Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Powder & Primp: My Craigslist Find Dressing Table

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Ever since I wrote the post “Powder & Primp Along with Lady Mary Crawley” as part of my “Downton Abbey Meets Your Home” series, I’ve wanted a dressing table of my own. Not because I powder and primp all that much, but just because…
  • Because we have a lack of storage since we downsized, particularly in the bathrooms as compared to the bathrooms at our previous house. 
  • Because the closest mirror to use to dry my hair is in the master bath, and if I want to sit while drying I must sit on the toilet, which is really too far away to get a good view of what I’m doing. 
  • Because I feel naked without my earrings, even on a day I don’t go out. I have A LOT of earrings, no easily accessible place to store them, no place to sit while I decide which ones I want to wear, and no mirror to use to help me hit the pierced holes. 
  • Because I deserve a spot of my own in the master bedroom, aside from my side of the bed. Every woman does. 

If you remember from posts I’ve done on refreshing our master bedroom…


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Susan Lawson photo / BoHo Home

I had a small chest with three drawers (left) I used as a nightstand. It matched the armoire we’re still using in the master bedroom, as well as our previous bed, now in the guest room. 

The top drawer functioned as a personal hygiene junk drawer and contained various and sundry items, such as medications, fan control, bed control (for Sleep Number bed), notepad, flashlight, nail clippers and file, lotion, safety pins, extra buttons that came with new clothes, and just about anything else I had nowhere else to stash. The middle drawer was lingerie, and the bottom drawer was socks and hose.

As I accumulated more and more earrings, I organized them into trays, but then I had no place for the trays. After we redid our master closet, I stacked them on the new shelves in there, but this proved inconvenient. Then I moved them to a rolling Raskog cart from IKEA, which has served so many purposes in our household, but the jewelry trays got too dusty sitting out all the time.

Then I convinced Chris to let me take over the top drawer of his armoire for my lingerie and socks so I could move my jewelry trays into the middle and bottom nightstand drawers. This worked okay until I could find the right nightstand replacement piece. I’d already determined that what I needed was a kneehole desk and some kind of a stool or chair so I could sit there and fix my hair and jewelry (and makeup on the few occasions I wear any).

I watched Craigslist off and on for more than a year and found some possibilities—I needed something 54 inches wide at the max—but never pursued any of them. All the pieces would have required restoration work, and at the time, Chris was busy with his elderly mom’s care. That got me looking for a new piece instead, but everything I found that we could afford was too big or just wasn’t made well or both.

The last time I showed Chris a new piece that might work, he pointed that out and suggested I find an older piece. Duh! Chris’ mom passed away late last year, and now he DOES have time to help me. He assured me he’d be willing, too, so I immediately combed Craigslist and found several possibilities.


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Seller photo / Craigslist

This was the desk I wanted, but by the time I found it and called, it had been sold. 

It’s a lot like a desk my parents bought from an uncle when they first got married, only my mother painted it, and it didn't have a glass top.


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Seller photo / Craigslist

However, the same seller had THIS desk, AND he would sell me it and the chair pictured above for just $160!

We immediately went to look at it and bought the two pieces. The desk is finished on all four sides in a mahogany veneer. The only areas that were scratched or dinged were on the front (of course). The drawer sides and back were made of solid oak and dovetailed—both features you’d be hard-pressed to find in a new piece.

Once home, we stored the pieces in our garage. First thing I did was vacuum off the dust, cobwebs and spider eggs (blech!) from both pieces. The desk had a bit of a musty smell, so I scrubbed the inside with a Scotchbrite doused in a solution of white vinegar and hot water. I dried it thoroughly after, and left the drawers out to air. I had a package of three solid air fresheners and put two with the stacks of drawers and another with the desk frame to set for several days.

I also did an inventory of repairs needed:
  • One drawer was missing its back. 
  • Another drawer needed its back re-glued. 
  • Three drawers had veneer that was loose on the front edge and needed re-glued. 
  • Some glue blocks had come loose on the desk frame. 
  • The chair cushion and cover needed a thorough cleaning and possibly replacing. 
Chris knows a lot about woodworking and has made some of the furniture in our home, and he assured me these were all easy fixes.


But what products to use for the finish?


