Design and Function—The Beauty Within

Not everyone will agree on what beauty is, but it is one’s perception that counts; however function is a bit more concrete.  As a designer and decorator, I strive for both, it is in my DNA.  I know that not nearly as many people will find a storage shed a thing of beauty as will find a pretty fabric or the lines of a lovely chair; but to me, the shed illustrated here is a thing of beauty.

I do a great many painting and refinishing projects that add to the aesthetic quality of my life and the lives of my clients; so having a place to work on these projects is particularly important to me.  I wholeheartedly subscribe to the designer mantra that form follows function.

I purchased an eight-by-ten foot shed last fall, and my handy husband spent a couple of weekends getting it set up; first he built a frame for the foundation so the shed to sit level on the back patio that was sloping for drainage.  Suffice to say that he built the shed and foundation with his usual precision.  There are still some additions to install, such as lighting and a box fan for exhausting paint spray and fumes.

Fitting the interior with a tall, wire-frame shelving unit was key to storing the many cans of paint and other necessary supplies.  I thought it would be a good idea to wrap the wire-frame shelves with an insulation blanket meant for a water heater.  My hope it to help preserve the paint, which degrades in extreme temperatures— since the shed is not as well insulated as the garage.  Investment:  Insulation, $22, shelving unit was a donation from my daughter, $0. 

I bought a set of adjustable saw horses to hold a discarded, standard interior door; this serves as my work table. Investment:  Saw-Horses, $59, Interior Door, $0, Lighting, $140 and the Box Fan, $25.  The shed was certainly the most expensive, but I did get it on sale.  I do not remember what the pressure treated wood and flashing cost, but probably somewhere around $100+/-, and the labor was based on pure love which is priceless.

Without the lighting or the fan installed yet, the room has been a valuable addition.   My husband was the first to use it.  I insisted that he spray paint some auto parts for the restoration of our 1930 Model A, which has not seen any attention in 50 years!  Next up was the painting of a cabinet my daughter uses to conceal the litter box in a bathroom.  The shed, which we have nick named "The Dexter Room", has been deemed a great asset and in my mind, a thing of beauty. 

A word about the decision to purchase a pre-made shed; we looked into many less expensive options of which there are many.  First, was the least expensive, was inspired by the popular TV series Dexter but, involved assembly and take down after each use.  PVC pipe fitted to make a frame, and heavy sheet plastic sheeting attached to the PVC constituted the “room”, and would cost about $50.  I liked that, but from a realistic stand point, I didn’t think I could do the assembly by myself, and weather might be an issue.  The next idea was a simple pop-up tent, a bit more expensive, and certainly easy enough for me to assemble; but it would limit the size of the projects.  The ability to use the Dexter Room shed in just about any weather for large and small projects drove the decision to acquirea more formidable structure.  My daughter and I have plans to spray paint some custom doors for the newly installed cabinets in her laundry room; a couple of the doors are quite tall and require a fairly large area to work on them and allow a place for them to dry without interference.

From the outside, the shed is a pleasant enough looking piece, with a cottage look, but the interior is pure function.

Refinishing with Stain

My current project is another round oak table.  My clients were impressed with the painted oak table that I did several months ago and talked with me about changing their oak table.  This family’s style is not country, but the eat in kitchen table was pure country, and completely incongruent with the style of the rest of the house.  The table’s condition was another source of frustration: its stained top was chipping, and there were bare spots, and bubbles left the surface anything but smooth.  We had talked over the years about what to do with the table, and replacing it was considered;  but the table had sentimental value, since it had been the table my client had grown up with from childhood, and she wanted to hang onto it for that reason. 

While the clients both liked the painted oak table, that was the inspiration for their table; we discussed the durability of a painted surface verses a stained surface. Staining was the most practical application for the heavy use this table receives on a daily basis.  A family of five can dish out a lot of wear and tear.  These clients’ have different circumstances from the client with the with the painted oak table, so staining was the right option.  

A stained oak table is what they had, again way too country for this modern family.  Since the black painted table was the inspiration for changing their country oak to something more modern, we talked about staining the table black or ebony.  Oak, stained or painted black gives it a decidedly more modern look.  

I checked out the stains offered and bought a name brand I have used for years in an ebony color.  Once I stripped, sanded, and washed the table, it was ready for the ebony stain.  Fortunately, I stained the leaf first.  The stain went on black and solid, but once the requisite time passed, when I wiped off the excess stain, I was disappointed to see the color was hardly what I had hoped for.  The brown color of the wood was still quite evident, while the more open grain of the oak absorbed the stain nicely, giving me the blackness I wanted.  I followed directions and allowed the stain to dry, and applied a couple of more coats of stain, not getting anywhere near the color I expected.  Additionally, I knew the wood would not accept any more stain, since the more open black grain was “weeping” out bubbles of stain.  

This process took days to work through, and resulting in more research.  I have been painting and staining furniture since I was a teenager, and I have used a variety of stains and paints; but times change—and so do products.  In California, many of the products of my youth are no longer available here.  I decided to do some online research and tried some home-grown ideas, like soaking steel wool in plain white vinegar; the color of the vinegar does not change, but there is a chemical reaction that affects the tannin in wood, and that will make it black or dark gray—not quite black enough for my goal, but interesting just the same.

I went to a salvage yard in downtown Los Angeles and talked with a man there who showed me what he uses, another familiar name brand stain I have used in the past.   After testing this new stain on the underside of the leaf, I was delighted to see the results would be perfect!  This brand was much more viscous; after only one coat, I knew would give the result I sought. 

After stripping off what I could of the first failed attempt to stain the leaf, I sanded and washed the surface.  I applied the new stain to the base as well as the leaf.  I saved the top for last, wanting to do all my experimenting on the base and leaf.

I used an oil based finish of the same brand that I felt would be the best under the circumstances; however the weather turned and drying times took days to get to the point I could lay the first coat of finish.  Having to wait at least 4 hours between coats means that it will take another day at least to finish this project. 

Once there are sufficient coats of finish, this table will serve the family well for many years, giving them the modern look they want, while preserving the sentimental value of the old oak table of my client’s youth