We recently celebrated [i.e., refinanced] the two-year anniversary of Buying the Babushka House. I’ve learned so much from owning a neglected Victorian-era Workers’ Cottage. Now I know the difference between a flange and a flapper, and that they are not 1920s dress styles but, in fact, parts of a toilet. I’ve even discovered actual sink parts called the Ball Cock and the Escutcheon Nipple. Oh my.
Don’t let all this House Learning fool you. My first Project Love, my raison d’être, will always be Fixing Up Junk I Find In The Alley (FUJIFITA).
Sadly, the Babushka House is somehow smaller than our last apartment, so we have no room for new FUJIFITA furniture projects. Thus, when I stumble across some mouth-watering alley junk, I simply alert my network of Fellow Scavengers (all human). Here’s a scrapbook I created to remember those I left behind: *
Then one magical day in May, I found something I could actually take home. I was riding our cargo bike back from – ironically** – a decluttering drop-off event. I detected some choice items placed carefully next to an apartment building dumpster.*** I carefully strapped this dingy, but very sturdy, Mid-Century Modern style night stand to my bike:
Why did it not end up in the Album of Forgotten Alley Finds? Because a perfect FUJIFITA scheme was already brewing in our bedroom! It starts with our existing bedroom set: A dresser and [ONE SINGLE] night stand:
Like socks, feral cats and peanut butter cups, night stands work bettter as matching pairs; the solo yellow fellow on Scott’s side of the bed**** is forced to share night-standing duties with a dark-walnut side table. The whole room is out of balance, visually and emotionally.
Enter my dingy alley find. The perfect size and shape, all it needed was a quick dye job to join the Bedroom Set Family and claim its rightful place on My Side of the Bed.
STEP ONE: EXFOLIATE
Like a bad sunburn, my nightstand was molting a layer of laquer that needed to come off before I could even think about repainting.
I gave the whole piece a firm, but light (150+ grit) sanding, enough to rough it up but not destroy it.
I wiped the dust off with a damp sponge and microwaved some spaghetti for lunch.
STEP TWO: PRIME + PAINT + POLYCRYLIC
Since I would be dipping into an old can of oil-based “sunburst yellow” paint for the drawers, I had to give them two coats of oil-based white primer. Then, I applied two coats of white latex primer to the cabinet. A cleansing prime always feels so good:
As I waited for the primer to dry, I did a minute of internet research on the night stand’s provenance. Who is Harvey Probber and why is his name plaqued inside my drawer?
Wow. Turns out Harvey Probber was an influential, prolific and suuuuper laid back mid-century furniture designer.
Most of his signature pieces could best be described as “Orgy Ready.” Are you really surprised, with a name like Harvey Probber?
And then I discovered a pair of Harvey Probber night stands – identical to mine – selling for $7,400. Seven thousand four hundred American dollars.
I got to experience my very own “It’s a Wonderful Life” feeling telling Scott that I just painted over a piece of furniture that may be worth more than our new roof. And then I feel like Uncle Billy all over again as this “sponsored post” follows me around the internet:*****
Ahem. Anyway, after the primer dried, I dug around in our Paint Archives and applied two coats from a can labeled “kitchen ceiling.” Then I applied three coats of “sunburst yellow” paint to the drawer fronts.
Since the top of this nightstand is sure to get a lot of wear-and-tear — think bumpy library books and a leaky humidifier — I applied three coats of clear, glossy polycrylic, with a light, high-grade sanding between coats.
STEP THREE: SCAVENGE THE HARDWARE
Since this thing was sitting dormant on my back porch for six months, I honestly don’t remember what happened to the original drawer pulls. No worries, I’ve developed a useful habit of pulling the legs and hardware off of everything that I find in the alley that I can’t take home:
I could have drilled two more holes in each drawer so that the pulls matched the “original” bedroom night stand, but I figured the new guy had already been through enough. These shiny chrome saucers will do just fine:
It wouldn’t be the internet without a before-and-after, so let’s see how far we’ve come in two years:
Welcome to the family, little night stand! I think we’ll call you Harvey.
* My kids are skilled at spotting good stuff in the alley. They alert me by saying, “Mommy, don’t look over there! There’s nothing good next to that dumpster! Please let’s keep going!”
