Sunday, 12 January 2014

Chickadee-China, The China Cabinet!

DISCLAIMER***   This is a very long post, author accepts no responsibility for eye strain which might result from reading. However, author strongly recommends you should read the post in entirety.

If ever there was an instance in my life where I thought a lobotomy was in order, it was during the transformation of this hefty lady.  Some of the ingredients I used in the brew of this concoction included, orbital sander, sanding sponges, chipped fingernails, Glidden Gripper primer, blood, Purdy paint brushes, sweat, tears, more tears, a nervous breakdown, another nervous breakdown, nightmares, Benjamin Moore Cabinet Coat, polyacrylic, stripper, rub-n-buff, wallpaper, a U-haul rental truck, and you guessed it - one final nervous breakdown.  And that ladies in gentlemen, is just the tip of the iceberg.

I sincerely had no idea just how much work is involved in transforming a China Cabinet. I mean, she didn't look that intimidating. When I glanced at her picture the words "bloody high maintenance - STAY AWAY" didn't leap out at me. She seemed harmless enough.  What a shocker I was in for!

This girl was a fickle princess right from the start.  When I picked her up from the lovely client's house it was (up until that point) the coldest day of the year. A blustery -22 with a windchill of -30.  Fingertips froze and eyelids wept as we tried to load her into the back of the pickup with insufficient tie-down straps.  We got about 10 minutes down the road before the upper piece toppled over and almost fell onto the unsuspecting car chugging along in the lane beside us (Thank the Lord we had removed the glass panes and left them at the client's house!)

 I was manning the wheel when I saw this all happen slow motion in the rear-view mirror.  "NOOOOOO" I bellowed to Mr. Chuckles.  We quickly swerved off the road into an ambulance bay.  Manuevering into the only spot to park, I challenged the big 'NO PARKING' sign with one of my dirtiest teacher looks.  I banged on the four-way caution lights and Mr. Chuckles and I prepared to enter the arctic circle (once again) and attempt to fasten this pretentious chicken down.

20 minutes, and two cases of frostbite later, we had fandangoed a workable solution and we were back on the road ready for the 1.5 hr drive home in some terrible road conditions.  Once home, we managed to unload her into my workshop where I left her for the next couple of days to reflect on her behaviour.  Occassionally I would crack the door open a bit and ask her if she had learned anything from the situation.  True to form, she stubbornly said nothing.

A few days later I had emotionally recovered enough to get the transformation rolling.  I spent 1.5 hours removing her hardware, hinges and doo-dads as well as popping out her backer boards (on the average 9-drawer dresser this takes me 8 minutes)  I then set about to sand her down.  This took three hours. THREE HOURS to sand.  WHHHHAT?   Because of limited space, I painted all the doors and shelves downstairs in my basement and the bodies of the two pieces in my workshop.  Each coat of paint took 4.5 hours. 

Lets just take a sec and do some simple math   4.5 hrs x 5 coats (primer and paint) = 22.5 hrs.  I then topped most areas with 2-3 coats of polyacrylic (add about 4 additional hours) 

Grand total for paint time (26.5 hours).  

I also spent about two hours sanding hinges and hardware and coating with rub-n-buff or gold spray paint. And after some back-and-forthing about whether to do a stencil on the inside of the cabinet, or wallpaper (I settled on wallpaper), I spent an additional three hours wallpapering.

 I use a brush/roller combination and although all of the flat sections were a breeze, there was so many corners, edges and curvy bits on this that I was in serious agony. I had to be so careful not to put the paint on too heavy as drips formed so easily.  Ive realized how much I love flat surfaces now and from this point forward I vow to ONLY paint Countertops!  Due to lack of a bench, I spent the majority of time on my knees painting. Three weeks later and the scabs are finally coming off.  I think I should be able to walk again soon.

Just when I was nearing the finish line, I noticed some imperfections in the paint finish of the top section of the bottom piece.  My anal-retentive nature got the better of me, and In a moment of frustration I made the decision to strip and repaint the top and edge of the lower portion (congratulations Rae, you have just added another 10 hours of work to this project!).  I don't regret it however, as it turned out much better on the second round, but stripping back the edges of the top section was a lot of work, and although I cant be certain, I think I can feel cancer cells developing in my esophagus.

We experienced some seriously cold winter weather during the three weeks it took me to transform this piece, in fact it was so cold that I could not keep the workshop at a consistent temperature so we ended up needing to bring the upper and lower portion into the house in order to get proper cure (Mr. Chuckles would normally veto this, but when I broke down in sobbing tears on the floor his heart turned to mush). Due to us not having..erm.. that large of a house , the upper section made herself comfortable in the middle of our kitchen.  Nothing like walking into your kitchen for two weeks with a china cabinet plonked in the middle of it. I had to tie up Miss-Do-As-I-Please so that she would stop using it as a jungle-gym, and Im pretty sure I caught Mr Chuckle's having conversations with it on no less than two occasions.

To inject a positive note into this tale, I did discover a great new paint my Benjamin Moore called 'Cabinet Coat'.  It is a satin finish and dries really hard.  We had it tinted to a creamy off-white colour.  It honestly spreads like butter, so lovely to work with.  For the wallpapered background we used a contemporary paper which I found here in Canada at a store called Bou-Clair.  In fact, I loved this paper so much that Mr. Chuckle's and I chose the same paper  (in gray) and have since wallpapered our living room.

After three weeks, I was so happy to be able to deliver the finished piece to the client.  But after the debacle we experienced to try and get her home, I decided to rent a u-haul for the return trip.  It arrived safe and sound thanks to some patience and the helping hands of Mr. Chuckles and my dearest Father (thanks Dad!).

I learned one valuable lesson from the experience.  Never, ever, under no circumstances paint a China Cabinet ever again.  Sometimes in life, the most important lessons are the simplest.


  1. This is beautiful. If I had to guess, you probably only charged the client a third of what you should have. The result is worth much more than even that!

  2. What a learning adventure! You are timely, indeed. My local thrift has a cabinet much like this one. Only the top doesn't separate from the bottom and it is…like much older furniture….HEAVY. No wonder they are using it to display dishes because no one would want to hire a crew to move it.
    Thanks for the reference to Cabinet Coat. I', getting to like BM store moore and moore. LOL.
    You did a great job despite large odds and I than you for the warning….
    Now I have to move the older coffee table that practically broke my back getting it home. Will have to hire 2 strong men to get it into the house, where i plan to paint it on the spot where it is scheduled to end up. On the carpet in front of the sofa!

  3. Thanks for the kind words. Marje, yes, give Cabinet Coat a try, it goes on great. Its amazing just how heavy some of these great vintage pieces can weigh!