Terrific Broth

The life of two scientists, creating a small home, in big mountains

Tag: Interior

A Thrifted Secretary Desk

Happy Monday everyone! I hope you had a relaxing weekend. Things are pretty busy here in the ranch this week, but Slav and I still managed to get some things done. We are moving along nicely with the ceiling demo in our garage, which I am hoping to show you soon. We even had a little time to restore another piece of furniture – a 1919 secretary desk!

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I’ve been looking for a desk like this one. I prefer a big surface to work off, where I can spread out my papers and three different cups of tea (which happens regularly). The problem is? Slav also loves a big desk. And he already had one. So we just do not have room for another.

In the past, I have been always working off our dining table(s), whichever one we have/had in the house. It is not a bad setup if there are just two of us, since we both eat in front of our computers 99% of the time (bad, I know). But now with in-law’s visit, we would like keep my papers and laptops off the dining table. So a few weeks ago, we hit the Mile High flea market , in hope to find an expendable table with a small floor print for me.

And this is what we came home with, $20 less in our pocket:

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It is a secretary-style writing desk, which was made in 1919 (!). This is the first “antique” piece I even have owned, and truth to be told, I am beyond impressed by how solid this 98-year-old desk is. It is so heavy that it takes two people to lift it.

Please excuse Charlie in the above picture – I could not get him to stop licking the table, as if some other dog has done something really naughty there – now I think about it, it might be the case.

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The whole desk is 20 inches deep, with the shelves taking up 10 inches of the depth. Luckily, the writing surface can be pulled out another 6 inches, making a 16″ depth. My computer can fit comfortably.

The top board of the desk can be closed to conceal anything inside the shelves. It acts like the fallboard/keylid on a piano. When not in use, I can push back the writing surface, close the lid, and make a 20″ x 35″ flat surface. This style is called “flip-top” and was very popular among antique writing desks.

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Below the writing surface, there is a very shallow drawer. It is merely 1 3/4″ deep, presumably for storing papers, envelops and pencils. It is perfect for storing my laptop away when it is not in use.

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The writing surface can be pull out and lift off the desk completely. In the picture below, you can see the shallow drawer as the bottom of the desk.

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This desk does not have lots of decorative mouldings, but I do love the curved edges and the little details on the front.

This secretary desk is in amazing shape considering its age – it is almost 100 years old! But like any piece of antique furniture, it has some dings and scratches. Last weekend, I decided to use similar method as restoring the vintage guest bed to bring it back to life:

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I started by taking the desk apart as much as I could, and cleaning it with some soapy water with grade 0 steel wool:

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After drying, the pieces looked really pale.

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I chose danish oil as a wood finish with the vintage guest bed, because I love the color of the bed and danish oil does not change the color of the wood. However, this desk is a bit yellow to my taste. I’d like to make it darker, maybe more mahogany.

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I like how the little side table turned out with Restore-A-Finish, which was also too light and too yellow before. So I decided to give Restore-A-Finish another go. The picture above shows the difference between the first coat (left two legs), and before the Restore-A-Finish (the ones on the right). The wood just drank up the finish right away, and resulted in a slightly darker and much richer color. Here is another photo right after I gave the left side of the board its first coat:

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I did two coats on every pieces back to back, wiping excess shortly after each coat, and let the whole thing dried overnight. Restore-A-Finish does have a pretty strong odor, so I used it in the garage with a mask, and left the garage door open with a small gap at the bottom overnight. While I was at it, I cleaned and coated an old wooden box we had as well. We used it to store remotes in our living room and it could seriously use a refinish after 4 years of heavy use.

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The wood pieces were in no doubt a lot richer color. I had not even put wax on yet at this point.

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The next morning, with all the Restore-A-Finish dried and odor disappeared, I used the stain marker to touch up some lighter spots.

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As the last step, I finished everything with a generous coat of Feed-N-Wax. This is my favorite furniture wax, not only because it protects the wood and makes it shine, but also because it smells wonderful! It has a sweet citrus smell that is close to honey-marinated, lightly-toasted orange peels.

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We put the desk together a few hours after applying the wax. And here is the desk now:

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And our storage box:

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When we were at the flea market, we also rescued this little guy:

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He costed us as much as the secretary desk, but we adore him. He looks innocent from one angle, and a little naughty from another angle:

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From below, he looked a bit annoyed:

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He is definitely living on my desk now, along with my stationary. The beer mug on the right is my “good-luck” departure gift from my last job, which was engraved by my co-workers.

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Another precious gift I got from my previous job is the cactus next to the desk. My old boss broke this piece off a 15-feet tall cactus, which he had been growing for decades in his office.

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This cactus is the only plant I moved across country with – wrapped in bubble wraps and protected by packing peanuts. It still went through a hard time. It is nice to see it putting up new growth again.

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Here you have it, my new thrifted desk! Right after we got the desk for $20 at the flea market, I came across this Ebay post selling the exact same “Antique Early American Style Mahogany Flip Top Secretary Writing Desk”. And guess how much it is selling for? $625! That is $600 difference if we count the cost of the steel wool, Restore-A-Finish, and Feed-N-Wax!

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There Are Cows in Our Living Room!

Happy Friday! I am stopping by to give you a quick update on our living room – we now have cows!

Not just cows. The Cows. Nine of them.