** Yes, this is an appropriate use of the term ironic.
*** The Scavenger Code says that items placed INSIDE a dumpster are not fit for re-use. Items placed carefully NEXT to the dumpster, facing out, are asking to be taken home by you.
**** MARRIAGE TIP: To keep things caliente, Scott and I like to switch sides of the bed every six months. This also helps equalize bed lumps, since he’s got about 30 pounds on me. It’s simpler than rotating the matress.
***** I will admit that the ad for those $7,400 Harvey Probber night stands is a refreshing change from the “Period Panties” that have been trailing me online for the past year. Shoo Period Panties! Go on now, get lost!
I never realized how expensive nightstands were, until my husband received custody of his in the divorce. I love the way your personalized piece turned out! The room looks so bright and sunny. 🙂
Isn’t that odd? It’s just a wooden box with drawers. I’ve never actually bought a night stand new, so I don’t know what they go for these days. We got our bedroom set about 10 years ago at a yard sale. It included the yellow dresser and night stand, and also a matching green dresser (that is in one of the kids’ rooms now), all for about $150.
I do love yellow and white — currently my favorite color combo. Especially as the winter solstice approaches in the nothern hemisphere.
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Ya I just went without until I inherited a bedroom set from my grandparents.
That’s the way to go! I missed the boat on my grandparents’ stuff (too young), but my own parents still have their original bedroom set from when they bought their house in 1971. Their set includes a low dresser w/mirror, a tallboy dresser, a headboard and ONE SINGLE night stand. And you now know how I feel about single solo nightstands.
You are hilarious! HILARIOUS. And also endlessly creative, and enviably skilled at this FUJIFITA stuff. Thank you for brightening my day with your wonderful writing and almost-unbearably-yellow drawers. (Because I had to get at least one more naughty-sounding double entendre in there.)
Yellow drawers! Jeez, I didn’t even realize what I was saying that whole time. So much more joke potential there and I didn’t even see it. Most people are embarassed about having yellow drawers, but here I am trying to achieve them! Thanks for the laugh.
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PS: The title of your post is genius as well. Why have you not yet been given the Nobel Prize for blog post titles? I think I will write a letter now to remedy this inexcusable oversight.
Gosh, thanks (blushing). I have a friend who, every time she says something punny or clever, winks and whispers, “You see what I did there?!” She’s even got her kid trained to do it as well, and to shower others with, “I see what you did there!” So let’s work on getting that acronym into popular culture. YOU SEE WHAT I DID THERE = YSWIDT. Or to others = ISWYDT.
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fantastic as usual. I am wishing I have treated my grandparent’s MCM furniture better in the last 15 years. Oy! I think I have a college tuition’s worth in here. Or, if it wasn’t all so dinged up. Maybe now its worth a semester of textbooks? A piece in our living room looks just like what you scavenged, but it is meant to be mounted on the wall. It’s the one below the MCM vagina mirror, so I wonder if I have Probber in my life, too.
My version of science fiction is a gadget that lets you scan a piece of old alley (or yard sale or thrift store) furniture and it shows you who owned and when and in what living context. I’m dying to know what this night stand was in its former, presumably ultra-glamourous life. Oh, and how much it costs the original buyer.
I’m just a little bummed that I’m in the “lost generation” in terms of inheriting cool MCM stuff. My grandpa and grandma bought their one-bedroom (!) house in the 1930s, so most of their stuff was 30s/40s/50s. My own parents bought their house in the early 70s, and their furniture is dark and chunky and quite fussy (i.e., hard to dust) for my tastes. My ancestors missed out on the glory days of late 50s to late 60s MCM furnishings.
DId your grandparents cover their couch in plastic? Mine did, and so did my parents until I (the baby of the family) was about 12 years old.
Oh, that’s better! The black hole beside the bed has disappeared. I don’t understand people who don’t have nightstands (aka bedside tables Down Under). I mean, where else do you put the lamp, water bottle, current book, next book, wait-your-turn-in-the-queue book, handcream, spare glasses, phone…. well, you get the idea.
