Monday, June 18, 2012

A new home for the new TV

The theme of this post is patience (the plot is getting a new TV stand). One of the things I've liked about my DIY apartment adventures is that every undertaking is a process, and it requires constant patience to take the time needed to do each piece of it right. I'm the kind of person who likes to get things done. This doesn't always translate to enjoying the actual experience of doing -- I like to cross things off my to-do list, be effective, be efficient. DIY makes me slow down and be patient as the process unfolds -- I can decide I want a new TV stand, but unless I'm just going to go out and buy one, then it's going to take time to make my goal a reality. And all that time spent just makes it even better every time I enjoy looking at/using the completed product in the future. This project was one that really tested my patience on multiple fronts. And now I'm going to test your patience too by writing a really long post about it. So without further ado:

The corner of the living room that houses our TV has been one of the few places I couldn't even think about changing due to our massive tube TV. We bought it on craigslist three years ago for $40, and it's so heavy it actually made our movers dry heave in the stairwell when we moved from Cambridge to Somerville. We knew it would probably never make an apartment move with us again, but in the meantime it was working well enough that we couldn't bring ourselves to upgrade to one of those new, fancy, "you don't need several strong men to lift it" flatscreens that seem to be all the rage these days.

Then it started making a high-pitched whistling noise sometimes kind of, and that was really all the excuse we needed. We found a flatscreen on sale, and made the purchase. It took us another month to actually get the old TV out of our apartment, listing and relisting it on craigslist in a desperate attempt to get someone to come carry it out. FINALLY someone bit, literally just a day before we were about to give up and actually pay $50 for someone to come remove it. (Yes, it was embarrassing to have a TV so large that we couldn't get it out of our own apartment.)

It's hard to see in this photo how big and heavy it actually is, but the screen is about 40" and I swear it extends back about the same distance so it's not only big, but incredible unwieldy:

In any case, we now have this svelt beauty:

With the newfound ability to actually lift the TV, I suddenly felt a pressing desire to deal with the TV corner. The cords. The cat hair that collects in the cords. The brown laminate. The fact that the coffee table sits directly between me on the couch and the cable box such that the remote only works half the time. I know that I'm blessed to have these be the problems in my life, but given that my hobby is trying to make my apartment more functional and beautiful, it jumped to the top of my to-do list.

I discovered that awesome/fun/colorful TV stands are few and far between. That's probably all right in many places, but in a small apartment you've really got to make every inch of space count. This is a whole corner of our living room, I can't handle it being blah much longer. And not only does everything need to count design-wise (or serve some really important function, like say our refrigerator), but a) you have to eek out every opportunity you can get a little extra storage, and b) cramming every corner full of furniture makes the whole place look smaller, so it's good to pick piece that minimize that sense. So, for instance, I had this feeling that getting a TV stand with legs (so you could see the floor) was going to make the corner feel a less crowded, even if it was something that was actually larger than what we currently have.

In any case, I doth blather on enough. Basically I concluded that the perfect piece would be a small dresser in an antique style that I could paint a bold color. I spent about two months checking craigslist every day for such a treasure. It took much longer than I'd hoped, but I refused to get something that didn't match the style and size I wanted. I was about to give up, when finally I spotted it. I emailed. It was still available. Typical email back and forth to find a time for me to pick it up. By that time I had searched long enough to know that needing to pick it up at 9am on Saturday morning was not reason enough to pass. And so it came home with us.

Just dilapidated enough that it was in my price range ($45), and no one else beat me to it

The plan was to sand it, prime it, and paint it a rich coral color. What, not turquoise or robin's egg blue? That's right, I have a little bit of range. A little bit. The living room needed something bold, but warm. But first I needed to do a few things: remove the top two drawers (that's where we'll put our cable box, DVD player, etc), and drill holes in the back for the cords to go through. No more cord messes. I knew I'd confront an issue that I hadn't quite figured out a solution to in advance, which was how to lay down some sort of shelf in lieu of the top drawers for the cable box etc to sit on. I didn't know quite what the situation in there would be (some dressers have grooves down the middle to guide drawers, others have them along the sides, some not at all), so I just planned to play it by ear. In this case, there was just a simple wood strip running down between the two top drawers. Here's a photo looking inside the top section with both top drawers removed:

See how there's just empty space, except for a small amount of framing? So clearly I needed something relatively thin but sturdy to place over these openings and create a shelf. First I pried up that middle wood piece nailed on top of the other middle wood piece (yes, those are the technical woodworking terms), since that didn't seem necessary. I was kind of at a loss since I didn't really want to buy and cut sheets of wood, but then I realized that the drawers I removed were obviously already the right size, so if I could detach the bottom of each drawer that would be the right size for covering each opening.

After inspecting the construction of the drawers, I guessed that if I could pry the right nails out than I'd actually be able to just slide the bottoms of the drawers out without totally dismantling them. Not sure why I felt I needed two intact, bottomless drawers, but I had some vague notion of using them in a future project. Yeah, Sam loves to hear stuff like that. "Honey, where do you think I can store these two bottomless drawers while I think about how I can turn them into an art project of some sort?" "Um, how about the trash area outside?" Actually, he never says that, he just smiles patiently. But I suspect that may be what he's thinking, perhaps while googling diagnostic tests for hoarders. (But I actually used them, not 12 hours later, in my gallery wall update -- in fact, I got so caught up in that project that I get derailed on the TV stand for a few days....)**

In any case, the drawer bottoms fit over the openings perfectly.

