Construction update No. 6: A flurry of activity

We've moved into a phase of the house renovation project that doesn't have as many big changes so it feels like things have slowed a little, but in reality I think we're moving along at a pretty good pace.

Since the last update, they put on the soffits and the shingles started going on Monday morning. The project (not in the original plan) to straighten out the badly sloped roof is going well. After removing the ceiling in the living room, they essentially jacked up the roof and sistered (like my use of construction terms?) 2x8s on the existing 2x6s. It makes a huge difference from the outside and even though this was something we added onto the project at the last minute, I'm very happy we decided to do it.

When I stopped out yesterday morning there was a flurry of activity going on. Masons, roofers and carpenters were all working. I was heartened to see so much happening. It gives me hope that soon this will all be over and we'll be back in our house where the plumbing works all the time, the furnace is dependable and I will be able to locate more of my wardrobe.

I think some of the guys thought it was pretty funny that I was running around with my tape measure yesterday, but it's a damn good thing I did. I found that the window in the bathroom had somehow "crept" over, leaving only 19 inches of space for a vanity (standard vanity depth is 21 inches). Because we're having a vanity built that isn't a huge deal, but it does become problematic to squeeze in the sink (which I already have) and the faucets and still have an appropriate amount of counter space left in front of and behind the sink. Guess what? This morning the GC told me they are moving the window two inches. So who's laughing at the girl with the tape measure now?

Onto the pictures!

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Here's what the front of the house is looking like these days. It was evening but I was finally able to take a picture of the full front of the house without a truck parked in front of it.


We spent a lot of time trying to decide how we should finish the ceiling in the bedrooms. Because the two roof pitches don't hit the center beam (which is not in the center of the bedrooms) at the same height we could either have a 26-inch wide flat spot on the ceiling (first picture) or build out a faux beam (second photo). After seeing both options we decided to go with the flat spot.


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This next photo might be of the closet in the second bedroom. Or it might be a gratuitous picture of the carpenter. I guess it all depends on your point of view.

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Not the best picture, but the new shingles are a totally inoffensive color, which I'm really happy about. Choosing a shingle color was harder than I expected it to be because it's very difficult to tell how they will look on different roofs. I would look at three houses with the same color of shingles (that the roof guy sent me to) and they would all look completely different.  You can also see the roof extension underneath the shed dormer now which really helps break up that side of the house.

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The masons were hard at work too. Our chimney is a good example of the importance of getting multiple quotes. Some of the mortar on the top was falling out. I would find big chunks of it in the garden. We called a chimney place that came highly recommended by a friend, and they came out and said that the top of the structure was compromised and top six feet of it needed to be taken apart and completely rebuilt to the tune of $6,000. After I picked my jaw up off the floor I called two other masons, both of whom disagreed and said that the mortar could simply be completely chipped out and new mortar put in (more complicated than just tuckpointing, but less than rebuilding) for a fraction of the cost of the first estimate. Because we identified this problem last fall, we went with the mason who agreed to charge us a little less if we were able to have the work done when he had a hole in his schedule, which was no problem for us. That hole just happened to be yesterday.

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Lots of pretty unexciting things happening for awhile now: rough-ins for electrical and plumbing, HVAC stuff, insulation (although that will be a little exciting because we're getting spray foam), and a few other things. We need to meet with the cabinet maker soon too to start the design work on the vanity and linen area.

If you're interested in following the remodeling process so far, check out our past updates:

Construction Update 1
Construction Update 2
Construction Update 3
Construction Update 4
Construction Update 5

Some color in a dusty landscape

Today, when I went out to the house in the morning, there were masons working on the chimney, roofers scraping off the old shingles, a carpenter working on the fascia and more carpenters working on stuff inside. Our entire yard was a cloud of dust. At this point everything in the house and outside of the house is covered in dust, but at least there is some color to be found.

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OK, so maybe it wasn't the smartest thing in the world to buy mums and ornamental cabbage to replant the window box for fall when we aren't living at the house and the entire thing is a disaster zone, but I have to say, pretty flowers really do help, just a little bit.

