And now for something completely different- a furniture project.

For those who haven’t known me for very long, before I got my design degrees and before I got my restoration degree, I was an artist full time. I did a lot of murals, and paint f/x and mosaic work. But I also did a lot of “recycled” artwork, particularly on things like glass and furniture.

I haven’t done one of these in years, because I simply haven’t had either the need, time or inclination, but as happens I’m working on one now. This one isn’t a commission, though- this one is for my living room. I’m posting it here mostly because I knew my friend Marianne would get a kick out of it, but then it occurred to me that other people love this kind of DIY stuff too.

Back in April I was at the birthday party of my good friend John Montagna out in Brooklyn. He and his wife Jill were expecting a baby soon (she’s here now- three weeks early, but happy and healthy, thank goodness.) and he had a couple of pieces of Ikea furniture he was looking to be rid of in order to make room for stroller parking in their apartment. They had been listing them on Craigslist but had gotten no takers. I told them that they should try to sell them by all means but if it came to a point where they just wanted them out of the house, to give me a call- I had a use for them.

Z. Time passes.

The baby arrives three weeks early, no one buys the furniture, and John shoots me an email asking if he can drop them by on Monday. Sure- absolutely.

Right now we’re only going to be talking about the large piece, which is a cabinet in Ikea’s “Effektiv” office line. This is a photo of it when it was still at John and Jill’s place:


Now, the reason I’m showing you a photo of it there is because it went well with its surroundings. As you can see it’s got a clear finish over some birch veneer, with some gray legs, and in J&J’s house, those warm colors all blend together very well.

The thing is that in *my* house? That look doesn’t work:


What was perfectly harmonious out in Brooklyn sticks out like a sore thumb up in the Bronx. My floors are black (so are my ceilings, for the record), the wall that it’s sitting in front of is covered in a medium violet Venetian plaster… You get the idea. That’s okay, though… We have the technology to solve this problem. Oh yes. Yes we do.

And so this series will show how you turn one of these pieces into something that no one will recognize later. It’s time consuming and occasionally messy and frustrating, but not really *difficult*. But since I got the furniture for free, I have nothing to lose.

So far, I’ve spent $22. Now, I should mention that’s because I have a lot of what I need already here. But still. $22.

The first thing I did was start to deconstruct the piece. Now, the thing is that sometimes it’s not worth trying to get pieces like this apart totally, because they often are fitted with glue covered dowels, and you risk cracking the MDF taking it apart. But some things are easy to take off, and if you can, you probably should.

I removed the legs, and the bottom piece (all the parts that are gray, essentially) and the door fronts. The basic case of the piece was left alone- again, more trouble than it’s worth.

The key to this piece of furniture is that it’s not covered in laminate. This one has, as I said, a clear finish over some birch veneer. You can’t do this with laminate- you need to do something else, so if you have a laminated piece, uh… Don’t do this.

The biggest thing you need when tackling a project like this, is patience. Ironically, I am *not* a patient person with projects like this, but I understand that I have to be. This is not a “we can do this in a weekend!” kind of thing. Well it might be, if you do nothing else with your life, but you get the idea.

Secondly, the one thing you *CANNOT* skimp on is your surface prep. You will (and I mean will) pay for it later if you do. Yeah I know it’s boring, but do it anyway. There’s a reason these steps exist, I promise.

Anyway, the first thing I did was clean all the gray parts. I washed the legs in the tub with soap and water, since they’re entirely made of plastic. I cleaned the bottom piece (which is mdf covered in plastic) with some cleaner on a sponge and a rinsed it with a damp cloth. Even if these things look clean to you? Wash them anyway. This is important because when you paint something, the paint will stick to whatever is on the surface. All you want the paint to stick to is the thing you’re trying to paint, not surface dirt. Paint isn’t intelligent and can’t tell the difference between “that thing you wanted to paint” and “dirt.” So it is important to thoroughly clean and dry (don’t forget about drying) whatever it is you wanted to paint.

I then built a little ghetto spray booth out of cardboard boxes. If you have a garage, that’s a good place. Outside is a better place, but I don’t have a house, so I don’t have a backyard. The two things you need are a clean, dust-free surface and ventilation. In my case, I also had a respirator, because I’ve breathed in more toxic solvents over the years than you can imagine.


I then proceeded to spray paint all the gray parts with chrome spray paint. I then painted the bottom piece the same way, proceeding to overshoot my spray booth and get the wall above it. Oops.

though the round part is just a lamp reflection, that stripe above it? Isn’t. It’s okay. I’ve already fixed the wall. You can’t even tell anything happened. But see? These kinds of mishaps happen to everyone. It’s fine so long as you have a way to fix it.

Once all of that was done, I removed the door hardware. It was also that battleship gray,but it’s metal, and covered in a clear coat. Lesson #2- spray paint doesn’t stick well to smooth surfaces. Paint needs something to adhere *to*. So if something has a coating on it, you need to roughen that up in order to provide “tooth”, or something for the paint to stick to. In short, I sanded down all the hardware pieces with some 150 grit sandpaper and cleaned it all very thoroughly. With metal you can use either a tack rag, or, more conveniently you can give it a wipe with some alcohol on a cloth. Alcohol dries very quickly, and won’t cause oxidation.

This is what they looked like when they were all prepped and ready for paint:


And how everything looked after it was all painted up:


If you really want to play it safe, you can hit the hardware with a couple of coats of clear coat. I may do that before I reassemble it- I just don’t have any in the house right now. The feet and base don’t need it because they won’t be handled, but you may want to give it the extra protection on the parts that will be touched regularly. Next time I’m by the store I’ll grab some clear coat and hit the hardware up.

So, what’s next? In the next segment I’ll talk about sanding and sketching out the design. Good times.. Good times.



  1. […] And now for something completely different- a furniture project. […]

  2. I’d definitely clear coat for this house because they’d inevitably get bumped/dinged by the vacuum…

  3. You have BLACK ceiings???

  4. Yep.

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