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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

That Time I Took DIY Too Far

In a fit of organizational pique this Spring I decided our home needed more storage space. Our one non-bedroom closet -- located between the kitchen and mudroom -- was crammed with art supplies, pet food, tools, gardening equipment, cleaning supplies, Christmas decorations, camping equipment, sports equipment, and storage for our recycling. I hated that closet.

I decided adding an armoire to the mudroom was the way to go. Armoires are extremely versatile and can be used in multiple rooms for a variety of purposes, which fits well with our propensity for moving. For a few weeks I scoured Craigslist but almost everything listed was sized for a Texas McMansion. In addition armoires have apparently become popular as entertainment centers, so many had random cutouts in the back wall for power cords and wiring. This really didn't fit my needs.

In an antique mall down the street I found an armoire that was perfect. The chalkboard look wasn't for me but it had the vintage charm and sturdy construction I wanted as well as the storage space I needed. Plus, I'd been itching to try furniture stenciling and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

A diamond in the rough!
I trotted off to my local craft store to purchase a stencil and completely struck out. I wanted a geometric tribal vibe but everything was either French or floral. I did find a few styles online, but this approach had two drawbacks: a.) I was impatient to get started and b.) the ones I really liked were expensive and I'd blown my budget on the armoire.

"I'll make my own stencil!" I declared. I bought a pack of plastic sheets designed for stencil making and headed home feeling ambitious.

I should mention here that I define myself as "handy" and "creative" rather than "crafty" or "artistic." I don't own cool crafting supplies like stencil-cutting devices. What I had was a box cutter. After studying a few different designs online I drew a basic tribal pattern onto the plastic sheeting and prepped a new blade in my box cutter. 

My half stencil
I understand now why pre-made stencils can be so expensive, and why proper materials make success so much easier. After a few hours, much swearing, and two bleeding fingers I had cut out exactly half of the stencil. I didn't think I'd survive cutting out the other side so I just cut the rest off and planned to flip my half-stencil as needed. The triangles were all uneven, but since I was going for a rustic look anyway I wasn't too concerned.

There was no sealant on the armoire, so I sanded it just enough to abrade the surface and painted it with a glossy dark blue paint left over from my breakfast nook bench. I considered watching some Youtube videos for stenciling tips, but figured since I'd made it through a master's degree and most of a doctoral degree I could figure out stenciling. I was clearly on a bad decision roll.

When the armoire was dry I centered my stencil on the first armoire drawer and prepared to have a Martha Stewart moment of DIY perfection. Using a foam brush I stippled, waited for it to dry, then removed the stencil. 

My tribal triangles resembled nothing so much as blobs. My stippling had bled terribly. I re-sanded and re-painted the drawer then watched a couple Youtube videos on stenciling. I found a scrap piece of wood to practice my stenciling until I had mastered a "rustic" rather than "terrible" look. This involved a two-step technique of stenciling using small art brushes instead of my foam brush then cleaning up any blurred edges with a damp Q-tip.

Cat butt approved
Feeling much more confident I applied this technique to the armoire, rinsing and drying the stencil between each use to prevent any unwanted paint transfer. Since I only had half a stencil it took 18 individual applications over a period of two days. It was a true labor of love and one I do not care to repeat.

Once the stenciling was finished I ordered a sampling of
knobs online. I ultimately chose a faux-bamboo knob in rubbed bronze. Even better, the style was being discontinued so it was deeply discounted.

The full-length closet now holds our tent, two sleeping mats, two folding chairs, two tennis rackets, two bowling balls, and all our camping culinary equipment with room to spare. The mirrored cubby holds my gardening kit and bocce set, while the drawers hold my art supplies and other odds and ends. Given the vast amount of storage offered by a relatively small piece of furniture, I'm pretty sure it's a magical armoire. 

Learning to stencil furniture was a humbling experience. It required much wine and some physical scars to get through it, but the armoire is a great conversation piece and something I've received many a compliment on thus far. It's fun and different and I look forward to refinishing it many more times over the years.

Next time I decide to stencil something, though, I think I'll invest in a pre-made stencil. I love DIY, but there are some things you should just leave to the professionals.