Construction update No. 5

I hope I'm not boring everyone with construction updates, but I promise to keep them to no more than a couple a week and only if there's something worth reporting.

Last week was full of lows and highs as far as the project went. On Monday they started ripping off the top of the house. By Wednesday they were building again, and by Friday we had half a roof. It was wonderful to be able to walk around in the space and get a rough idea of what it will be like. The best part was looking up at those tall ceilings and big windows, which we hope will give the feel of much more space than there really is.

In case you're interested in what came before this check out these posts:
Construction Update 1
Construction Update 2
Construction Update 3
Construction Update 4




Anyway, let's just get to the pictures, shall we?


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The east side was mostly closed in by the end of the week. The roof will continue along the front of the new part and should help break up that big expanse on the side.

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This is the new master bedroom. The closet will be off to the right and the window in the gable end has been moved up. For some reason it ended up a little low.

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Here's the front view.

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Looking into the second bedroom. The windows on the far wall haven't been cut yet.

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There's nothing like standing in your house and looking out over the rest of your roof. The complicated part of the project is tying the new roof in with the old. Also, you can see how saggy the existing roof is in this picture. They will rip out the living room ceiling and reinforce the underbuilt structure to hopefully straighten things out.

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The Impatient Gardener better develop some patience to deal with this kind of yard destruction, don't you think? Those tracks are right through one of the gardens (the one I pulled the hosta out of).   

Construction update No. 4: Popping the top

Monday was the big day for the renovation: the day they pulled the top off half the house. Up until now they've been doing a lot of preparatory work getting ready for the tear-off. I swung by at mid-day to see just how it our house would look as a ranch.

Hopefully we're all done with demo now and from here on out it will be all building!

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This is the part where our contractor said to me, "There's no going back now."

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Most of the upstairs is gone. Those guys are standing in what was our bedroom.

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Trying to find a place to put this piece of the house. They cut the whole upstairs apart with Saw-zalls.

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They put a plastic barrier up to separate the "former" upstairs. I was remarking at how much brighter the house was when there's no roof on it!

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Loos like we're going to need to find some money in the budget for some landscaping.

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Here's the house last week.

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And here it was today.  

A garden crash

You know how the folks over at Young House Love are always out crashing houses? Well, here's my take on it. Welcome to Garden Crashing!

This is a garden that was actually spotted from the road on a bike ride. You know a garden is good when it's so impressive from the road that you do a reverse address search online then call up the owner out of the blue to see if you can come see the whole garden close up.

This garden has evolved over a couple decades and covers a huge expanse. The owner does all the gardening herself, but she's dedicated: She spends between five and eight hours PER DAY working in the garden during gardening season. In winter, she said, she spends a lot of time repainting her walls (boy can I relate).

So without any further adieu, welcome to our first "official" garden crash.


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Groundcovers are used throughout the garden, rather than mulch. Here Lysimachia nummularia (Creeping Jenny) brightens up the area around the sunroom.

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There is great texture in this garden, including these evergreens. The puffball feeling of the dominant evergreens in back is accented by the threadleaf evergreen in front and the pointy Sumac on the right.

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You know I love hydrangeas, so when I saw this massive stand of Limelight hydrangeas, which do an incredible job screening the parking area from the driveway as you approach the house, I was in love.

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Here you can get a better idea of the scale of them with my mom in the background.

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Aren't they just to die for?

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There is also great use of repetition in this garden. Here, these large evergreens screen a naturalized area of the property, but you'd never know it was lurking back there.

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Here's the same area looking down the bed.

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This area, a border between two parts of the yard, is a great example of symmetry.

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There are fantastic arbors throughout this garden (note to self: I must find a place to put an arbor). What was so charming about this one is that it leads to the neighbor's house and garden. Both talented and dedicated gardeners, these neighbors actually garden together and encourage people to walk back and forth between the two yards. I love that.

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Here's another beautiful arbor (bulit by the homeowner's husband). I love how the path is lined with Alchemilla mollis (Lady's Mantle) and leads to a less structured portion of the garden.

