When Ed and I first moved into the house we rent, we doubled our space — I'd lived alone in 500 square feet and considered it plenty, but once he came on the scene, our two cats (I remember when I thought that was a lot of pets) kind of demanded more living space. In addition, we were broke; there wouldn't be any easy trips to the furniture store in our future — not even the "you finish it" bare wood furniture store that was so much cheaper.
Part of it, though, was also sheer stubborn habit — at that point I'd already furnished a long string of apartments with stuff I'd found, mostly on the side of the road. If I was feeling extra flush with cash, I'd buy it from a yard sale, which is how I scored both the bed and the couch I kept for ten-plus years even though the combined cost when I bought them — nearly a hundred bucks — meant I didn't buy any new groceries or put gas in my car for the rest of the month. I was late on my utility bill that month, too.
So we cruised the neighborhoods; we figured the best curb-shopping times based on the trash days and observation. Any house with a moving truck was worth a couple of visits. And condos over in the student-heavy part of town were golden.
What we needed was furniture. And that practical need overcame any question of "Is this an heirloom piece we can pass on to our children?" We found stuff we needed — and, because we kept looking, we were even able to replace some of the initial low-quality finds with better-quality finds.
In the spirit of one of the January exercises from the Weekend Homesteader, I've been looking around our house at the stuff we have rescued, repurposed, and refinished. One of my favorite items is an old diner booth bench. When we found it, some college dudes were hauling it to the curb in our neighborhood. They'd gotten it from a restaurant that was closing and used it for outdoor seating. It was filthy and we weren't 100 percent sure it was structurally sound. But it was a Sunday morning, and there didn't seem to be any reason not to try to rehab it.
Actually, let me interject something here: I know that some cities have problems with bedbugs. Those little jerks love nasty old upholstered furniture, so grabbing something off the side of the road and redoing it might be risky — some places have it worse than others. Use your judgement and inspect your curb finds before you bring them into your house.
After a solid hosing off and scrubbing, the upholstery on our new-to-us bench was still questionable. Plus, the whole thing was just ugly. That's when things got fun.
The frame was easy to fix — once the seat was off we spotted the problem and braced a cracked piece of wood with a metal support. Ed manned the drill and I mostly provided color commentary for that portion. I do love it when a person works a drill. Heh. Drill. Ahem.
Then it was just a matter of priming the frame and painting it. Currently, I actually really like the Rust-oleum Painter's Touch Ultra Cover 2X (and I'm just looking for a project to use its color-shifting spray paint on) that doesn't always require primer — but when I did this bench, it really needed priming to cover the faux wood grain.
As you can tell by the change of the quality of the light in these photos, this was not a one-afternoon project. It probably could have been but why be militant about staying on task when it's supposed to be fun? Plus I am easily distracted sometimes.
Spray-painting pretty much always looks better, in my experience, when you make yourself have the patience to use thin layers instead of one thick application. That means the first coat is going to look spotty. Just accept it and let it sit. Stop touching it to check if it's dry.
Eventually it will look awesome. Especially if bugs don't get stuck in it.
Once the frame was painted, we still had to reupholster the seat and back. I am not the person to teach you all the ins and outs of reupholstering, but I WILL tell you this: The first and most important tool you need is a sturdy staple gun.
Imagine the strength of it in your hand. Cackle with your new-found power.
The principle is simple — you are stapling fabric around a frame so that it covers the foam and springs that make up the seat. The practical action is a little more fiddly but the only way forward is with practice; you can't learn it without doing it.
I happened to have white glitter vinyl on hand because you never know when you are going to need white glitter vinyl. Or any color, really. I have gold glitter vinyl in my stash right now.
This was, in terms of labor, a project that gave us a lot of return for very little investment. I originally stuck it in our galley kitchen so that more than one person could hang out in there, but now it's by the front door as extra seating in the living room.
(The cats have been hard on it over the years, but we can always recover it again.)
If this bench had been picked up on trash day, it would have gone straight into a landfill. Now it's a fun piece we'd never have been able to buy. That's my favorite kind of curb find.
I'm not sure that's the kind of reclamation Anna Hess had in mind in her book when she writes about learning to repurpose furniture; my spray paint and vinyl bench is a far cry from someone else's actually old antique redone with milk paint.
On reflection, is that where the homesteading and DIY movements separate? Is it a question of aesthetics? I'll keep thinking about it as I keep working my way through this book, I guess. And in the meantime, I've got a coffee table that needs sanding down.