This cow print was sold by IKEA for 99 cents each when we spotted them a few year ago. Slav was immediately in love. He bought nine of them – yes, he bought nine identical prints! We had them hung 3 x 3 on our bedroom wall for a while and had no idea what to do with them. Until one day, an idea struck to let our friends in North Carolina decorate them. The goal was to have nice different products, from nine people/couple who made significant impact on our lives during our time in North Carolina. And all the people we asked kindly accepted the challenge! By the time we moved to CO, we had seven of them decorated in very different ways (still need to pick up the last two from NC). It is like a DIY art gallery from our friends.

And our living room could really use some art:

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We hardly had anything hung at this point so the living room looked so pale.

We picked the southern wall to hang the cows:

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I used some newspaper to map out where I wanted the cows to live, and Roxie was of course there to help:

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Maybe she smelled our old apartment from these cows? Maybe she smelled our old friends who decorated them?

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It took me about an hour to get them all neatly lined up. Now this is the view when you walk into our living room:

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Pretty nice, right? Since I had my hammer out, I also hung the new painting we got from Poland in our little hallway:

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This painting is also from Adam Faglio, the painter who did the castle painting in our bedroom.

These were tiny updates to our living space compared to most of the projects we do (grading with gravel this week, and roof next week!), but it made the space so much warmer and more welcoming. I hope you like them as much as we do!

Brighten Interior with Paint

When we first moved in, every interior door in the ranch was brown.

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I love a good wooden door. But these doors are far from perfect. They have holes, broken corners, missing screws…Our bedroom door has a fist-size hole in the middle and was patched over with a piece of thin brown paper.

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However sweet the message is, we do not wish to live with these doors. Slav hated these doors from the day 1 and was nagging me all these time to paint them white. It is interesting how different details bother us differently. Slav was so bothered by old paint on the floors, the dirty grout in the bathroom and kitchen, and the baseboards vent covers with peeling paint. I on the other hand, cannot stand carpet,  nail hole on the walls, or dusty surfaces.

Painting doors is actually a lot of work – if you do it right. The doors need to be removed, properly cleaned and dried, patched and sanded, then primed and painted. The hinges and screws all need to be taken off, cleaned and painted as well. The previous owner painted the wall white without taking the doors off, so all the hinges were more or less covered in white paint and these are very difficult to remove. When getting painted, hardware usually need many thin coats of spray paint, and take a couple days to completely dry.

But the result is worth it when you go from this:

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to this:

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The pictures were taken on the same time of the day, both in sunny afternoons. You can see how much brighter the hallway is now with white doors. I personally adore a good black door, but Slav was like “what!?”. Since I knew that we are changing the main floor plan and all the doors will be replaced one way or the other, I picked my battles and moved on with white.

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Not only white, FREE white. We inherited a bucket of interior eggshell paint in the garage, which was likely used for trims. Eggshell is not a particularly good sheen for doors, but I could not argue with cheap. So interior eggshell these door shall become.

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The first batch of doors I painted were two closet doors for linen closet and pantry. This was actually the same time when we painted the hardware for our shed. In total we have nine interior doors on the main floor, if not counting the one between kitchen and garage. There are two bedroom doors, two pairs of closet doors in the bedrooms, bathroom door, linen closet door, and pantry closet door. We took down both pairs of the closet doors during carpet removal, and eventually rehung the pair in Slav’s office. In our bedroom, we opted for grey curtains which give a much softer look.

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That day was a massive paint party among me and the dogs. They love to hang out in the garage whenever I am working there with the garage door is open, probably because they can see people and dogs walking by. But every tail wagging brings dust and hair onto wet paint, so I have to lock them inside sometime. In such situation they usually sit by the garage door and whine to remind me they are waiting (!) to be let out again…oh dogs.

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The closet doors are small and dried quickly. They were up in just the next day. And what were left includes the two bedroom doors and a bathroom door. It took me another month before getting them off the hinges – I just did not want to work on them. They are heavy, damaged, and just gross. It is funny that I chose to live with them but not work on them.

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Above: the bedroom door on the left and the bathroom door on the right; Below: Office door (left) and bedroom door.

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On the Labor day weekend, I stopped procrastinating and brought them out to the garage. This was how they look after a good cleaning Friday night:

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Saturday morning, I set out my rollers, primer and paint. I like to prepare everything ahead of time and work in big batches.

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By noon, one coat primer was on:

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This primer gives pretty good coverage so I moved on with paint. It took two coats and some touch-ups at the end, so the paint game lasted until Sunday morning.

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I also sprayed paint all the hardware black, just like what I did with the closet doors. I had to soak all the hinges in paint thinners and scrape the old paint off – they were finally ready (well most of them) Sunday morning:

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I like to have the handles and knobs dry upright. Fruit boxes from Costco came in very handy:

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We let everything dried for more than a day with the garage door open, and brought them in by the end of Monday. Here is Slav’s office door in white:

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And this is the same door before:

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Our bright little hallway:

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But the work is not over yet – all the screws are still in their golden glory and need touch up.

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So I sprayed the same black paint on a take-out container lid and brushed all the screws with a small brush:

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And this is what our hallway looks like from Slav’s office: white, white, and white.

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A fresh coat of paint made these doors looking a lot better, but they are flawed and we will replace them down the road. After living in this house for 2.5 months, Slav and I started to feel clear how we want to update the floor plan of the main level. None of these door, if we stick to our (secret) plan, will be used in the new plan. So stay toned!

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