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This is another example of repetition: potted red geraniums are dotted between hydrangeas at the end of the driveway.

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This is a very inventive use of containers in the garden and a great way to get some height, while again, using a repetitive element.

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There isn't a lot of sculpture in this garden, but these two birds were given a prominent position.


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This is the view by the road, which offers passersby a glimpse at what might be lurking beyond.

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I love that the garden is as welcoming as you leave it, as it is when you arrive.


So what do you think about this garden?

Classy doggy dining

Here's a before and after for you that I had absolutely nothing to do with. The husband gets to take credit for this one.

We have two big dogs. Two very big dogs, in fact. We're talking massive here (a tumbleweed of hair, such as those that regularly roll across my living despite almost daily vacuuming can be bigger than our cat). About 270 pounds of dogs, if you're counting.

Because they are tall, we feed them from raised feeding bowls (there is a whole school of thought whether this is actually good or bad for your dogs so if you have big dogs just do a Google search to read about why some people feel one way or the other). But the raised food dish stands are not attractive. And both dogs tend to drink from the same water dish so it was sort of wasted space having four dishes.

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The old stands were not doing much for the kitchen decor.


Fortunately my father-in-law was looking for a few woodworking projects and my husband designed a custom dog feeder with three bowls in it for him to build.

Once it was built (and this thing is massively sturdy, which is a good thing because these two are, um, enthusiastic eaters), we couldn't decide how to finish it. Of course my first instinct is to paint everything white, but that's asking a lot of white paint. The husband, of course, wanted to stain it. And then inspiration struck in the same place it often does: a bar.

We were in Florida over the winter having a drink at a beautiful teak-and-holly bar. We're partial to teak and holly because it is the traditional floor on sailboats (even modern ones), and you how I love things that are a little bit nautical but not over-the-top nautical. It also helps that my husband is a master varnisher. During his many years of working on boats he's done his share of refinishing and he's pretty darn good at it.

(Quick digression for a funny story: Before we were dating, I sailed a regatta on the boat my husband was managing at the time. I was down below packing a spinnaker with my future sister-in-law, when the boat heeled over rather suddenly and an entire toolbox fell onto the floor, spilling it's weighty contents. The floor, apparently, had just been refinished by the cute guy I spent the weekend staring at, and my future sister-in-law exclaimed, "Oh no, Richard's floor!" I sort of remember thinking to myself that 'yeah the floor looked nice, but heck, it's a floor on a racing boat, what do you expect,' and wondering who would spend so much time making it look so nice when stuff like flying toolboxes happens all the time on racing boats.)

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The new version looks much better.


Having been appropriately inspired, we looked into buying a sheet of teak-and-holly plywood. Unfortunately we just needed a small piece and most sheets are 8 by 4 feet and very expensive. So the next time the husband was at the boat yard he asked if they had any remnant pieces laying around. And sure enough they had a piece they were happy to sell him for $10.

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Cutouts on either side of each dish make it easy to get the bowls out.


He affixed it to the top with epoxy and a whole bunch of clamps, cut out the holes for the dishes (which had already been cut in the main piece by my father-in-law), then varnished the heck out of the top and painted the bottom the same white you'll find elsewhere in the kitchen.

I love it, and it's much better than those horrible aluminum stands.

And it passed Hudson and Rita's test too. Of course that's a really stringent test. It goes something like this:
1. Does it hold food? Check.
2. Did the people put food in it? Check.

Passed.

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Hudson thinks Rita's bowl looks more interesting because it still has food in it. Wonder where his went?

My new toy

Look at what I got:

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My very own fandeck! After stopping at the local True Value store (which is the area Benjamin Moore dealer) almost every day to pick up paint chips, I finally decided it would be a heck of a lot easier to just buy a fandeck. I use those paint chips for everything from their obvious use to keeping track of colors so I know what will coordinate when I'm out and about shopping.

My hubby says it's far too many options for a person who can't make decisions. There may be something to that, but at least now I can stew about it on the comfort of my own couch.

Construction update No. 3: Cool!

