transformation: corner shelf

I found this little 3-tier corner shelf outside on trash day. It was in sad shape — the shelf tops were quite damaged and one of the corners was dented, exposing the particle board beneath the finish.

Despite the damage, I couldn’t leave it behind. I loved the ornate shape of the shelf supports and I thought it had potential as a cute accent piece for a child’s room. The size was perfect for small books and treasures. It just needed a little love.

Once I got back to my workshop, I was happy to discover that this shelf came apart completely, which made the process much easier. I gave the shelf supports (not pictured) a light sand with 180 grit sandpaper to ensure that the paint would stick.

The shelves, as I mentioned, were in sad shape:

To smooth out the tops, I used regular wood filler applied in thin, smooth coats. I sanded between coats and kept going until it felt totally smooth to the touch. It took a while. I bought a set of artist’s palette knives (the kind you would use for oil painting) for this purpose, and they were really useful.

Next, I primed the whole piece using Zinsser BIN primer. I did two coats on both sides of the shelves as well as the shelf supports. That primer is a pain to work with, as it dries quickly and can’t be cleaned up with water, but it was the best way to seal the particle board and make sure that the very light paint colour I planned to use would look uniform.

When the primer was dry, I gave it a light sand with 320-grit sandpaper, then wiped it down with a lint-free cloth to get rid of all the dust.

Then it was time to paint! I used House & Canvas chalk furniture paint for this project. It was my first time using this brand and I LOVED it. The shade I used is called Summer Grace, described as “a subtle, pale pink.” I did three coats of paint on all the shelf pieces.

Finally, I reassembled the shelf …

… and took it home to style & photograph it and get it ready to sell!

I love how this piece turned out, and I’m glad I didn’t pass it up due to the damage! With a bit of love and time, I was able to rescue this piece for the garbage and give it a new life as a children’s bookcase.


transformation: restoration hardware cabinet

Earlier this summer I went out for a walk on my usual loop around our neighbourhood. A neighbour a few streets over was moving and had put a few things out on the lawn: filing cabinets, picture frames, books. But the thing that caught my eye was a dusty, beat-up brown cabinet with a rolling drawer and a door with a magnet closure. I thought it would make a good project, so Adrian brought the car over and we took it home.

Upon closer inspection, I discovered that this cabinet was a discontinued Restoration Hardware product called the Cartwright short bath cabinet:

It was in a sorry state. The previous owner had stuck a “free” sign on top with packing tape, and also used tape to secure the tempered glass shelf inside the cabinet, so it was covered in sticky residue. The veneer was badly worn in a few places. It was also very dirty from having been in their garage for a while.

After taking a closer look at the veneer and doing some experimental sanding, I knew that I would have to paint this cabinet. I started by removing all the hardware, taking out the drawer, and removing the glass door. Then I gave the whole thing a good scrub with Dawn dish soap and used Goo Gone spray to get rid of the tape residue.

I used wood filler to smooth out any big gouges and sanded the entire cabinet with 220 grit sandpaper, then began priming with Zinsser BIN shellac-based primer. This primer is very thin and it’s a pain to work with since it can’t be cleaned up with soap and water, but it’s worth the hassle because it creates a smooth, even surface for painting. I ended up doing three coats to cover up the brown colour. This primer is more cost-effective than furniture paint, so I’d rather do additional coats of primer as needed to help reduce the number of coats of paint later, especially when painting over with a light colour, since these generally tend to require more coats.

Once the primer was dry, I sanded it lightly with 320 grit sandpaper to get rid of any texture leftover from my roller. I filled any gaps between panels with caulk to make everything seamless, then I brushed on my paint. I used Fusion Mineral Paint in the colour Casement, which is a warm white shade. Painting white paint over white primer really makes it feel like you’re not making any progress, but I could really tell the difference after two coats. 

I applied two coats of Varathane Diamond matte wood finish with a Zibra fan brush. I wanted to try out the matte finish to give my project a modern farmhouse aesthetic and I really liked how it turned out.

After the topcoat was dry, I added black bar handles, which meant drilling two level and very precise screw holes. Adrian helped me with this and we got it on the first try, but the process of measuring (and remeasuring) before drilling was very stressful and I’ll definitely be investing in a drilling jig for future projects! I sprayed the door hinges black to match my hardware and rehung the door after everything was dry and ready to go.

The last step was to add some peel-and-stick to cover the bottom of the drawer and the tempered glass shelf, then reinstall these components and take some beautiful pictures of my project. I love the final result and I’m so pleased that I was able to give this dusty cabinet a new life!

transformation: green telephone table

Did you know you can follow vendor profiles on Facebook Marketplace? I follow a woman who sells out of a storage unit right by my house. She usually has a lot of random IKEA furniture, but every now and then I’ll spot a gem at a good price. This is how the green telephone table came into my life.

“Solid wood,” the listing read. “Heavy and very sturdy.” I scrutinized the photos to see whether this was true — sometimes when people describe something as being made of heavy, solid wood, what they really mean is heavy particle board and veneer. It looked like wood to me. The listing had been up for a while, so I negotiated down the price a bit and off I went to pick it up.

It was wood alright — badly painted over with bright green latex house paint (please do not use this on furniture). 

My workshop space doesn’t have great ventilation, so I opted to sand off the paint rather than using paint stripper. Maybe that wasn’t the right way to go, maybe it shortened the life of my sander, who knows — it made sense to me, so I attached an 80-grit pad and started sanding the top to see what I could find.

I eventually took the table apart to make it easier to sand as well as to paint the spindles and legs. Based on the construction and slight variances in the turned components, this table looks handmade to me. I’ve learned from watching YouTube videos that this style of table was sometimes made by high school shop class students, so maybe that’s where this particular table originated, who knows!

I sanded the table tops and end grain to 220 (I did the edges with a sanding block to keep the curve intact), then wet the whole thing down to raise the grain and did one last quick hand sanding to get everything really smooth.

I stained the table tops with two coats of Minwax Early American and painted the legs and spindles with a Fusion colour called Putty. I let everything dry for several days because I was planning to put a water-based topcoat over an oil-based stain. You can do this as long as you give the stain a few days to dry thoroughly.

I applied three coats of Varathane Diamond satin wood finish with a Zibra fan brush. I was scared of this step because I worried about ruining all my hard work, but the brush made this process extremely easy. A few things I learned about topcoating effectively:

  • Read and follow the instructions! If your product recommends sanding between coats, do so. I sanded lightly between each coat with a 220 sanding sponge and the finish turned out really soft and beautiful.
  • Don’t shake the can as it will introduce bubbles into the product that will end up in your finish. Just stir it gently with a stir stick.
  • Don’t keep going over the topcoat repeatedly once it’s applied. Apply your product, go over it in one long stroke to remove any start/stop marks, and move on to the next part.
  • Check your edges for drips or globs once you’re finished — they’re easier to smooth over when they’re still wet.

Once everything was dry, I reassembled the table and took it home. I originally planned to sell this table, but once it was complete, I couldn’t bear to part with it, so now I’m using it as a nightstand.

I love the end result. It felt good to restore this table to its former glory, and it was a great practice project and learning experience. Not bad for $15!