By Dawn Hoiem
I’ve flipped a lot of pieces of furniture over the years, but that didn’t stop me from being intimidated by a large dining room hutch that had obviously been pulled out of someone’s barn. This is a great time of year to score neglected finds, as people use the warmer months to clean out cluttered spaces and unearth some hidden gems.
Few people would have considered this a gem when I first laid eyes on it. It was filthy and covered in mouse hair and droppings. Mice had even chewed a hole through the back. But it was big and sturdy and those curves on the front had me at first glance.
I jumped in with a bucket of soapy water and scrubbed. And scrubbed. And scrubbed. And before too long, the years of grime and mouse habitation were stripped away. Once I had a clean surface to work with, I mixed up some homemade chalk-like paint in an off-white and proceeded to give the entire thing two coats.
The details on the hutch screamed out for a distressed finish, which matched the rest of my décor, but I was surprised to find the doors and bottom drawers were actually molded plastic. Apparently, that was common in 70s-era furniture. I decided to go ahead and try to distress it the same way I approach wood, and if it didn’t work, I could always paint over it and go a different direction.
People are often apprehensive about distressing, but the best approach is to just go for it. I typically start with 120-grit sandpaper. Sand over places where the furniture would naturally be worn based on use. Corners and along detailed pieces are good spots to start. This worked on the wood of the hutch, but the plastic molded drawers just looked scratched up. I repainted them and tried a different approach.
When I distress, I typically go over the finish with some furniture wax and stain. With enough wax, you can dilute the stain and end up with a very subtle finish. On the drawers, the stain settled nicely down into the faux wood finish and the wax allowed me to remove the excess until the look was just right.
The back needed to be replaced, so I bought the most inexpensive paneling I could find. Most home improvement stores will cut it to size if you give them the dimensions. I purchased fabric that matched my reupholstered dining room chairs and used spray adhesive to attach it to the paneling. We nailed it to the back of the hutch. I say “we” as this was definitely a two-person job. The fabric gives the hutch a custom finish. You could also apply wallpaper or just stick with paint on the back panel.
Fortunately, the lights in the hutch were still functional. And while the metal grates in the hutch doors were bent out of shape, they were intact and able to be reformed and put back in the doors.
The before and afters are as extreme as any project I’ve tackled. If you run across something that needs a lot of work, as long as it’s structurally sound, the rest is cosmetic. A little soap and water and some paint is all you need to bring it back to life. So search those estate sales, auctions or even your own basement for something that just needs a little TLC. That high-end, custom furniture you don’t think you can afford may already be in your home.
The writer is a communications expert who enjoys giving new life to discarded furniture and home improvement projects.