us, it’s a good value for the cost). We also want to add some more grass seed, take out our half-dead rosebushes, and transplant some of our backyard garden to the front. Our thumbs aren’t always green, but at least moving around the plants we already have is free!
This project will probably run us anywhere from $100 to $300 (root removal, grass seed, mulch and other basic landscaping upkeep materials), but aside from the root removal, we’ll be keeping costs down by doing this work ourselves.
GOAL: Refresh the front porch
There are a few front porch DIY projects that we’ve been meaning to do since we moved in, and this summer is a great time to finally get these underway. First, we want to repaint the hunter green steps and porch floor with a new color, and also add some traction to the steps since they get really slippery in the winter. While we’re at it, we want to replace the old brassy exterior light fixture, the rusty purple mailbox, and maybe even repaint the outer screen door.
All of this would improve both the front porch’s function (making it safer during snowy and rainy weather) and its visual aesthetics (hunter green and purple are not our favorite colors!). So these improvements should be a good investment and a good value.
GOAL: Repair and paint the back deck
We use our back deck every morning as we leave the house for school and work. The wood is mostly in good shape, but it’s weathered and there are some areas that need reinforcement and/or rebuilding (like the wood on the bottom step in the above photo that just fell off soon after we moved in). So our first task is to repair any instabilities and make sure the structure is solid. After that, John wants to clean and paint the deck with a product like Deckover to both protect the wood and give it a slightly-rough, non-slip surface so it’s safer to walk on in the winter.
We’d love to build a bigger, better deck sometime in the future, but for now our goal is to make the existing deck stronger and safer. These fixes are relatively inexpensive and will go a long way toward extending its life and usefulness.
That takes us through the next six months or so, but as we found out last year, a lot can change in that time. So right now we don’t want to make any concrete plans beyond the end of this summer – instead, we’d like to see how things go with these initial projects, and then go from there. Since our lives and needs are always evolving, it’s better to keep our plans flexible. (And who knows – maybe we’ll win the lottery next month, and this carefully-budget-conscious list will suddenly get a lot bigger and shinier…!)
What are your goals for 2015 (home improvement and otherwise)?
Now that we’ve gone through our entire house (inside and out) to assess our progress so far, let’s take a quick look back at the project goals we set for ourselves last year. It’s report card time… did we accomplish everything we planned to do in 2014?
Goal: Save money in 2014 for a kitchen renovation in 2015
Our overall plan at the beginning of 2014 was to take on only cost-efficient projects so that we could save up for a big kitchen renovation the following year. But within the first couple months after setting this goal, we ended up spending much of our savings account instead of adding to it – the exact opposite of what we planned.
First, we had to upgrade our refrigerator. Even though we got a good deal by going with a previous-year model, it was still an expense we hadn’t planned on. We shifted the existing countertops to make room for the new fridge and John hooked up the water line himself.
And then shortly after that, we faced another – and much larger – unexpected expense. Our 25-year-old furnace broke down one very cold night, and we ended up draining the rest of our savings to replace it. Luckily, we had the cash to pay for this very necessary system to keep our home safely livable (read more about the benefits of having an emergency fund for your home).
But using most of our remaining savings for this emergency situation meant that we no longer had it to put toward a kitchen renovation. So we’re starting at the bottom again and slowly saving our dollars again. Looks like the kitchen renovation will have to wait at least another year…
Goal: Redesign and set up our home office
Another big goal we had for 2014 was to turn our office space into a functional and well-designed room to work at home. Well, this goal got derailed as well, when life shifted other projects to the forefront.
We did get a good start in the office by organizing some furniture, sorting and purging old paperwork, finding some baskets and bins for storage, and creating a moodboard of our vision for this space.
We really wanted to have this room done by the end of 2014, but that didn’t happen. The home office design project was put on hold while we moved our focus to preparing for a new life event: the arrival of Baby T!
We’re still not sure when the office will be finished – it may end up being broken down into multiple smaller updates instead of the all-in-one renovation we had originally planned.
Goal: Transform the spare bedroom into a nursery
Halfway through 2014, we revisited our original project plans for the year. It was clear that we needed to re-align our priorities to accommodate the new baby, so we fast-tracked the transformation of our spare bedroom into a nursery. And with a lot of determination and hard work, we made it happen!
We did so much to this room and we still need to show you the reveal, but the only thing missing is artwork (hence the almost-perfect grade of A-). We also discovered that the curtains we chose for this room don’t block light very well (which is imperative for nap time), so we need to change those out. But for the most part, we accomplished our goals for this room project!
Goal: Update the toddler’s bedroom into a big-girl space
We had to transition some of the toddler’s existing furniture into the new nursery, so we wanted to go ahead and give her bedroom a refreshed big-girl look. She needed a new bed and dresser, curtains, a ceiling fan, and more – and we were able to accomplish all this before the end of the summer.
This room needs artwork as well (another A-), but otherwise it’s complete! Toddler E loves her new bed (we got a toddler bed frame from Ikea that converts into a twin bed). We also customized a basic wooden dresser for her with some paint and stain, a DIY project we’ll be posting about soon. And John even painted the inside of her closet. Overall, we’re giving ourselves a pat on the back for this project!
Goal: Refresh the bathroom on a budget
We set out to make some budget upgrades to our main bathroom last summer, wanting to use our DIY skills to improve the functionality and aesthetics of this space while saving up for a major renovation down the road. Our hope was to have this project completed by the end of the year. And we’re calling it a success – we’ve finished almost everything on our to-do list!
We painted, upgraded the lighting and faucet, and did some quick updates to the cabinet hardware, window treatments and more. The one thing we didn’t end up tackling was the chipped-paint cabinets – we’re still deciding if we should touch them up or replace them altogether. But for the most part, we accomplished this goal!
So our 2014 report card looks like this: D, C, A-, A-, A-. More successes than failures, right? Even though we didn’t do very well on our save-up-for-a new-kitchen goal, or our create-a-kickass-home-office goal, I’m not too disappointed. Both of these goals fell to the wayside in favor of more urgent needs – keeping our home warm and designing fun kid bedrooms.
Right now we’re finalizing our 2015 goals (will the kitchen and/or office make it back on the list?), and we’ll share those soon! What about you – what’s on your home-improvement list this year?
We were just going to make do with our little cardboard Christmas tree again this year, but then this happened…
Even though we’ve been really busy with holiday activities and family gatherings this month, John still found time to build us a full-size Christmas tree! He designed and made this over the course of a few evenings after the kids were in bed, using scrap wood from our basement. Not bad for a last-minute DIY project, right?
We wrapped it in white lights and silver garland, and hung our growing collection of new and old family ornaments. And, of course, we left room on the bottom for Santa to leave us some gifts.
You’ve probably noticed that things have been a little slower on the blog in the past few months – we welcomed Baby T in August, and since then we’ve put our usual home improvement schedule on hold while we adjust to being a family of four. It’s actually given us a chance to take stock of how our home is functioning for us so far, and what projects and updates we need to prioritize for 2015. We’re also evaluating our resources (namely, money and time) and how to allot those in the most efficient and meaningful ways.
But more on that after the new year! We’ll be back in January with a “State of the House” post – a roundup of what we’ve accomplished and what’s next on our list. Lots more to do and share. Happy holidays!