Both Chris and I have refinished furniture before, but we hoped to restore this finish rather than strip it all the way down. A friend who owns an antiques shop suggested we look at Howard products, which is what we ended up using.

Here are all the supplies we needed:


  • Howard Restor-A-Finish in mahogany. We bought a pint size and used about two-thirds. It comes in several different finishes, so check the website for what's closest in color to your furniture's original look. 
  • Howard Feed-N-Wax. We used about half. Note that it's normal for this wax to look congealed inside the bottle.
  • Lint-free staining rags. We bought a package of 10 and used them all. 
  • Grade #0000 (very fine) steel wool. A pack this size was more than enough.
  • Industrial nitrile disposable gloves. Believe me, using these is a lot easier than cleaning stain and wax off your hands. They come by the box, and you'll need a set for the restore coat and another for the wax coat. 
Follow the instructions on the container and saturate a rag with the restorer product. Do not pour it onto the furniture. Rub over any marks you want to remove or scratches you want to cover, then use a dry rag to remove the excess. You can use this just in spots or do an entire surface. 

We did all the surfaces—front, back, top and sides because even though only the front was marked up, the entire piece looked a bit faded and needed enriching. Use the steel wool in the same manner if the rag doesn’t take the marks out, but be sure to rub ONLY with the grain.

We went over all areas with the restorer on a rag first, then went back over with the steel wool before wiping off the excess. The product loosens the finish and moves it around to cover scratched areas. It does an excellent job of removing milky white marks from wax buildup and moisture. Darker stains will be lightened somewhat, and nicks and scratches will become less noticeable when filled in with the mahogany finish.

You only have to let this dry 30 minutes before you put on the Feed-N-Wax, which seals your restored finish and makes it more durable. Because it’s made from beeswax and carnauba, it also replenishes the moisture in the piece. We simply rubbed it on liberally with a saturated pad, let dry for 20 minutes, wiped off excess with a clean pad, and buffed.

Chris re-glued the veneer and other loose joints the day before, clamped them and let them dry. Everything else—including cutting, fitting and gluing the new back on one drawer—we did on a Saturday afternoon. We started about 1:30 p.m. and brought the two pieces inside for use before suppertime. Actual work time was about 2.5 hours.

I’m looking forward to using the leftover Howard products on some of my other furniture that’s marked, particularly a vintage end table in our bedroom that belonged to my mother-in-law. We’ve been covering up that bad spot on top forever. Now we can simply wipe it away!


Here’s a side-by-side before and after of our desk and chair:


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Incredible, isn’t it? All the rich, red-brown mahogany tones have returned.


Come Sunday, though, it was back to work


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Susan Lawson photo / BoHo Home

I had on order an 18-inch round mirror to hang over my "new" dressing table, but as soon as I saw the restored piece in place in my bedroom, I knew that mirror would be too small. “If only we hadn’t donated that mirror Erin used to have in her college apartment,” I said wistfully.

“We didn’t,” Chris replied. “It’s still under the bed in the guest room. I saw it there the other day.”

A happy accident! Out it came, and Chris hung it. It’s the EXACT same width as the desk! Fate, right? When the round mirror arrived Monday, I packaged it to ship back immediately and saved myself some bucks.


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Susan Lawson photo / BoHo Home

See the pretty carving on the front side of the chair back? I found a label on the underside of the seat that said Tell City Furniture, which was an Indiana company. I did a little research and discovered my chair is a rose-back Duncan Phyfe-style chair in solid mahogany. It’s needlepoint seat was, indeed, the original.

When I removed the chair seat to vacuum it thoroughly, I decided it needed to be replaced. Although it cleaned up well enough, it was quite worn, particularly on the corners. I also wanted something more modern-looking and less likely to be full of dust and allergens, particularly since the chair would be in the bedroom and sitting near my air supply when I sleep.

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Susan Lawson photo / BoHo Home

I had a bit of the wavy stripe fabric left over from making my window valance and euro pillow shams for the bed, but not a large enough piece to cover the entire seat and tack underneath. Since I’d rotated the stripes in my patchwork euro shams, I decided to do the same in the seat, and I had more than enough fabric to cut four smaller pieces and stitch together as seen here. We replaced all the padding as well.