Yesterday I was feeling a little bit like I had betrayed our old home. Like somehow I was telling it it's not good enough for us. I actually felt a little guilty. I realize this is crazy but I adore this house and want desperately to do right by it.

Today, I almost feel like our house said, "It's OK. Go for it." Either that or it was saying, "You jerk ... look at this history you're destroying." Let's go with the first one so I can sleep tonight.

They removed all the insulation and drywall so we're down to studs. On an angled part of the ceiling, this is what we found (I rotated it so you can see it better):

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Of course we're keeping that. We have to. In fact I was ready to grab one of the Sawzalls they left and go to work and the husband told me I wasn't allowed to, but I will have the contractor save it for us. But now we need something creative to do with it. Any suggestions?


Construction update No. 2: Demo starts

The long-awaited house remodel is finally underway. It's amazing to think that this was a project we wanted to do from when we bought the house (eight years ago) and seriously started talking about a year and a half ago and all of a sudden it's here. It's actually rather shocking; I spent so long not allowing myself to believe it was really going to happen because I didn't want to be disappointed that the fact that it IS happening sort of caught me off guard.

We've had a busy last few days moving out of the upstairs. One very good thing that has come of this is that it forced us to really purge a lot of stuff that we had been hanging onto for no reason. The el cheapo armoire that I bought at the home improvement store, assembled without making sure anything was square and refinished (using a tutorial from Martha ... it was a disaster) is gone. None of the drawers fit so they were always just sort of jammed in there at odd angles. What else went? The disgusting drapes, a bunch of old bedding (random sheets that had no partners) that I was apparently saving to cover plants in case of frost, about 20 pairs of shorts that had long been "outgrown," several bikinis (oh please ... if, by some miracle I ever end up fitting in a bikini again, I think I'll celebrate by buying one made in this decade), a lot of underwear and all kinds of other junk.

I really didn't know what to expect when I came home from work today. It was shocking. Well, let's just let the pictures tell the story.

Here's what the house looked like this morning (ignore the stuff on the patio; we're not going for trailer park chic ... just stuff destined for a Dumpster).

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Here's what it looked like 10 hours later.
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I couldn't keep myself from exploring the contents of the two trailers filled with garbage (which had been thrown out that boarded up spot where the window once was) and what did I find? CEDAR closet lining! Are you kidding me? Yep, there was cedar in the closets, we just didn't know about it because someone had drywalled over the top of it. Grrrr.
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Then I found some wallpaper that I had never seen. I've heard of people keeping samples of wallpaper from old houses and framing them, but I could find nothing redeeming or charming about this wallpaper so I left it right there in the trash.
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This is what our bedroom looked like before.

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And here's what it looked like this afternoon. This is taken from the middle of the other bedroom (the wall between the two has been removed). The brick structure you're seeing is the original chimney for the house, which is abandoned and hiding in the walls. We (and by "we" I mean not at all me) have to remove it all the way to the basement for the renovation. It is actually made of Cream City brick and I wish I had known that was the case because I would have either thought of something to do with it or found someone to reclaim it. It's a treasure, really, and it makes me sick to think of it ending up in a landfill when it's so special. I have to talk to the contractor tomorrow morning about finding a home for it. Of course I'd love to make a little money to offset the cost of this crazy project, but more than that I know someone wants it. Maybe the local Habitat for Humanity resale store wants it.

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This is the view into the second bedroom, which is not as demolished as the master. What I love about this is that wallpaper hanging there: They drywalled OVER the wallpaper! I guess that's one way to get rid of it!

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A few observations from today: 
1. It feels really weird to have someone doing this to our house. I feel like I just want to tell the house that it will be OK and that, really, it's for the best, but I feel a little guilty. I have no idea why. 
2. I know everyone says remodeling is messy but I can already tell this is going to be crazy messy. I was already vacuuming tonight, which the husband just sort of laughed at my futile efforts. 
3. I think we're going to be moving out of the house sooner than we had planned. Living here during this is going to be frustrating at best and intolerable at worst. Since we have a place to go, we're thinking about heading there sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, we also decided that the cat has to move to my parents tomorrow. It's just too dangerous here for a curious critter who once crawled right into an air vent in the 20 seconds we had the vent cover off.