I'm not going to show you the step where I drilled holes in the back for cord management, because it was basically the worst DIY ever and it's embarrassing. I used a 1.5" drill bit that I had on hand to drill a bunch of holes and then a saw to cut a larger blobby shape. I was in Vermont just a few weeks ago for my brother's college graduation (congratulations, Ian! read my blog!), and my dad and stepmom were asking if there are new tools I might need. They suggested a dremel, and I was like, "oooh, that does sound intriguing, but what would I use it for?" This. This project is what I would use it for. Anyhoo, it's fine, no one will ever see the holes anyway since they will be blocked by our devices.

Then I removed the hardware (drawer knobs), gave it a light sanding, and applied a coat of primer (zinsser oil-based primer, which eliminates the need to fully sand off the existing finish, I just needed to scruff it up a little). I did two coats of primer on the top since that will get the most wear and tear.

Then it was two four even coats of "Rich Coral" (Ace), using the paint conditioner Floetrol to slow drying time (which reduces the appearance of brush strokes). Yeah, way more coats than I expected (usually two is enough), probably because I did a bad job with the primer in a few spots so the dark wood was still visible. Every time I cut corners, I end up having to spend more time down the road and am reminded that cutting corners is bad. Besides, if I wanted it to be fast, why wouldn't I just cut the biggest corner of all and buy a finished TV stand?

When the paint had dried, I applied a coat of Minwax clear gloss poly to protect the finish. A few final finishing touches included:

1) Removing the wheels from the legs, they didn't roll super well and I'd planned on removing them all along after I finished painting (they were handy during the painting phase, because I could easily paint the legs without them then sticking to the dropcloth). I almost gave up on this step because the wheels weren't coming off as easily as I'd expected and I was afraid I'd break something, but eHow's "How to remove the wheels of an antique dresser" gave me the confidence I needed to finally pry them off.

(before removing the wheels)

2) Putting the drawers pulls back on. I thought about getting new pulls, but I actually really like the way the black pops against the coral. A friend suggested glass pulls, which I'd also been mulling, but sometimes I have to remind myself that a boy lives here and I want him to feel at home in our apartment as well. I already painted the TV stand a variation on pink, I'd better reign myself in on the details.

(The color looks pinker in this photo than it does in person -- it's really more orange-pink)

3) Procuring some attractive contact paper to cover the two pieces of wood (drawer bottoms) I was using to cover the holes in the top (I thought this would be better than painting them the same color as the rest of the dresser):

4) Screwing a small wire basket to the back of the dresser to use for storing the power strip and excess cords -- since the dresser has legs, the whole floor is visible and we can't just stuff all the cords behind it like we did with the old TV stand. I found the basket in the kitchen/storage section of our local hardware store and thought it was perfect for the job.                                                                                                               

And tada, the finished product, in place!


With the TV

The cloth across the top is a lovely scarf that Sam's mom gave me -- I was planning on making a runner for the top with some gray linen fabric, but then I thought how perfectly this scarf complemented the color scheme and couldn't resist.

I love love love it -- the TV is at a better height, the color adds a lot to the living room, and it seems like the perfect size and shape for the space. You're lucky I was even able capture photos, when I first moved it into place I danced around excitedly every time I entered the room. My initial enthusiasm was somewhat tempered, though, by the three hours it took me to move the devices over -- wrangling all their cords without messing anything up, cramming them into the openings while running their cords out the back, getting everything plugged in properly, etc. I'm still excited, but sedated enough to take a steady photo.

Oh, and if there are any furniture history buffs out there reading this: below is the label on the back of the dresser (which I didn't paint). I couldn't find out much about the Caldwell Furniture Company with some basic googling (except discovering that Lenoir, NC was home to a whole lot of furniture manufacturing in the 1900s), but I'd love to know if there's an interesting history!

So that's the story! Good things have come of my patience. This is a project that will make me smile for a long time to come.

** Using the drawer bottoms for this project did mean I had to fabricate some alternative when I used the drawer bottoms on the gallery wall -- it was a highly technical process involving posterboard and pipe cleaners. Don't ask me how the pipe cleaners were involved, things got weird and there was no time for photos.


  1. Excellent project ... and post ... Sage. You know, you might end up being a wooodworker yet. It's only a small step from "I can redesign this piece" to "I can build what I want from scratch"!

    1. Thank you, Daddy-o! Will need a bit more space before I start down the woodworking path...but I'm not going to say I couldn't see it happening! It would certainly solve my current "find the perfect console table for the hallway" dilemma....

  2. What would such a perfect table look like?

    1. Well...probably something with a very simple silhouette, maybe like this one here ( but even without the shelf. (Not painted, just plain wood.) I don't want anything that will look too busy in the hallway! Oh, and quite narrow -- like 12" or less. It's proving tough to find in a reasonable price range!

  3. Hi there Sage! Can I make a suggestion the next time you need to make an "opening" in the back of some piece of wood that you're "redesigning" for your home? I bought a "saw" drill bit that has 1-1/2" diameter [with a regular drill extension] and will make a hole the same size. It attaches right onto the drill, tighten the drill bit and you're ready to drill! It will make a much nicer and rounder hole than what you described in your comment about the "t.v." dresser. I bought this drill bit for a "down-the-road" project when I remodel my back bathroom. I'm going to eventually remove my old bathroom vanity and replace it with something nicer looking, hopefully made of wood. I'll need to use this drill bit to make the hole in the back of the "newer" vanity cabinet, because it will be where I run the water line & connection for the ice maker in my fridge. The water stop in the back bathroom is the closest water source for my fridge, since the back wall [fridge] is adjacent to the back bathroom wall.

    I love the coral color too. Especially since it's a 'Southwest' decor color. The dresser that you "re-purposed" looks fantastic! Kudos to you!! I think you made a wise choice using the contact paper on the drawer bottoms. Can't wait to see what you did with the rest of the left over drawer pieces!

    1. Thanks for the advice, and the kind comments! And the drawers (sans bottoms) ended up as part of the gallery wall in the bedroom (photos here: Thanks again!