If you happen to follow my instagram, you may have noticed that I picked up a truly dreadful piece of hard rubbish a couple of weeks back. I was on my way into university to have documents certified for the final grad interview the next day, when I spied an old 60s (?) desk outside a block of dodgy flats. It was perched amongst a heap of awful rubbish – the kind where you wonder what on earth the people who threw it all there were thinking and why on earth didn’t they put it in their wheelie bins – but I could spy potential.
I checked the time – still had an hour to get to uni and get my documents sorted. I pulled over, flipped the back seats down and approached the desk. Ugh. It was filthy. But I had a vision :-) I picked the desk up – the drawers were full. Gingerly, I opened them – the top drawer had mostly old sewing stuff – but all damp and full of rubbish as well. The next three drawers were worse. There were old cards and family photos – some in frames – and just so many bits and pieces. And it was all icky. I have a very high ick tolerance – but this was … shudder-worthy. I spied a couple of barely filled shopping bags – stinking of cigarette ash – and carefully tipped the contents of the drawers into them. Shudder.
By the time I was done, my hands felt revolting and I only had 20 minutes before the clinical office closed at the university. Hopeless. So it was back home with the desk. Unload. A thorough hand washing with the hottest water I could bear. And a couple of hours later, when the clinical office was reopened (they keep the most unhelpful hours), I set off once again.
I sent Mum several photos of my fabulous find – oh yes, she exclaimed, I can really see why you just had to stop for it. NOT. It was grim. The top was a complete write-off. The drawer handles were buggered. The legs were scratched. It had even been grafittied. Oh it was grim.
But I just knew it’s old timber would come up lovely and just where it would fit perfectly into our home and lives. So last week, on a warm sunny day, I pulled on my summer work clothes and a hat, gathered supplies and set to work, removing all that grime and spray paint and old varnish. Sadly, it was not a metho scrub moment. It needed the full strength paint stripper. And even that was tough work. But as soon as I began washing the stripper off, I could see that old timber beginning to gleam.
I am the worst at anthropomorphising – I always imagine the timber of my furniture sighing with relief as I scrub it free of decades of dirt and varnish. Then, it must wriggle with delight as I rub in the Danish oil. It’s the very odd occasion I can bring myself to paint bare timber – I imagine the poor grain suffocating under the heavy wetness of paint. Awful! So Danish oil it is.
I spent many many hours pondering what to replace the top with and finally settled on a thick piece of ply from the hardware store that I would cover with some lovely Orla Kiely oilcloth from The Fabric Store in Fitzroy. I even drove in and bought the jolly fabric – and it was even lovelier in real life than it was on the screen.
But then, I called into Ikea on the way home for new knobs for the desk drawers – the old ones were crap – I love their little black brushed metal knobs – and checked the bargain corner (of course). There was a kitchen bench top that I had admired online but dismissed from consideration because it was way to expensive. Only this one wasn’t. It was a display piece with scuff marks (which rubbed off in seconds with a bit of steel wool) and dramatically reduced. Eeeeeee!
In a perfect world, the top would be a bit smaller – but hey! All the more space to craft and it sits as sturdy as. Can you believe the transformation?!? I’m in awe. Look at how that timber gleams. The knobs are so cute. It’s a miracle!
It wasn’t until I looked at this photo later that I realised you can still see the outlines of the tagging. I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed that panel. It’s ply – and that spray paint just got deep into the grain and – well, that’s the best I could do. But you know – in real life you just don’t notice it. And besides – it’s quite funny really. It’s like this conservative, simple, modest little desk is having a wink and saying “Oh yeah, I’ve seen it all!”
And the scratches – most of them are gone – there’s still a few of the deeper ones left, but the wood came up so beautifully rich and syruppy that now they’re just character. Signs of a life busily led.
Now, just in case you didn’t get a good look at the desk top, we have before … hideous old fake wood melamine WITH GRAFITTI ! And after – beautiful, solid, smooth, crisp, clean wood. I’ve oiled it too.
And look who looks right at home there! By the way – have I ever told you the story of this little green machine – my Husqvarna Viking 21 (circa 1950s)? She too is hard rubbish. Yep. I found her having her cords chopped off by a very grumpy man behind an op shop. “Oh no! I exclaimed, “that’s a beautiful old Husqvarna!” “It’s rubbish.” he snarled, shoved her back into her original tartan travelling case and HURLED HER INTO A SKIP!!!! “Oh that’s terrible!” I protested. “You don’t know what you’re throwing away!” And I promptly climbed into the skip and pulled her back out. He ignored me.
I took the sweet little green machine straight to the sewing machine shop in Camberwell where I have my machines serviced and they fixed her up. They had to find new cords for her power and foot, but they did. And the service man said she was that kind of beauty they just don’t make any more. He loved her – and loved the story too. She sews like a dream – lovely straight, strong stitches, and makes the prettiest hum. If I’ve told you all this before, I am sorry :-) I’m getting a bit like dear old Grandad – can’t remember which stories I’ve shared with which folk! But it’s such a good story anyway – yes? :-)
And here’s a glimpse of the sweet little desk all set up and ready for action! Wait til you see where she is!
p.s. I was right to stop wasn’t I :-)