How to turn an OK table into the perfect table: Part Two (Finishing)

This is Part 2 of a series on how I changed a brand new (but flawed) table into just what I needed. You can find Part 1 here.

With the table the right length (and the legs in the right place), it was time to finish it. Like a lot of furniture refinishing, the concern was that the table would be covered in brush marks and that was not the look I wanted. I sampled multiple paints and protective coatings on the two pieces of table we cut off, practicing different sanding and application techniques to figure out which worked best. Ultimately I used the random orbital sander and 120-grit sandpaper to rough up the shiny surface of the table. I made sure to keep the sander moving to avoid sanding straight through the thin veneer (REALLY thin veneer ... I can't believe how much this table originally cost given what I thought was rather cheap construction, but I digress). On the legs and curvier bits, I hand sanded. I should mention here that I disassembled the table for ease of finishing. I put the legs on the workbench on little dollies so I could spin them around to finish all sides.

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The first step in the finishing process was to sand it lightly with 120-grit sandpaper just to rough up the glossy surface. I did this on sawbucks in the kitchen while the legs and trestle were being finished in the basement.


Then I coated everything in Zinsser's BIN primer. I used cheap foam brushes for this step because I didn't want to have to clean up good brushes afterwards. After the primer dried, I gave it a light sanding just to make sure it was nice and smooth and then I painted the legs and the trestle with two coats of Benjamin Moore Satin Aura in Mascarpone. I used a good paintbrush for this. (The Orel Lily Filbert brush from Omega is my absolute favorite and it was worth every single penny. It was not cheap as far as paintbrushes go, but I take really good care of it because I love it so much.)

Once the legs and trestle were completely painted, I brought them upstairs and reassembled the table (and threw down a tarp on the floor because I'm a messy painter). I figured it would be much easier to paint the top of the table with it attached to the legs. I followed the same steps as I did with the other parts of the table, making sure to run my brush lightly all the way from one end of the table to another to avoid brush strokes. The Aura paint is somewhat self-leveling, so it will dry smoother than it looks when you put it, but not if you overwork it. So I I'd put some on rather quickly (not slopping it in, but looking for a nice coating), and then remove most of the paint from the brush, hold it at an angle and run it all the way down the paint I just applied.


But I wasn't really happy with how the Aura coat looked. I knew I'd have to do another coat of paint, so this time, after lighting sanding with 200-grit paper and removing all the dust with a tack cloth (I wear latex gloves, which you can buy in a pack of 400 at Costco for every step of painting, to keep my hands clean and also because I can't stand touching those tack cloths. They give me the heebie jeebies), I brought out the big guns: Fine Paints of Europe Eco satin (color-matched to BM Mascarpone). This is what I used for the banquette and I knew it would do an awesome job (this stuff self levels so well it's unbelievable), but it's also super pricey and I didn't want to spend the money to do the whole table in the stuff. Plus, I had some left over from the banquette painting project. Now it was looking great.

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After primer and two (or three, I can't remember) coats of paint, the table was looking sharp, but too perfect for my taste.

But it was a little too perfect looking for my taste. I wanted it to look a bit aged, especially since I knew it was bound to get a little beat up over the course of what I hope is many years of hard use. I started distressing it with some sandpaper. Let me tell you, there is a reason they call it distressing: It is very distressing to take sandpaper to a piece of furniture you've just obsessed about painting for weeks. I started out with a little distressing at first and then sort of freaked out.

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These shots show my first attempt at distressing. I tried to distress the most in place that would actually see wear. Rayan of The Design Confidential told me I needed to do more, and she was right!