So, is that an Australian thing — not to have a bedside table? Where do they put all that stuff? Or do they not read in bed? Unfathomable. If I didn’t read in bed, I probably wouldn’t read at all. One of life’s greatest pleasures is falling asleep with the light on and a book over your face. I’m just waiting for someone to invent a lamp that detects when you have fallen asleep (heart rate monitor?) and shuts the light off for you. For now, my husand will do.
I didn’t make my punctuation clear enough! Yes, they have bedside tables Down Under, they’re just not called night stands! And I’m totally with you on the pleasures of reading in bed, which I can do for hours, unlike the Husband, who drops his book on his face and wakes up with a nasty jolt after only 5 minutes, so is useless for the purposes of light-extinguishing. Maybe we need to invent bedtime reading glasses, which detect when your eyes have been closed for more than 2 minutes, and will not only turn off the light but elevate themselves off your face!
Was that like 7 layers of paint? For some reason i can’t picture doing that. Doesn’t it take forever, each layer has to dry? And what about brushes, do you wash the brush each time (i hate washing brushes but also think it’s wrong to use disposable ones).
I did two coats of primer and two coats of paint and then three coats of polycrylic clear coat (I didn’t have to clear coat the oil-based yellow paint on the drawers since it’s already hard and shiny). Luckily, the poly only needs two hours between coats, but the primer and paint need at least 4. So I could do it all in about 3 days if I time it right (I work from home so this was easier for me). Since this was in the basement, I also had a space heater and a fan pointed at it to speed up drying times.
Yes, brushes! I could write a whole post about it. For the oil-based primer and paint (which I rarely use), I just use disposable brushes. I’m not proud of it, but to clean them I would have to use an insane amount of mineral spirits, which are no good for your brain/eyes or the planet. Sometimes I can wrap a used paintbrush in plastic and then it’s still wet for the second coat.
For the latex (water-based) paints, I use a decent-quality nylon brush and clean it every time. It’s not too bad if you immediately rinse it and then let it soak in soapy water for a couple hours. After I wash and rinse the brush, I often “comb it out” with my kids’ lice comb (your cat’s flea comb also works well). This gets any little bits of dried paint off beautifully.
I have two or three of these nicer nylon brushes so I can paint with one while the other is drying. The other thing to remember is that most disposable brushes are really poor quality, often shedding brush hairs into your project, which you may not notice until everything is done and then it will drive you crazy.
A good quality brush costs maybe $10. Totally worth it. I still have brushes I inherited from my grandpa and they are keeping up with the newbies.
My kids are the same way about alley junk. When they were younger and didn’t know better, grabbing stuff from the alley was just a normal part of life. Now it’s always, no mommy, no, please don’t pick that up. That’s so gross.
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Ha, yes! We have them well-trained. My kids don’t seem to think that it’s gross. I caught them both eating goldfish crackers off the sidewalk the other day, so their standards can’t be that high. They just know that if Mommy sees some junk in the alley, I’m going to stop and mess around with it and possibly tie it to the cargo bike where they are also sitting. ANd it also means that we might have to turn around and go back home to drop off the junk, rather than moving on to our destination, like the pool or park or a party.
Someday they will appreciate our good taste and thrifty ways.
My girlfriend does something similar to your kids – she will say ‘OH LOOK AT THAT FASCINATING SHOE SHOP, NO, DON’T LOOK OVER THERE, THERE’S DEFINITELY NO USED FURNITURE SHOP,’ or she’ll hold out her coat as a shield so I can’t spot the abandoned but perfectly solid bookcase on the pavement. I have had to concede that we cannot fit any more furniture into this house, alas, alas.
Oh my, is there a term for this in relationship psychology? With kids, we call it “redirection.”
My husband and I certainly do these tricks at yard sales. If I see a stack of old comic books or records or art texts, I will physically move him in a different direction. If he sees them, perhaps I will pick one up, pretend to smell it and then in horror say, “WHY DOES ALL THIS STUFF SMELL LIKE PEE?!” Or casually whisper, “Why do you think all those old comic books are splattered in blood? Do you suppose it’s human or animal?”
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Another fantastic project brought to life with your banter. Martha Stewart could have used you as a script assistant. Much fresher approach to DoingAnything 101