The bench with a Story
While I focus on trying to show you that creating beautiful things doesn't have to come with stress or a big budget, sometimes it does come with a lot of hard work. I inherited an old wood slab bench years and years ago when my family cleaned out my grandparents' home to prepare it for an estate sale. I remember this bench from my childhood. It was always in the basement and it was a great safe space when playing 'the floor is lava' or whatever adventures we got into when we were at grandma and grandpa's house.
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I took the bench for sentimental reasons, but truth be told, it was ugly. Super orange stain and a ridiculously thick coat of varnish couldn't hide the knotty wood I found unattractive at the time. She was not a beauty in my eyes. Choosing to paint it was the easy solution, and that bench has been used all over our homes from a seating area in Jackson's nursery to a bench at the foot of our bed to now a coffee table in the playroom.
Recently, I have been wanting to change the look again but couldn't decide on the right paint color to coordinate best with our updated playroom. And then my dad, after all these years, decided to tell me all about how special this bench was - which made me cringe in disgust that I had ever covered it with paint in the first place! Had I known the history from the beginning I would have treated her with the respect she deserved!
Several generations ago, my great grandfather purchased hundreds of acres of land for a family farm and homestead. I have clear memories of visiting the pigs and playing with kittens on the farm throughout my childhood. It sits not even a half mile from the home where I grew up. At some point, the forest of trees on the property was cleared for more farm land as the farm thrived. My dad's cousin, who owned the farm at that time, and seems to have been just as sentimental as I am, had some of the trees milled and seasoned hoping to have furniture commissioned from the lumber and distributed to the family. My "ugly" painted-too-many-times-to-count bench is one of those pieces!
If you know me, you know if you tell me a story about a piece of furniture or décor, I'm immediately in love. I can't help but be sentimental about my family history and the things my ancestors once used. Being fully vulnerable, I cried - a lot - while stripping away the years of paint and varnish to expose the raw wood my family once stored away for the future. I talked with them in my frigidly cold garage and thought about how my hands touched the same bench theirs had.
Uncovering her beauty was not an easy task but I wanted to share how I did it because, with patience, you can easily do the same - maybe for one of your own special family pieces!
Stripped down to her glory
I wanted to first try the oven cleaner trick because I have heard lots of good things about how easily it strips off furniture finish. I thoroughly sprayed the surface with Easy Off and waited an hour before using a plastic scraper to remove the paint. I was successful in removing a few layers of paint, but I ended up having to use paint stripper. Which is gross, and sticky, and my least favorite thing to use ever. But it needed to be done! I used Citristrip, and it may have been more successful had I not decided to work in 30 degree temps. (The product recommends using between 65 and 85 degrees F) After a couple layers of stripper removed most of the paint, I used a palm sander for the rest.
You may have seen the kitchen table flip I did last summer. I used the same technique here. I used my orbital sander and started with 80 grit sandpaper and moved up to 150 and then 220. You just keep sanding until every inch of raw wood is exposed. It's not a fast job, but with a good podcast or music, the time goes quickly - and can even be cathartic (see the comment up above about all the crying I did!)
I have never been a fan of the legs of this bench, and they are not made from family farm wood. So we cut them off! I found these beautiful metal square legs to give this old girl a modern makeover, and I think she's pretty stunning.
The gorgeous dark knots and her curvy silhouette are so unique, and I like to think I'm honoring my family by showing her off. Now I need to have a chat with my dad about why he waited so long to tell me the history of this bench because he could have saved me a lot of hard work stripping away all that paint!!!
I didn't want to take away from the beauty of the raw wood, so I used orange oil to finish the top. She's only really used as a Lego building space, so I'm not worried about stains or cuts.
With all of that to say, I hope you find some inspiration here to embrace family treasures and to not be afraid of a little hard work to refinish wood furniture. I have 2 other furniture flips coming up in the next few months so I'll be back with lots of other tips and encouragement!
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