Enter Rayan from The Design Confidential. Rayan has some great finishing tutorials on her blog and I referred to them often, but when it came to the right amount of distressing, well, I just sent her an e-mail with some pictures. Over the next week she proceeded to hold my hand (virtually) through the emotionally distressing process of distressing. Sure, if I screwed up I could just paint it again, but come on, who wants to do that? Once, with Rayan's help, I was sure I had the amount of distressing I wanted (Rayan counseled me to distress more, so I did. It was the right call; the last thing you want is a little bit distressed piece, which just looks messy and well, like you didn't have the guts to do it right or you're a horrible painter), I went back with some walnut stain I had in the basement and applied it with a Q-tip to all the areas I distressed. Because there wasn't real wood underneath all that paint, it was somewhat colorless. By staining those areas it made it look much richer, like a farmhouse table was lurking under all that Mascarpone. I followed up with a rag immediately after applying it, so the stain only soaked into the exposed wood and didn't stain the painted portions. I had to repeat this process a few times to get the color I liked.

After all that, can you believe the hard part is just beginning? It was. The entire time I was finishing the table I knew that I'd have to do some kind of protective coating on it. Although some websites will tell you that you don't need to put anything over paint and that a topcoat won't add anything in the way of protection, I disagree. In fact, I actually ended up having to sand and touch up part of the table because a gym bag with rubber feet was set on it before I got around to putting on a topcoat. The rubber reacted with the paint somehow and there was a blackish-purple round stain from the foot that no amount of cleaning would take off.  This is a kitchen table, after all, where in addition to plates and dishes, all manner of stuff is routinely dropped in it (it's the first horizontal surface when you walk in the door). I did more research on what to coat this thing with than anything I've ever done. And then I bought products to sample and try out on the parts of the table we cut off. The criteria for some kind of protective coating was that it A. worked, B. wasn't too shiny (I was not going for high gloss) and C. didn't yellow.

Here's what I tried:
1. Minwax Polycrylic: This was widely recommended on various blogs, but in every test I tried it in, it got an almost crackled finish. I asked several people about it and no one had ever seen such a thing before but it happened to me in multiple tests, including those where I let the paint dry for a week or more before using the polycrylic.
2. Benjamin Moore Stays Clear: It doesn't (stay clear, that is).
3. Krylon clear protective finish: I'll be honest, I don't remember why I didn't like this one, other than that it is a spray, but I know it didn't work.
4. Deft Clear Finish Brushing Lacquer: Turns yellow and because it's a lacquer it's seriously full of fumes. Not something I wanted to apply inside the house.
5. Minwax water-based Polycrylic Wipe-on: This is what I ended up going with.


Rayan recommended a spray lacquer, but that wasn't an option because I was working indoors (in the middle of the kitchen, no less).

I applied the wipe-on polycrylic using a staining sponge and that worked really well. I also set up a shop light at the same height as the table so I could see where I had applied the finish because it really is that clear when you put it on. If you overlap just a little bit, you will end up with a yellow streak. I know this because I did it. And then I looked at it for two days. And I realized it would drive me nuts, so I sanded it down really lightly and did it again. I sanded lightly using 220-grit sandpaper between each coat and did three coats on the top. Everything else got just two coats. I wasn't worried about durability on the legs and trestle, but I was concerned that there could be slight yellowing on the top and I wanted to make sure the table ended up all the same color.

So how did it turn out? Overall, pretty good. It's not perfect by any stretch. It does look like a sprayed finish, which I love. It's downfall comes back to that damn top coat. It did yellow, and more than I wanted it to. It definitely looks creamier than the banquette, which is painted in the same color and I wish that weren't the case. The good news is that it matches the distressed Windsor chairs, which I saved from the kitchen set that came with the house, much better now. The bad news is that I would have much rather had to paint the chairs. Also, I was a little sloppy on the legs and in one spot there are yellow drips of the top coat.

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The completed table in the revised eating area.

I'm sure I'll redo the finish on the table at some point. No one else has noticed that it's a slightly different color than the rest of the white in the kitchen, but I do, and that's always my criteria. I do these things for me (and the husband), not other people. I think I will wait until the table needs refinishing for other reasons before I tackle it again and when I do, I'll haul that beast outside so I can spray it.

OK, so it's not the "perfect" table, but I love it more than anything I could have bought that was even close to my price range, even double my price range. And best of all, I think it looks perfect in the kitchen and we can now seat about seven (or even eight) people there, which was one of the goals of this in the first place.