I LOVE how it looks. Sometimes a lack of supply shifts your creativity into high gear, and you end up with a result that bests anything plenty could have achieved for you. This was one of those times!


No dressing table is complete without scented drawer liners.


I chose lavender, and here’s how the drawers look filled (left and right) and unfilled (center):


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Susan Lawson photos / BoHo Home

The trays are 18.25 inches wide and the drawers are 18.5—a perfect fit! Thank goodness I measured my trays before I bought the desk.

The liner paper was a little tricky to cut because it was rolled up, so Chris and I worked together on it. I laid it out so I could cut two widths from each of the sheets. It lacks about an inch or two of going all the way to the back of the drawer. We stuck each liner down with a strip of double-faced tape on the two longest outside edges. It looks and smells great!

And yes, I know, I have way too many earrings. The entire left pedestal of the desk is completely full of earring trays, plus there are three more on the right side. And these are only my costume earrings! I keep all my good stuff in a cabinet Chris built for me long ago. Thankfully, it hangs on the wall to the left of my new dressing table, so I can access it easily from my pretty new chair. You can catch a glimpse of it in the mirror reflection in the photo below (along with a peek into my bathroom).


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Susan Lawson photo / BoHo Home

Here’s how I divvyed up the rest of the dressing table drawers:
  • The middle drawer I use for my brushes and a few other grooming items. 
  • The right top drawer holds medication and other night-time must-have-at-hand items. 
  • The second drawer on the right holds my hair dryer and CPAP supplies. 
  • And the third drawer on the right holds makeup. 

Moving all this stuff out of the bathroom created a lot more storage space for me in there so I could better organize other supplies. I’m in seventh heaven!


I’m still playing around with the styling, though.


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Susan Lawson photo / BoHo Home

I already had the combination close-up mirror and jewelry tray, and those tasseled rings on it are napkin holders I liked and added here since I never use napkin holders on my table.


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Susan Lawson photo / BoHo Home

The parts of the mirror stand screw together, so I simply unscrewed them to add the rings. These two trays hold jewelry items I wear a lot or don’t want to take time to put away when I take them off.

The sweet little kitty is an Ebay find (it just came), and the cameo pin/pendant was a Christmas gift from my husband many years ago. I forget I have it, so I thought leaving it out might remind me to wear it more. She also looks beautiful displayed here, don’t you think?


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Susan Lawson photo / BoHo Home

This pink kitty was an Ebay find, too. I wear the three leather-and-gold bracelets a lot so I leave them in the ring-holder tray. I put my rings on the spike at night, and my mother’s and grandmother’s rings rest there all the time to remind me of them.


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Susan Lawson photo / BoHo Home

This “S” I found on Ebay, too; it’s a discontinued piece by my favorite trinket designer, Rosanna Inc. And I use the small tray that matches the ring holder as a coaster; both are by Lula Bijoux.


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Susan Lawson photo / BoHo Home

This is closer to how the dressing table looks day in and day out. I have mild sleep apnea and must keep my CPAP machine (left front) bedside. The white box behind it is another machine that cleans the CPAP and my mask every day with ozone (so I don’t have to scrub it by hand).

And, of course, I need an electrical outlet (right of cleaning machine) nearby for my hairdryer. I took these items out of the earlier pictures, but thought a dose of Real Life might be appreciated. Homes should look as if real people live there, don't you think? 

If you look closely, you can also see that I toss my slippers between the two desk pedestals after I get dressed each morning (or afternoon). That's better than leaving them in plain sight, I guess.

All told, I ADORE my new dressing table, because.


If you want more…

  • Learn more about Howard furniture-care products HERE
  • Check out my inspiration for my most recent bedding change in this room HERE, HERE and HERE
  • See how we got more storage space from our cramped master-bedroom walk-in closet HERE
  • Discover what it was like to “Powder & Primp Along with Lady Mary Crawley” from Downton Abbey. 
  • Shop some of the items from this post by using the (affiliate) links below. 
  • Become a BoHo Home follower and never miss a post. Just plug your email into one of the subscription services at the bottom of this page and you're all set. Or, you can also follow my blog with Bloglovin, a social-media application that allows you to view all the blogs you love in a customized feed you sign into, just like you do Facebook or Instagram.


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